Senate denies knowledge of $40m Internet surveillance contract

The Senate has denied knowledge of the $40m Internet surveillance contract the Federal Government awarded to an Israeli company, Elbit Systems.

The Leader of the Senate, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, told one of our correspondents in Abuja that he did not know if a provision for the project was in the 2013 budget.

He said, “I am not aware of the contract. We don’t have those details. There are thousands of items in the budget. It will be difficult for me to say.”

Asked if the Senate would investigate the matter, he said, “I cannot answer that question now. It will simply be academic to give any answer since I do not have the details.”

Also, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Senator Ahmed Lawan, while responding to inquiries, said he did not have details on the contract.

He said, “I am trying to get the details of the contract. I don’t have to be frivolous; once I get the details, then we will talk.”

However, the 2013 budget allocation to the Office of the National Security Adviser has a total of N18.66bn for projects relating to communication technology.

The items include N9.84bn for what is described as Data Signal Centre (North Central) and another Satellite Communication (Including training) has a total of N6.78bn.

The acquisition of Iridium (used in scientific instruments) communication platform will cost N2.04bn.

An online medium, Premium Times, had on April 25, 2013 reported that the Jonathan administration had awarded a $40m  Internet surveillance contract to an Israeli firm.

According to the report, the project is to help spy on citizens’ computers and Internet communications under the guise of intelligence gathering and national security.

On Sunday, the news medium also reported that the Federal Government had summoned the management of Elbit Systems, an Israeli security firm; to explain why the contract should not be revoked after it allegedly breached a confidential agreement in the contract.

But in an interview, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, said the report he read did not mention the African country that awarded the contract to the Israeli company.

According to him, the people who were interpreting the report were the ones mentioning Nigeria.

Abati had said, “Speaking theoretically, you will note that in an age of terrorism, and with the kind of security challenges we have in the world today, many countries have seen the need in combating terrorism to upscale their intelligence gathering methods.

“And in many of the countries that we like to quote, that we like to refer to, you know for a fact that several methods are taken to monitor what happens in cyberspace and to prevent cyber crime, and to ensure that nobody abuses an important medium as the Internet. But that is speaking theoretically.”

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JD:I dont understand this report.why wasn’t Reuben Abati asked a simple yes or no question if it is true the contract to the Israelis was awarded,this diplomatic answer hangs the issue in the balance.The truth is there is no secrecy about things like this.The earlier the government comes out clean,the better .Whilst this surveillance project looks necessary from a security perspective,it can also be used as a deadly weapon by desperate political leaders to hound its perceived enemies and attempt to muzzle all forms of opposition.So until we get a clear cut explanation as to the modus operandi ,we should all be saying a clear cut NO to this