The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has accused the Nigerian military of using surveillance technology to spy on ordinary Nigerians and the press.
The CPJ stated this in a report titled ‘Nigerian military targeted journalists’ phones, computers with ‘forensic search’ for source’ published last week.
According to the report, the Nigerian military procured a forensic technology designed to extract information from phones and computers.
The report stated that two companies – Israel-based Cellebrite and US-based Access Data – that produce and market such technologies used by security forces to monitor and interrogate journalists, were already operating in Nigeria.
CPJ said between 2014 and 2017, the Nigerian government has spent at least N127 billion ($350 million) on “surveillance and security equipment.”
The report cited a 2018 report by ParadigmHQ, a Nigerian-based digital rights group, which said it has evidence “that these purchases were made for political reasons, especially by the then authorities in power to monitor their adversaries and political opponents.”
The CPJ report is coming amidst raids and attacks on journalists and newsrooms in the past few years.
PREMIUM TIMES newspaper was a victim of this raid in 2017. Plain-clothed officials of the Nigeria Police Force stormed the paper’s office in Abuja and arrested the publisher, Dapo Oloruniyomi, and judiciary correspondent, Evelyn Okakwu, because it didn’t retract a news story about the Nigerian Army and its operations. They were later released without charges.
Barely a year later, another PREMIUM TIMES reporter, Samuel Ogundipe, was arrested by officials of the State Security Service (SSS) for refusing to disclose his source of a story about the police.
In like manner, the SSS also swooped on Daily Trust newspaper offices in Maiduguri and Abuja, detaining two of its staff, Ibrahim Sawab and Uthman Abubakar. Twenty-four computers in the Abuja office were also reportedly seized.
The military said the newspaper “divulge(d) classified information, undermining national security and contravening Nigeria’s Official Secrets Act” for its report on the Nigerian military’s effort to retake six towns from Boko Haram.
The CPJ report said it took nearly seven weeks before the 24 computers confiscated during the raid were returned.
“The Daily Trust raids are emblematic of a global trend of law enforcement seizing journalists’ mobile phones and computers- some of their most important tools,” the report stated.
Interviews conducted in the report showed that devices are scanned through a server for scanning technology which is housed at the office of the National Security Adviser, the president’s top security aide.
Quoting a source within the Nigerian law enforcement, the report further added that security forces use “Universal Forensic Extraction Device (UFED) and Forensic Toolkit (FTK) to retrieve information from devices.”
UFED is sold by the Israel-based company Cellebrite, which is owned by the Japan-based Sun Corporation, while FTK is sold by the US-based AccessData Group, the report noted.
The report stated that Cellebrite’s website says their UFED product can “[e]xtract and decode every ounce of data within digital devices” and that their equipment is deployed “in 150 countries.”
It also has it that, in Nigeria, “authorities seized [a drug lord’s] Samsung phone” during his arrest “and extracted and analyzed data from it using UFED,” according to a case study published on Cellebrite’s website.
Like Cellebrite, the report wrote, AccessData advertises FTK as a tool to identify information on “any digital device or system producing, transmitting or storing data,” including from web history, emails, instant messages, and social media.
It also boasts the capacity to “[d]encrypt files, crack passwords, and build a report all with a single solution.”
As a means to document these attacks, Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) developed a civic technology tool called Press Attack Tracker. It documents cases of press attacks from 1985, when veteran journalist, Dele Giwa, was murdered, till date.
A total of 376 attacks on journalists in Nigeria have been documented. Of this, 373 reports have been verified and 198 violent cases reported.
When reached for comment, the army’s spokesperson, Sagir Musa, directed PREMIUM TIMES to the spokesperson of the Defence Headquarters, Onyema Nwachukwu.
Mr Nwachukwu said the Nigerian Armed Forces (AFN) cannot be working against the interest of her citizens, noting that they are committed to defending the Nigerian populace in cyberspace and not otherwise.
“The AFN cannot be working against the state and the people. Internet communication and facilities have brought about globalization and borderless policing. Whatever technologies are involved, we are not spying on Nigerians, we are defending the Nigeria state and our people in cyberspace and not otherwise as anyone may want to insinuate.” he noted.
Mr Nwachukwu said the military is engaged in several operations to tackle security challenges across the country. Bringing the public up to speed with these activities is quite acceptable but should not be conducted in a manner that could jeopardize operational security and compromise the lives of troops who are staking everything to defend the nation.
He said giving out details of impending operations certainly jeopardises operational security and puts the troops in disadvantage and the adversary in a vantage position.
“I think it will be negatively skewed to revisit isolated incidents which should not be used to consider the disposition of the military towards a critical partner and stakeholder like the media,” he said.