Letter to the Senate On Internet Monitoring [opinion]
(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Dear Distinguished Senators,
I am writing this letter to you in the month of Nigeria's independence anniversary. This is not accidental for you are supposed to be the face of law making in Nigeria. As an older Nigerian who substantively speaking had seen all about our country, I have come to the conclusion that outside a moral understanding of a nation, there can be no nation. For me this is deep, highly introspective and reflective of our condition. I take my cue from nations all over the world and the thoughts of some of our founding mothers and fathers.
Senators, outside an ethical construct of a nation, there can be no nation except mere geographical space. In the month of Nigeria's independence anniversary, we all have verbally espoused all the usual patriotic and nationalistic sentiments, however, the truth about a nation is not in those fine speeches but in our moral construct of the nation and our moral disposition to the nation.
Why? The fierce nationalistic and patriotic feelings expressed by citizens of modern nations are and can only be inspired by how their nations have been morally constructed and their own moral disposition and commitment to that moral construct. So for example, the claim by Americans that "I am American and I'm loving it" is more about values than the mere geographical fact of United States of America being geographically speaking a North American country.
What has impelled me back to the foundations of things is the unbearable immorality of the Nigerian presidency on the issue of Internet monitoring and your own-Nigerian Senate- potential possible complicit. This untruth from the presidency appears "very small" but it says a lot about when not a nation. I think this is pertinent since you are debating this monitoring of Internet bill presently.
In our moral world the primary factor that separates a moral and immoral act is consistency. We say an act is immoral immediately we perceive an inconsistency in an act that violates our perceptual space. So there is something intensely immoral in the Nigerian presidency's publicly stated position on the country's security, Boko Haram, Internet monitoring and the firming of such contract in a morally questionable secretive manner on internet monitoring to a foreign firm and its stated positions on International forum subscribing to "free flow of information on the internet ... ". Something intensely immoral is missing and Nigerians must search for that immoral missing link because the Nigerian presidency's publicly subscribed position on free flow of information on the internet contradicts the practice of Nigerian government at home to in a most secretive and immoral manner hideously and covertly restrict the free flow of information on the internet.
For example, Nigeria ostensibly belongs to a core group of countries which last year sponsored a resolution on human rights and Internet. The other countries in this core group are Turkey, United States, Brazil, Tunisia, and Sweden. At a time the presidency, was secretly dealing with Elbit Security to commence the covert monitoring of the Internet use of Nigerians, the same presidency was signatory to a statement in June, 2013 made by the Chargé d'Affaires of Turkey in Geneva, Sami Bougacha.
The statement, which is a cross regional cooperation on freedom of expression on the Internet was addressed to the Human Rights Council on behalf of subscribing countries which funny enough included Nigeria who was at the same time actively handling the monitoring of Internet use in Nigeria to a private company-Elbit Security- in a most un-transparent and covert manner.
This deception and moral duplicity by the Nigerian government that calls to question the moral meaning of a nation is so intense, Nigerians deserve to know how the government deceives both within and abroad.
Listen to the statement Nigeria signed on to as delivered by the spokesperson of the core group, the Turkish Mr. Sami Bougacha to the World's Human Rights Council: "To enjoy and ensure the potential that the internet offers, we believe that there should be as little restriction as possible to the flow of information on the Internet and we repeat our call on all states to ensure strong protection of freedom of expression, privacy and other human rights online in accordance with international human rights law.
As the Internet continues to spread and its impact grows, the handling of security concerns are moving into the realm of the Internet as well. However, the state's efforts to manage security concerns may pose a challenge when it relates to the Internet."
The statement continues: "It is of paramount importance to recall that the state has an obligation to respect, protect and promote individuals' human rights and fundamental freedoms. This applies, as laid out before, both in the physical world as well as on the Internet. We therefore wish to emphasize that when addressing any security concerns on the Internet, this must be done in a manner consistent with states' obligations under international human rights law and full respect for human rights must be maintained. Recognizing the complexity and the diversity of the Internet, it is our belief that governments should promote and protect human rights online at the same time as taking responsibility for security concerns. "
This same statement Nigeria signed on to publicly at an International Forum-an address to Human Rights Council made clear in a succinct manner that: "We are convinced that governments can achieve this through the establishment of democratic and transparent institutions, based on the rule of law. This is not only possible, but necessary to ensure that the Internet can continue being the vibrant force which generates economic, social and cultural development."
My dear Senators, as you commenced debating the bill to monitor the internet use of Nigerians- a bill which was motivated by the un-transparent act of the Presidency in contracting the monitoring of Nigerians' internet use to a private company outside the law-I wonder if you are aware of this publicly held position by the Nigerian government in this address to the Human Rights Council. Senators, what do you know of this statement? Did the Nigerian presidency make this statement available to you? Did you go out yourselves to find out?
In modern society, respect of state for the privacy of the individual is held to be a question of dignity, a social good seen as an inviolable moral act. Therefore, how will you respond to this social good in your bill? Under an uncritical pressure of the moment, you have not made this clear, yet you are proceeding with the bill.
But more importantly is the question of what a nation is in the face of ethics-both public and private. No country or nation (I am aware of the conceptual distinction between the two but I am using this concurrently in a deliberate manner to represent our situation) can and will exist in the face of a consistent, brazen, crude and rude violation of basic truth and ethics by the state and its rulers.
It is a hopeless moral duplicity that Nigerian government is ostensibly part of a core group of countries in an International forum-Human Rights Council- that defend transparency and the rights to freedom of expression on the internet but that same government -the Nigerian presidency-came home to secretly and covertly hand over the monitoring of Internet use of Nigerians to a private company. Today, we do not even know if this secret contract is still on. The presidency is obstinate in its refusal to inform Nigerians on this in a transparent manner.
My dear senators, the foundation of any nation is moral-please check history-both old and contemporary and verify this claim. Nations begin to implode when that foundation is consistently brutalized, pummeled, violated and subverted. The Nigerian presidency's moral duplicity (home and abroad) and covert act on the monitoring of the Internet use of Nigerians-outside the law and basic ethics- is another classic case of the brutalization and subversion of the foundation of our country if the country has any that is a moral or ethical component to it beyond mere geography.
In the light of this moral violation and moral duplicity of the Nigerian presidency, you have a moral obligation to re-think your bill-the bill before you that has passed to a third reading- on the monitoring of Internet use of Nigerians. The moral and the ethical are what make a nation. Things become really problematic when those are violated. You are morally obliged to re-think your bill.
Adeolu Ademoyo of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
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