Tackling Cybercrimes and Twitter Ban: A Stitch in Time Saves Nine, By Haruna Mohammed

Since the enactment of the Cybercrimes Act 2015, there are growing apprehension from certain individuals, human-right activists and civil society organisations that the Act will be detrimental to the rights of citizens, especially as it relates to freedom of expression and opinion as enshrined in Chapter four of the 1999 Constitution as amended, and article 19 of the Universal declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly, on 10 December, 1948.

This fear was borne out of the fact that politicians and law enforcement agencies could rely on the act and silenced perceived rivals or opponents from voicing their grievances through the social media platforms.

In another development, there are growing concern that the law criminalizes individuals who either knowingly or unknowingly allow their premises or computers to be used by scammers or internet fraudsters (yahoo boys) to perpetrate cybercrime, as contained in section 38 of the Act, oblivious of the fact that Government has the responsibility to protect her citizens and citizens of other nations, against criminal elements who swindle innocent people through the social media platforms, under false pretense in order to defraud or cheat their victims.

Such acts are greatly affecting the nation socially, economically and politically, apart from tarnishing the image of the entire nation in the eyes of the international community.

In its editorial of Monday, 17 November 2016, THISDAY newspaper clearly stated the consequences of cybercrimes in Nigeria. According to the editorial “Nigeria was ranked third in global internet crime after the United States of America and United Kingdom, while 7.5 percent of the World hackers are said to be Nigerians. Fraudsters are increasingly taking advantage of the rise in online transactions, electronic Shopping, e-commerce and the electronic messaging systems to engage in heinous crimes”.

In 2017, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) reported that 70 percent of attempted or successful fraud/forgery cases in Nigeria were perpetrated through the electronic channels.

“Between 2000 and 2013, banks in the country lost 159 billion naira to electronic fraud and cybercrime.”

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Also, according to Dr. Abdulfatai Buhari (2017), “Nigeria records about 127-billion-naira loss annually to cybercrime, which represents 0.8 percent of the country’s GDP”.

This is not to deny the fact that kidnappings, and global terrorism are also thriving due to internet communications which is greatly affecting the safety and security of the nation.

Of recent, hate speech, fake and misleading information, ethnocentrism and premodial sentiments have contributed to social upheavals in various countries over the years.

Nigeria is not an exception to this monster ravaging the world, especially in Africa, Middle East and South America. It is also suffering from the effects of fake and misleading information, which has given rise to protests, anarchy and social disorder.

The Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, in a press release issued on the 5th June, 2021, said: “The temporary suspension of Twitter is not just a response to the removal of the President’s post. There has been a litany of problems with the social media platform in Nigeria, where misinformation and fake news spread through it have had real-world violent consequences. All the while, the company has escaped accountability”.

Shehu further stated that the President in his address at the United Nations General Assembly, UNGA in 2019 said, “the world was shocked and startled by the massacre in New Zealand by a lone gunman taking the lives of 50 worshippers.”

This and similar crimes which have been fueled by social media networks risk seeping into the fabric of an emerging digital culture. Major tech companies must be alive to their responsibilities.

They cannot be allowed to continue to facilitate the spread of religious, racist, xenophobic and false messages capable of inciting whole communities against each other, leading to loss of many lives. This could tear some countries apart.

Despite several warnings by President Buhari against social media’s disruptive and divisive influences, the perpetrators continued with hate mongering with disdain prompting the Federal Government to take decisive action by banning Twitter operations in Nigeria.

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Consequently, following Twitter ban, the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami has ordered the prosecution of offenders of the Federal Government ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria.

The AGF according to a statement issued by Dr. Umar Jibrilu Gwandu, Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, stated that the Attorney General has directed the Director of Public prosecution to swing into action and commence in earnest the process of prosecuting violators of the Federal Government De-activation of operations of Twitter in Nigeria, without any further delay.

Although ignorance of law is never a defence to criminal liability, nevertheless I feel it is imperative to highlight some of the cybercrimes associated with misuse of social media, to enable oblivious readers exercise restraint and detach themselves from preconceived ideas.

The Nigeria Cybercrime Act 2015 does not take away the fundamental rights and freedom provided by the Constitution.

However, in trying to exercise their digital rights, citizens shall be mindful not to violate other people’s rights through false accusations, defamation, slandering and libel which constitute an act often referred to as Cyber stalking.

Cyber stalking is an offence in which the suspect intentionally harasses his victim using electronic communication via email, Facebook, Twitter, among others.

According to Section (24) of the Cybercrimes Act 2015, (1) Any person who knowingly or intentionally sends a message or other matter by means of computer systems or network that, (a) is grossly offensive, pornographic or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character or causes any such message or matter to be so sent; or (b) he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another or causes such a message to be sent commits an offence under this Act, and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7,000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment.

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(2) Any person who knowingly or intentionally transmits or causes the transmission of any communication through a computer system or network (a) to bully, threaten or harass another person, where such communication places another person in fear of death, violence or bodily harm or to another person containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to harm the person of another, any demand or request for a ransom for the release of any kidnapped person, (b) to extort from any person, firm, association or corporation, any money or other thing of value; or (c) containing any threat to harm the property or reputation of the addressee or of another or the reputation of a deceased person or any threat to accuse the addressee or any other person of a crime, to extort from any person, firm, association, or corporation, any money or other thing of value commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction.

In view of the foregoing, it is glaring that the recent ban on Twitter and enforcement by the Attorney General will no doubt open a new chapter of the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria, which will not only reduce social media abuse, but also serve as deterrence to other potential offenders.

There is need for adequate sensitization and awareness campaign by the Ministry of Justice, law enforcement agencies and human rights organizations to enlighten members of the public about digital rights and their limitations in order not to violate other people’s rights, as well.

Haruna Mohammed, a security personnel can be reached through harunappro@gmail.com

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