The recent disclosure that Nigeria loses N127 billion annually to cybercrime has made the quest for a law for the regulation of electronic communication in the country more compelling. The National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj.-Gen. Babagana Monguno (retd), who gave this figure at the inauguration of a 31-member cybercrime committee in Abuja, said the cyber criminals robbed Nigerians of the money through software piracy, intellectual property theft and hardware attacks. The NSA rightly noted that cybercrime poses a grave danger to the economy and intellectual property, and called for serious action to stem the menace.
We strongly agree with the NSA that the protection of cyberspace is very important to the security of the country and its people. The activities of hackers and other cyber criminals have become a threat to the government, economy and security of the country. They are also a danger to the information super highway – the Internet.
According to the NSA, the 2014 Annual report of the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) revealed that between 2013 and 2014, fraud on electronic payment platforms in Nigeria’s banking sector increased by 183 percent. He added that a 2014 report published by the United Kingdom-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies shows that cybercrime in Nigeria amounts to 0.08 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, representing N127bn a year. Undoubtedly, the concern raised by the NSA is a genuine one that needs urgent attention by the government and the agencies responsible for the checking of financial crimes.
The huge loss to cybercrime calls for a revisit of the cybercrime bill. We recall that in 2015, the then Dr. Goodluck Jonathan administration sent to the 7th Senate a Cybercrime Bill seeking to regulate all electronic communications via the cyberspace.
The bill, which also provided for the interception of electronic communications when necessary, got stuck in the Senate. It is a comprehensive legislation for the protection of critical national information infrastructure and computer systems against attacks by hackers. In addition, it seeks to empower security agents to intercept, record and seize electronic communications between individuals, in particular, during criminal investigations. The bill also provides that security operatives can intercept and record personal emails, text messages, instant messages, voice mails and multi-media messages. It recommends death penalty for those who hack into critical national infrastructure.
The bill, at that time, was widely regarded as offensive and capable of breaching the people’s right to their privacy. The bill is not, however, without merits. With the rising insecurity in the country and the huge financial losses to cybercrime, the time has come to reconsider the bill to correct its grey areas with the objective of passing it into law in the best interest of the country.
When its provisions are properly debated, reviewed and streamlined, the bill may be passed into law to provide a comprehensive regulatory framework for the prohibition, prevention, detection, prosecution and punishment of cybercrime in Nigeria.
In spite of the reservations over some of the bills’ seeming draconian provisions, there are compelling reasons for Nigeria to join other countries that have cybercrime laws regulating their cyberspace. Indeed, the harm which can come through the failure to regulate electronic communications and make suspicious ones available to security officials, on the orders of courts of competent jurisdiction, could be incalculable. The need to protect the security of the country and critical government information overrides the demands for the privacy of electronic communications. We need to change the ranking of Nigeria as a country with high cyberspace crime by one of the world’s largest makers of internet software, Symantec Corporation.
Nonetheless, we urge the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) to help illuminate discussions on the problem that cybercrime poses to national security, especially in this era of terrorism and other violent crimes. With the ‘Wikileaks’ and Panama Papers scandals still in the news, there is no doubt that cyberspace has become vulnerable to hackers. Although with sometimes positive consequences as in the previous two examples, hacking has mostly negative implications for public and financial security. National security should not be compromised under any guise. Concerted efforts should, however, be made to ensure that the cybercrime bill does not contradict Chapter 4 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) which provides for the protection of the fundamental human rights of all Nigerians. But, every right must have a corresponding responsibility. We, therefore, urge the 31-member Cybercrime Advisory Council to take its assignment with all seriousness and patriotism. A comprehensive review of Nigeria’s national security network has become imperative.
Cybercrime has become a menacing phenomenon that should be tackled frontally. The fact that it is new and not captured in our Criminal Code Act, implies that it requires a new law to deal with the offenders. We also urge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Police to be more diligent in uncovering cybercrime.