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PRESS FREEDOM DAY: RIGHTS GROUPS CARPETS FG ON INTERNET SPYING CONTRACT

By Emmanuel Onwubiko
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Two democracy friendly Non-Governmental organizations- HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS' ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA [HURIWA] and Abuja Writers' Forum [AWF] have charged the National Assembly's committees on Justice and Human Rights to probe the widely circulated report that the federal Government under the current President Good luck Jonathan has awarded a $40 million internets and computers' spying contract to an Israeli company ELBIT SYSTEMS with headquarters in Haifa, Israel because of a groundswell of concern that such unconstitutional and illegal communication contract breaches the basic privacy laws covered by chapter four of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria [as amended]; and will inevitably curtail press freedoms fundamentally.

Specifically, a respected nascent online news medium PREMIUM TIMES recently ran an exclusive story that the Jonathan administration has in clear violation of extant procurement and contracting laws enshrined in the Bureau of Public Procurement Act of 2007, is suspected to have awarded a $40 million USD contract to an Israeli based company- Elbit Systems, with headquarter in Haifa, to help the Jonathan's administration spy on citizens' computers and internet communication under the guise of intelligence gathering and national security.

In a joint statement to the media to commemorate the World Press Freedom Day endorsed by the National Coordinator of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS' ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA [HURIWA] Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and the President of the ABUJA WRITERS' FORUM [AWF] Dr. Emman Shehu, the Rights groups urged President Jonathan to speak out on the widespread allegation that his government has gradually transformed itself from being democratic to a full blown dictatorship by introducing draconian measures and projects that not only offends basic democratic norms and breaches fundamental human rights provisions on press freedoms and freedom of expression enshrined in the constitution of Nigeria such as the contract awarded to the Israeli communication firm to procure security infrastructure for the purpose of spying illegally on all citizens, but that his regime has become one of the worst enemy of media freedom in the World as encapsulated in a recent report by an international media Rights organization-Committee for the protection of journalists.

Citing Section 37 of the Constitution which says: "The privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondences, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected" and also Section 39(1) which specifically provided thus; "Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference", the Rights group tasked the Senate President David Mark and the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives Aminu Waziri Tambuwal to use their good offices as heads of the national legislature that is constitutionally empowered to provide oversight functions on the executive to protect and safeguard democracy by instituting public hearing sessions in transparent ad accountable fashion to uncover the veracity or otherwise of the allegation that the Federal Government has indeed awarded a national internets' spying contract to a foreign firm which breach the Nigerian constitution and threatens the sovereignty of the country.

Besides, the Groups also cited Section 39(2) of the constitution of Nigeria which provides further thus; " Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own,establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions", just as the human rights organizations affirmed that against the background of the above provisions, isn't it illegal and unconstitutional for the government to give out a contract worth $40m to an Israeli company to monitor Nigerian citizens using the Internet?

The Groups also wonder whether the National Assembly sanctioned this illegality?

According to them; "It is offensive to all known international human rights conventions and laws that safeguard media freedoms and freedom of expression for the government of Nigeria to embark on a coordinated offensive against the Nigerian people in clear violation of the constitutionally protected freedoms and given that Nigeria is a member of several international organizations whereby democracy and respect for the fundamental human rights of the citizenry are inviolable and sacrosanct, it is totally reprehensible and condemnable for the Federal Government of Nigeria to have awarded the purported contract to this Israeli firm to monitor conversations of Nigeians even in their private homes".