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Nigerian Government in Talks with China’s Cyber Regulator to Build Nigerian Internet Firewall

According to a report from the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), a Nigeria based not-for-profit organization, Internet users in Nigeria suddenly found themselves unable to log on to Twitter over the weekend and had to use a virtual private network (VPN) to access it. The report indicated that the Nigerian government is discussing plans with the Chinese government to build an Internet firewall, with the intention of following China’s lead in controlling social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

For the past several years, the Nigerian government has been seeking a way to control online speech. Less than a year after the new president Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015, he stepped up legislation to control cyberspace as well as news media.

In November 2017, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) ordered the shutdown of 21 websites that supported anti-government groups. Between 2018 and 2019, the government was exploring the use of Open Source Internet Intelligence (OSINT) to track Internet users on social media who are critical of the government. 2019 saw the introduction of two bills in Nigeria’s parliament: a comprehensive bill to ban hate speech and a bill to prevent fake news and other related crimes on the Internet. Such proposals caused a public outcry in Nigeria and did not receive a final vote in parliament.

The FIJ has learned that the Nigerian government, through the office of the President, reached out to the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) to discuss plans to build an Internet firewall. This would enable the Nigerian government to control the media space and to create laws that would criminalize speech against the government.

The CAC is the central internet regulator, censor, oversight and control agency for China. It answers to the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission, headed by Xi Jinping, China’s President. Since it came into existence, the CAC, which also gives approval to the data of Chinese companies outside of China, has been regulating user names on the Chinese Internet, licensing news information services, and banning comments that “harm national security” or “harm the nations honor.”

Nigeria’s surveillance capabilities rank high on the continent. In 2018, the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) was allocated $12.8 million for a surveillance project called Stravinsky Project 2. Other budget allocations intended to increase the surveillance capabilities of both the ONSA and the Department of State Security (DSS) included a ‘Social Media Mining Suite,’ a ‘Wolverine Next Generation SDRIMSI,’ a ‘Surveillance Drone’ and ‘Mobile Surveillance Facilities.’

Freedom House, a US-based advocacy group, revealed that the surveillance projects such as Stravinsky Project 2 still received allocation in the 2019 and 2020 budget proposals.

Source: Radio France International, June 7, 2021