Nigerian government under fire over cybercrime


Image: Dr Emmanuel Ekuwem. By Kokumo Goodie
Dr Emmanuel Ekuwem

By Kokumo Goodie, Lagos, Nigeria

Stakeholders in Nigeria's information communication technology (ICT) sector have slammed the federal government for not doing anything to stem the incessant onslaught of cyber criminals in the country, urging the authorities to strike when the iron is hot.

Bayo Banjo, president, Nigeria Internet Group (NIG) lamented that government hads failed to rise up to the challenge of tackling cybercrimes in the country.

He was speaking to on the sidelines of the Africa Information Society Merit Awards and Cyber Nigeria Forum 2012, put together by Tribe Media Company, producers ICT programme on TV- AIT Infotech Network and Cyber Africa in Lagos.

Also speaking on the same issue, Dr Emmanuel Ekuwem, chief executive of Teledon Group, said the nation's cyberspace is exposed - as porous as its many land borders.

Start with jobs

Bayo BanjoBanjo said as a way of beginning the campaign, there is need for government to repeal ‘obnoxious’ labour laws in the nation's statute books. “If you want to tackle cybercrime, you must look at the labour laws. It is the young people that do the jib of hacking. It is the young people and not old people like us, they are the ones that have the brains, the impatience, the zeal to dig further,” he said.

Banjo carpeted the regulator, the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) for all the woes in the ICT sector. According to him, government is not providing a congenial environment for business to thrive in the sector as big players keep trampling on small innovative players without any effort at salvaging the small players by the regulator.

He said the Nigerian authorities has the predilection of copying what is happening abroad without taking into consideration, the peculiarity of “our system and situation” citing the absence of anti trust law in the country as an example.

“We cannot move forward without this. A big company will muscle a small innovative company without let or hindrance in this country,” he said.

Banjo also lamented the absence of a level-playing field for operators in the ICT space as everything is decidedly skewed in favour of the big players.

On the issuance of national licences, he said there was nothing bad in that practice, especially at the dawn of a cashlite economy being spearheaded by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) but warned that such licences should not be issued for broadband provisioning.

A ‘keg of gunpowder’

For Ekuwem, who was a former president of the National Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (NATCOMS), Nigeria's financial sector is indeed sitting on a keg of gun powder because of the porousness of its cyber space.

“Our cyberspace is too exposed. There is no security at all. It is dangerous for the national economy, it is dangerous for our national security. All over the world, there is a new awakening to the security of the cyber space,” he lamented.

According to him, the beginning of a monumental revolution may begin by a hacker getting access to the data base of one of the big financial institutions in the country.

“Imagine a situation that a bank wakes up one morning only to discover that its entire data base has been corrupted. That will automatically set up a wave of revolution in the country because a customer that had only N10,000 may claim he has ten million naira in his account,” he said.

Sharing the views of Banjo, he said only the youthful sector of the population has the skill, the comportment to do ethical hacking. “Young people are creative, imaginative, impatient, daring, adventurous. They are the ones the government must employ to tackle cyber security. No nation develops neglecting its youth segment. Nigeria must rise up to the challenges.,” Ekuwem said.

A government priority

Omobola Johnson, Minister of Communications Technology, said it was not true that the government was folding its arms, like the infamous Emperor Nero, looking the other way while unscrupulous elements take investors and potential investors to the cleaners, using the cyber space.

According to her, one area that clearly signifies the readiness of the government to fight cyber crimes is the prominence it has given the issue of cyber security in new ICT Policy document.

She promised that government would continue to do its best, in partnership with the private sector, to tap the enormous resources that abound in the ICT sector.

Omobola cited the ICT incubation centres initiative as one area where young entrepreneurs and software developers can be assisted to grow. She said two of the centres are already up and running:one in Lagos and the other, in Calabar, Cross River State which are not run by government but by private entrepreneurs.

“What these centres will do is to help young Nigerians transform their ideas to commerce. The centres will advise them on the sustainability and marketability of their ideas. So, it is an evolution from incubation to reality,” Omobola said.

Industry analysts have posited that the success or otherwise of CBN’s Cashless initiative would be largely dependent on security in the nation's electronic payment landscape. This is because of the harsh experience of Nigerians with the automated teller machine (ATM) through which billions of bank customers hard-earned money was swindled.

With Nigeria gradually transiting from cash to an electronic-based economy by virtue of the implementation of the CBN’s cashless policy, cyber criminals and hackers in the country who hitherto attacked businesses and individuals across the Atlantic are re-directing their energies towards finding ways to exploit vulnerabilities in the electronic payment system in order to perpetuate fraud.

Analysts have warned financial institutions and other stakeholders in the electronic payment industry to step up investments in security of electronic transactions or risk being overwhelmed by the spate of sophisticated cyber attacks that would arise as a result of the sheer volume of financial transactions that will be done online.

According to the latest Symantec Internet Security Threat Report, Nigeria has moved to the sixth positions of the ladder to occupy the 59th position globally among countries with greatest Internet Security threat. Analysts have expressed concerns about Nigeria’s rising cybercrime profile even as there is little effort from government to pass into law, pending bills aimed at criminalising the acts.

Though the anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has succeeded in prosecuting and securing jail terms for cyber criminals called in local parlance as 419, analysts say there is much to be done.

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