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Cybercrime Act implementation mustn’t subvert constitutional rights | #cybercrime | #computerhacker


The call for the implementation of the Cybercrime Act 2024 by the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, has elicited responses from legal practitioners who warn against abusing the Act, ONOZURE DANIA writes

Nigeria has witnessed a significant increase in internet-based crimes, such as advance fee fraud, hacking, and privacy infringements on individuals and institutions. This alarming trend prompted the government to amend the Cybercrime Act 2015, to curb the misuse of cyberspace for criminal activities.

The Cybercrime Act 2024 was signed into law by President Bola Tinubu on February 28, 2024. The amendment addresses the evolving methods cybercriminals use to exploit Nigeria’s digital space, aiming to fortify the legal framework and technological measures against these threats.

The Act also aims to equip law enforcement agencies with the necessary tools to combat contemporary cyberthreats effectively. It intends to ensure improved freedom of expression within the country.

The Act increases the government’s ability to deal with terrorism, money laundering, and provides better mechanisms for international cooperation in investigating and prosecuting cybercriminals.

The amendment also narrows the offence of cyberstalking to messages sent via computers that are likely to cause a breakdown of law and order or pose a threat to life. Service providers are required to keep and protect specific traffic data and subscriber information in accordance with the Nigeria Data Protection Act 2023.

The National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, has called for the full implementation of the Cybercrime Amendment Act 2024. This includes operationalising the National Cybersecurity Fund by all regulators and businesses specified in the second schedule of the Act.

In a statement by Zakari Mijinyawa, Head of Strategic Communication Office of the National Security Adviser, the directive is part of efforts to secure Nigeria’s Critical National Information Infrastructure, counter-terrorism, and violent extremism, while also protecting national economic interests.

On July 6, 2022, Nigeria joined 66 other countries in signing and ratifying the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime. This enhances international cooperation and provides a common platform and procedural tools for safe and efficient cyberspace governance. This move aligns Nigerian cybercrime and cybersecurity laws with regional and international standards.

The importance of this international cooperation was underscored during the High-Level African International Counter Terrorism Meeting held in Abuja in April 2024. The meeting called for greater support and resources to strengthen cybersecurity activities in Africa and prevent the use of social media and other platforms by terrorists and organised criminal groups.

Despite its laudable objectives, the Cybercrime Act 2024 has raised significant concerns among citizens and legal experts about potential misuse by law enforcement agencies. Professor Sam Erugo (SAN) highlighted the potential for abuse by the police, noting that the Cybercrime Act is new and untested in the courts.

He pointed out the tense atmosphere created by the current economic crisis, which complicates distinguishing between fair criticism and offensive statements against governmental actions. According to Erugo, history shows that in situations of crisis, governments tend to suppress criticism and perceived opposition using coercive powers.

“This is common in military governments and pseudo-democracies. Our democracy is definitely troubled with the military everywhere, and the economic crisis is seemingly intractable,” Erugo said.

He emphasised the importance of ethical and professional enforcement of the new Cybercrime Act, cautioning against its misuse to target innocent citizens or perceived political enemies.

Chief Solo Akuma (SAN) argued that using the Cybercrime Act to harass citizens constitutes a gross abuse of the law by the police. He stressed that every Nigerian has the right to freedom of thought and expression as guaranteed by the constitution.

“People are free to criticise the government and people in authority subject to the prevailing laws of defamation. The Cybercrime Act 2024 cannot be superior to the constitution,” Akuma added.

Ige Asemudara pointed out that the cybercrime law, although recently amended, has existed since 2015. He argued that police harassment is not directly linked to the Cybercrime Act but rather to the misconduct of certain officers within the Nigeria Police Force.

Asemudara emphasised that the Act does not empower the police to harass anyone and that fundamental rights enshrined in the 1999 Constitution supersede all other provisions of law.

According to him, these are the bad eggs within the Nigeria Police Force who will stop at nothing to harass people, to extort innocent Nigerians.

“Whether the Cybercrime Act is in place or not, they will harass people. The Cybercrime Act does not empower the police to harass anyone.

“Every Nigerian has the right, freedom to movement, right to life, right to personal liberty, right to dignity of persons, all of these are enshrined in chapter four of the 1999 Constitution. So that provision supersedes all other provisions of law. It may be the Cybercrime Act or any other Act.

“If there are elements within the Nigeria Police Force, who still breach the rights of Nigerians. They should be seriously warned and they should be brought to book if they continue to do such.

“The Cybercrime Act is to prevent committing cybercrime, to protect critical cyber and government infrastructure, to protect innocent people who transact businesses online and to strengthen modern day commerce which is intricately connected to information technology connected to the cyberspace,” Asemudara said.

Dr Yemi Omodele echoed these concerns, noting that police officers often take undue advantage of existing laws to intimidate and harass Nigerians. He cited the ENDSARS protests of 2020 as a response to such abuses.

Omodele emphasised the right to privacy and the role of the courts in interpreting laws to prevent police misapplication.

Elvis Asia acknowledged the prevalence of hate speech and defamatory publications online but warned against allowing the law to become a tool of oppression.

He cautioned that criminalising opinions on public issues and personalities could undermine the freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution and international conventions.

“We must properly balance the competing interest and focus on encouraging people to use civil actions to protect their image rather than criminalising opinions on public figures in society,” Asia stated.

Babatunde Awe emphasised that the 1999 Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and any law inconsistent with it is void. He advocated punishment for those who cross the lines of free speech into bullying and defamation but stressed that laws must operate within the bounds of guaranteed free speech.

Awe warned against the routine muzzling of opinions under the guise of law enforcement, cautioning that such practices could lead to dictatorship and censorship.

“The Cybercrime Act 2024 is a crucial step in addressing the challenges posed by cybercriminals and protecting Nigeria’s digital infrastructure.

“However, its implementation must be carefully monitored to prevent abuse by law enforcement agencies and ensure it does not infringe on citizens’ fundamental rights to freedom of expression.

“As Nigeria continues to grapple with economic and social challenges, it is vital that laws intended to protect the nation do not become tools of oppression.

“The balance between security and freedom is delicate and must be maintained to uphold the principles of democracy and justice,” he said.

Only time will tell if the Cybercrime Act 2024 will achieve its intended goals without infringing on individual freedoms. As experts and citizens alike remain vigilant, the hope is that this law will strengthen Nigeria’s cybersecurity framework while respecting and protecting the rights of its people.

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