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Category Archives: Internet Governance

PETTY OFFENCES; THE NIGERIAN CONTEXT

By Roseline Oghenebrume, Director Programs, Lawyers Alert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dawn sets in the suburbs of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Nigeria. Alhaji Abubakar (Pseudo name) after his morning prayer wakes his family up to begin the grind for the day. His family comprises of two sons and a daughter all aged 15, 13 and 11 respectively. In his words, it is Monday, you have to meet up with travelers at the Jabi Motor Park or else no food for you all. They begin their journey on foot for a 5km walk with their goods to be sold off on their heads. While they approached the park, they sighted the task force team and obviously took to their heels. While the eldest was lucky to have escaped, the two others were swept off the roads in the van of the task force and their goods seized.

These types of petty acts that are seen as offences is regrettably targeted at low income earners, the vulnerable and the poor. For instance, citizens engaged in activities such as loitering are arrested by security agents shouldered with the responsibility of enforcing these laws. In one instance, someone hawking goods in trying to escape arrest jumped off a fly over in Abuja Central District Area, losing his life in the fall. Security agencies go out at night arresting women and breaking people’s doors, dragging them out on account of their sexual orientation and perceived type of job. Commercial bus drivers trying to eke a living are said to commit offences when parked in a non-designated area and can be sent to jail if they don’t come up with the resources to pay their way through. The above is a picture of what a less privileged family/ citizen in Nigeria deals with on a regular/daily basis.

Nigeria is a country with a population of about 180 million persons with over 70% of its population said to be poor. Nigeria recently ranked highest in poverty according to a report by the World poverty Clock released in June 2018.  This shows that the Nigerian criminal justice system cannot effectively cope in keeping with this high population with regard to arrest and prosecution nor does it have the prison to hold these persons.

As it stands today, Nigeria has about 75,000 persons in prison with about 60% of these persons awaiting trial. Those awaiting trial for petty offences account for a higher percentage of those awaiting trial. Petty offences are more to do with the poor and vulnerable who are often prone to these acts owing to economic dis empowerment. Petty actions like hawking, obtaining goods by false pretence, sex work, sexual expression, slander, conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace, use of insulting language, intake of alcohol in some Northern States, etc. are criminalised.

Petty offences are not only inconsistent with sections 34, 35, 41 and 42 of the Nigerian Constitution, which provide for right to dignity of human person, right to personal liberty, right to freedom of movement and right to freedom from discrimination respectively, but are equally inconsistent with Articles 2, 3, 5, 6 and 18 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights duly ratified by Nigeria.

The effect is State resources are expended in rather needless investigations and prosecutions and the prisons congested. Good governance, more attention at economic empowerment and fighting corruption by Government will be more in focus if Government is not distracted by expending resources on petty offences that are criminalised. Petty offences have resulted in lack of justice for the poor, social discrimination sometimes with grave consequences.

We at Lawyers Alert strongly believes that decriminalising petty offences in Nigeria will aid development given the likelihood of more time and focus on development issues.

Based on the above, the following are recommendations;

 

  1. Laws/policy reform which is critical in decriminalising petty offences because the small actions that are made petty offences are being institutionalised by certain laws in Nigeria.
  2. State and Non- State Actors should be engaged. Majority are not aware of the effects of these laws, they have not been made to understand the importance of decriminalising petty offences and its effect on socio, economic welfare of the nation.
  3. Lawyers are to be encouraged to offer free legal services to victims of petty crimes rather than demand professional fees which the vulnerable and poor people who are the victims of petty offenses cannot afford.
  4. Continuous sensitization of the vulnerable and less privileged in the society. Lack of knowledge of human rights or where to get assistance when their rights are abused is part of the problem that institutionalizes petty offenses.
  5. Civil Society groups, the Media and other Human Rights Activists to embark on a campaign towards decriminalization of petty offenses in Nigeria. Petty offenses target the most vulnerable in the country; the poor, less privileged and uneducated.

 

Poverty is not a crime……

Human Right is for all…….

Decriminalizing petty offenses is a human rights issue….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Social media helps curb Nigerian election deathtoll, paving future path

 

 

By Olusegun Abolaji Ogundeji

 

The dozens of deaths that marred the recent Nigerian elections would be considered shocking by the standards of most developed nations. Compared to past elections, however, the violence this time around was limited, and many observers say social media and technology such as biometric card readers played a big role in minimizing conflict.

 

Online services are credited with keeping people informed during the runup to the elections, promoting the feeling they could communicate and express their views without resorting to violence, and other technology helped to ensure cheating would be kept to a minimum. Nigeria’s experience suggests that tech can play a role in reducing election-related violence in other countries.

 

The presidential and parliamentary elections were the most peaceful in Nigeria since the nation embraced democracy in 1999. The winner of the presidential election, former military leader Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, will officially take over from incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, of the People’s Democratic Party, at the end of May. It’s the first time a sitting Nigerian president has lost a bid for re-election.

 

“I do believe that the capacity for social media to connect and inform helped Nigeria conduct a free and fair election and helped to keep violence to a minimum,” said Michael Best, an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, via email. With Thomas Smyth from Sassafras Tech Collective, a worker-owned tech co-op in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Best published a qualitative dual case study, “Tweet to Trust: Social Media and Elections in West Africa,” about social media use during the general elections in Nigeria and Liberia in 2011.

 

Nigeria, in West Africa, is the continent’s most populous nation and has 82 million users of GSM-based mobile phones. A recent Mobile Africa 2015 study conducted in Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, and South Africa by GeoPoll and World Wide Worx indicates that Internet access via phones is on the rise in Africa, especially for Facebook use, which stands out as the most common phone activity among the countries surveyed.

 

While Facebook was the most visible platform for sharing views and information during the Nigerian electoral season, several election-related Twitter handles were created, including hashtags like #NigeriaDecides, which later became #NigeriaHasDecided. 

 

Google, meanwhile, created a site as a one-stop resource, containing voting information and news relating to the elections, offering content including videos and other digital media for view on desktops, tablets and mobile phones.

 

Elections in Africa have always been tumultuous. Almost a thousand people died in the post-election period after Nigeria’s last general elections in 2011; about 3,000 people died in the Ivory Coast elections in 2010, for which its former president is still on trial; and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is answering to charges involving the 2007 post-election crisis during which hundreds died.

 

This year, while the election-related death toll in Nigeria was nowhere near that of four years ago, the country was far from tranquil during election season. Violence caused the government to postpone the presidential election from February to March 28. Elections for senators and representatives were held two weeks later.

 

The National Human Rights Commission reported that in February it had “received reports of and documented over 60 separate incidents of election-related violence from 22 states spread across the six geo-political zones of Nigeria, resulting in which 58 persons have so far been killed and many more injured.” In addition, various reports at the time put the death toll due to attacks by radical Islamic group Boko Haram at 39, though there was no direct link to the elections.

 

There have not been official reports on election-related death since March, though the All Progressives Congress (APC) claimed earlier this month that 55 of its members had been killed in election violence before the Rivers state governorship election.

 

There is a limit to what can be achieved through social media and other technology, observers acknowledge.

 

“Of course, these technologies are not silver bullets nor do they always contribute to positive elements within a democracy, noted Georgia Tech’s Best. But during the recent Nigerian elections, “our experience monitoring social media over our media aggregation platform, named ‘Aggie,’ demonstrated the power of these technologies can be used for good.”

 

Other experts agree. Through social media and mobile phone usage, a “new type of engagement and advocacy became possible in Nigeria,” said Adeola Oyinlade, a Nigerian lawyer and human rights expert.

 

Very practical information was shared via social media, Oyinlade noted. For example, card readers were provided by Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to read identity cards issued to ensure, among other things, that people could not vote under assumed names. Some people had trouble scanning their cards in the readers, and learned through social media that a seal on the cards had to be removed so they could be read properly, Oyinlade said.

 

Such use of technology augurs well for other countries as well, Oyinlade said.

 

“People from African countries going to polls this year can ride upon innovative mobile technological advancement and the efficacy of social media to launch a bottom-up popularization of political participation among people and expand the frontiers of democracy,” Oyinlade said.

 

African countries holding elections later this year include West African nations Benin, the Ivory Coast, Guinea and Burkina Faso. To be effective, however, technology needs to be coupled with government policies promoting the flow of information, observers point out.

 

In the Nigerian elections, “I do believe that the use of technology played a major role and will continue to do so,” said Nnenna Nwakanma, Africa regional coordinator of the World Wide Web Foundation, which promotes affordable and uncensored access to the Internet. “However, for information to openly flow, there are policy underpinnings. Nigeria as a country has a FOI (Freedom of Information Act) and INEC practiced open data. In the case of other West African countries, these policy framings are missing and we may be hoping too much in expecting a Nigerian scenario.”

 

Nigeria itself may continue to develop technology to promote peaceful elections. The Nigerian Society of Engineers, for example, has called for the deployment of electronic voting systems using software developed locally by NigComSat, the country’s satellite communications agency.

 

Electronic voting systems, however, are not a panacea, Georgia Tech’s Best noted.

 

“Electronic voting systems can be beneficial if correctly designed and deployed but too often they are actually detrimental due to lack of smart engineering and weak deployments,” Best said. “Across many parts of the United States, for instance, badly designed e-voting machines have actually reduced the transparency and accountability of that nation’s elections,” Best noted. Critics of voting machines in the U.S. blasted the lack voter-verified paper audit trail in various electronic systems.

 

Technology can not be expected to resolve all election-related problems, for any country. Nigeria’s experience over the last few months, though, shows that social media and other technology can help light the way toward a more peaceful, democratic future for developing nations.

 

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2015 in Elections, Internet Governance

 

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CYBERCRIME BILL : RECREATING AN ORWELLIAN NIGERIA?

On Tuesday 24 February 2015, a bill, Cybercrime Bill passed second reading at the House of Representative – the lower legislative arm in Nigeria. The Bill which seeks to intercept and monitor personal communications empowers security agents to intercept, monitor, and record electronic communications between individuals and seize usage data from Internet Services Providers (ISPs) and mobile networks. It further gives power to security agency to order telecommunication companies to conduct surveillance on individuals and release user data to authorities. Now, personal emails, text messages, voicemail, and multimedia message can all be intercepted, recorded and monitored under the guise of facilitating criminal investigation. And there are penalties attached to an infraction of the provisions. First, a person is liable to not less than 1 year jail term or a fine of N2 million; “guilty” of using public electronic communication network to send a message deemed “indecent, obscene, menacing, or false”; which causes annoyance, inconvenience, or anxiety. Second, the Bill prescribes death penalty for a person who “commits crime” against critical national information infrastructure – computer systems, networks and information infrastructure vital to national security of Nigeria, or the economy and social well-being of its citizens. However, where the offense results in grievous bodily injury; the offenders shall be liable to imprisonment for a minimum term of 15 years. And a life jail term awaits any person that accesses or causes to be accused any computer system or network for the purpose of terrorism. Now, here’s our fear and source of agitation.

Fundamentally, the Bill is a blatant breach of and slap on the face of constitutionally protected right to privacy of citizens communication which lies at the very heart of human dignity. If the Bill is passed into Law, it would officially give power to our power-drunken security agency to snoop on us, monitor our communications, and possibly blackmail the citizenry with recording of our private activities.

Closely linked to this limb is the violation of the right of the citizenry to free expression. Now, a situation where a person can be jailed for not less than 1 year of fined N2 million for sending, tweeting, posting, and saying obscene, annoying, false or inconvenient things through electronic communication means is nothing short of draconian. It returns us to the Orwellian milieu where the State as Big Brother knows, watches and monitors every thought and opinion we hold and propagate. Let it be known that free expression includes the right to hold and impart opinion and information whether true or false, decent or obscene, secular or religious etc without fear. And to add, a restriction of free expression stifles creativity and the thriving of democratic culture; as well as degrades human dignity and freedom. To be human is to be freely expressive; to hold and express personal worldview which must not always conform to others and the state. We will all lose our humanity and democracy when we are afraid to air our mind especially on the cyberspace which is a product of human creativity fertilized on the soil of free thought and ingenuity.

Finally, for want of space we’ll say that government cannot be trusted with unbridled access to peoples’ personal data and private communications on the wide and ambiguous grounds of national security. We know that since the days of Wikileaks and Snowden, citizens have become a lot more aware of the massive surveillance and invasion of privacy of net citizens; thus, we’ll stand up to any attempt to gag our internet freedom for whatever reason because if we give them a yard, they’ll go a mile!

  • Elvis-Wura Towolawi.
 
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Posted by on February 25, 2015 in Human Rights, Internet Governance

 

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