Daily Trust (Abuja)

17 February 2013

Nigeria: Fighting Cybercrimes Through Legislation

Cybercrime, since the advent of internet, has given Nigeria a battered image. Internet-fraud, popularly called yahoo yahoo, ranges from e-mail scams, hacking, distribution of viruses, data theft, extortion, impersonation among other things. It has become so rampant in Nigeria's Information and Communications Technology (ICT) domain that a member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aishatu Dahiru Ahmed, has seen the need to amend both the criminal code and the penal code acts to provide for severe punishment to offenders.

The Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Offences Bill is coming on the heels of the gruesome murder of a young lady, Cynthia Osukogu, in Lagos last year by friends she met on facebook. Before now, former President Olusegun Obasanjo had set up a committee called the Nigeria Cyber Crime Working Group (NCWG) to tackle the increasing cases of cybercrimes, even as of then. However, the menace caused by the unhindered access to internet, which in itself has created unlimited acccess to educational, economic and social opportunities, still remains unabated and whether the new bill, when passed into law, will curb the crimes remain to be seen.

The bill which provides in the criminal code that "unlawful access to a computer" is an offence that attracts N10,000,000.00 fine or a five year prison term when convicted, goes further to explain that when one accesses a computer with "the intent of obtaining data, securing access to any programme, commercial or industrial secrets or confidential information, the punishment shall be a fine of not more than N20,000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of 10 year or both."

The bill which also recognises that unlawful interception of communications, unauthorised modification of computer programmes or data, system interference and misuse of devices are punishable offences under section 4, section 5 subsection (1-4), section 6, and section 7 subsection (1) called for amendments to both the criminal and the penal codes.

Unlawful interception of communications, which the bill interprets as "any person who intentionally intercepts the transmissions of non-public computer data, content data or traffic data including electromagnetic emissions or signals from a computer system or network carrying or emitting such, to or from a computer, computer system or connected system or network is seen as; an offence and the personal(s) involved are liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N10, 000, 000:00 or imprisonment for a term of 5 years or both.

Unauthorised modification of computer programmes or data is an offence that the bill stipulates N15,000,000.00 fine or a term of 8 years imprisonment. While systems interference also attracts a N15,000,000.00 fine, a jail term of 10 years is proposed.

Computer related fraud contained in section 9 subsection (1) and (2) of the bill carries the highest punishment for cyber fraudsters.

"Any person who knowingly and without authority or in excess of authority causes a loss of property to another by altering, erasing, inputting or suppressing any data held in any computer, whether or not for the purpose of conferring any economic benefits for sef or another person , commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N25,000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of 15 years or both,"section 9 subsection (1) of the bill stated.

The 20-section bill takes care of cyber terrorism in section 13 subsections (1) and (2). It states that any person that accesses or causes to be accessed any computer or computer system network for purposes of terrorism, commits an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N20,000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of 10 years or both," section 13 subsection (1) stipulates.

Racist and xenophobic offences, child pornography and related offences, identity theft and impersonation, cyber harrassment among other offences have been spelt out in various sections of the bill.

The bill, no doubt, covers all aspects of cybercrime but how realistic can the bill, when passed into law curb the ever increasing menace of cybercrime.

First, it is imperative to look at how well prepared the Nigeria security agencies, who for the past few years have had torrid times fighting terrorism are, in combating the cyber fraudsters, who undoubtedly operate with high level of intelligence.

It is clear that fighting cybercrime requires not just a robust legislation, it requires a security force with high level of IT intelligence to be able to counter the criminals whose intelligence and speed of committing offences is always intended to beat the security forces

Essentially cybercrime is information and intelligence based activity. You cannot fight cybercrime with an ignorant security outfit since the need to create an elite security force which will be properly trained to tackle the super intelligent criminals. .

Since committers of cybercrimes have defrauded consumers and investors, thereby creating serious credibility and image problems, many countries have developed strategies for preventing, detecting and containing the threats associated with cybercrime, without necessarily infringing on the rights of its citizens. In Nigeria, however, since social networking has become a major pastime for majority of citizens, questions will be raised as to whether their rights to privacy will be trampled upon when the law swings into action.The bill has already passed second reading and Nigerians are eargerly waiting to see when it will be passed into law. Once it becomes law, again, Nigerians will want to see whether it will be an effective instrument in fighting a crime that has not only dented the image of the country in the international community but has left many people distraught. For the family of Cynthia Osukogu especially, and young girls who are vulnerable to cybercrimes most, it will be the beginning of a new era.

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