Se­cu­rity Ex­perts Raise Con­cerns Over Phone Leaks

Blame Op­por­tunists Within Se­cu­rity Agen­cies Buhari Must Act Now – Hors­fall

Sunday Trust - - FRONT PAGE -

By Musa Ab­dul­lahi Kr­ishi, Hamza Idris, Is­mail Mu­dashir, Muideen Olaniyi, John Chuks Azu, Ron­ald Mu­tum, Haruna Ibrahim, Temi­tayo Odun­lami (La­gos)

Se­cu­rity ex­perts have ex­pressed con­cerns over strings of au­dio leaks of pri­vate tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions in­volv­ing high pro­file in­di­vid­u­als in the coun­try.

Re­cently, Nige­ri­ans have wit­nessed a rise in num­ber of leaks of con­ver­sa­tions of top per­son­al­i­ties, giv­ing rise to ques­tions about those be­hind the dis­clo­sures and their likely im­pli­ca­tions.

Last week, an au­dio pur­port­ing to con­tain the voices of Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari’s un­cle, Mam­man Daura, and an­other in­di­vid­ual al­legedly speak­ing about the pres­i­dent’s wife, Aisha Buhari, cre­ated a buzz in so­cial me­dia, with many peo­ple shar­ing and lis­ten­ing to it.

A few days later, an­other pri­vate tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion was re­leased on the in­ter­net, in which two un­known top mem­bers in the Pres­i­dency spoke about the pos­si­bil­ity of ask­ing Pres­i­dent Buhari to re­sign on ac­count of his ill-health.

The se­cu­rity ex­perts who spoke to Daily Trust on Sun­day de­scribed the prac­tice as dis­turb­ing.

The ex­perts feared that the ac­tion did not only vi­o­late peo­ple’s right to pri­vacy, but also posed a se­ri­ous se­cu­rity chal­lenge, con­sid­er­ing the cal­i­bre of the per­son­al­i­ties whose con­ver­sa­tions have been leaked so far.

Speak­ing against the new trend, a re­tired se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cer, Colonel Ab­dul Mo­hammed, hinged the problem on what he termed the bas­tardi­s­a­tion of the coun­try’s wire­tap­ping pol­icy.

“It is only in Nige­ria that a third party will eas­ily have ac­cess to the tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion of two oth­ers with­out se­ri­ous con­se­quences,” he ob­served, say­ing it was not the case 20 years ago when the GSM was in­tro­duced into the coun­try.

“At that time, even our mil­i­tary did not have the where­withal. Only the GSM ser­vice providers had the tech­nol­ogy, but as a re­sult of se­cu­rity breach in the coun­try, the mil­i­tary, the Depart­ment of Se­cu­rity Ser­vice (DSS), and to cer­tain ex­tent, even the po­lice, ac­quired the tech­nol­ogy.

“But one thing is clear - there is com­pro­mise within the se­cu­rity cir­cle and GSM providers, which helps politi­cians get ac­cess to what oth­ers dis­cussed, which is ma­jorly for black­mail or mis­chief pur­poses,” he said.

Be­cause most of the em­ploy­ees han­dling sen­si­tive is­sues such as con­ver­sa­tions for covert op­er­a­tions are not well paid, he ar­gued that “some mis­chievous politi­cians cash in on this to tap con­ver­sa­tions of other politi­cians, foes or what­ever.”

A serv­ing se­cu­rity op­er­a­tive, who would not want to be named, how­ever, said other sources, apart from se­cu­rity agen­cies and ser­vice providers, could be re­spon­si­ble for the leaks.

“Your phone may record a con­ver­sa­tion, and sud­denly, some­one may have ac­cess to it. Or it could be from the or­der end, that’s the per­son you’re com­mu­ni­cat­ing with.

“But se­cu­rity agen­cies too could tap our calls, so peo­ple have to be care­ful. All they need to know is your tele­phone num­ber, and that’s all.

“The ser­vice providers too can eas­ily have ac­cess to your phone con­ver­sa­tions, so it can be from any­where. Usu­ally, when things like this hap­pen, the first sus­pects are the se­cu­rity agen­cies. But it could be some­one close to the per­son, or their per­sonal aides.

“But se­cu­rity wise, it means some­thing is wrong if any­one can just tap your calls and leak the au­dio to the pub­lic.

“What it means is that peo­ple can’t dis­cuss sen­si­tive is­sues over the phone, or one may have to be very care­ful of what he says on the

phone,” he said. Sea­son of End­less Leaks Be­tween 2015 and now, Nige­ri­ans have wit­nessed a num­ber of au­dio leaks of tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions of top per­son­al­i­ties, in­clud­ing that of a pres­i­dent and his would-be suc­ces­sor, state governors and other top govern­ment func­tionar­ies. The devel­op­ment has raised many ques­tions re­gard­ing those re­spon­si­ble for the leaks and the im­pli­ca­tions of such leaks.

At the height of the 2015 elec­tions on Monday, March 30, two days be­fore the re­sults of the elec­tions were an­nounced, the then Pres­i­dent Jonathan put a call through to the then can­di­date of the All Pro­gres­sives Congress (APC) Muham­madu Buhari about 5pm to con­grat­u­late him.

In the his­toric phone call, Jonathan, who con­tested on the plat­form of the Peo­ples Demo­cratic Party (PDP), con­ceded de­feat as sit­ting pres­i­dent, a devel­op­ment that doused ten­sion across the coun­try. Their con­ver­sa­tion was leaked in a short while, and it is still un­clear who did it. How­ever, ac­cus­ing fin­gers were pointed at the team of the then pres­i­dent-elect.

The tran­script of the con­ver­sa­tion, which was later re­leased, went thus:

Caller: Your Ex­cel­lency, sir. Hope I’m speak­ing with Gen­eral Buhari, sir. Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan would like to speak with you, sir. Re­ceiver: Yes. Okay, hold on. Jonathan: Your Ex­cel­lency Re­ceiver: Hold on, sir. Buhari: Your Ex­cel­lency Jonathan: Your Ex­cel­lency, how are you? Buhari: I’m all right. Jonathan: (Laugh­ter) Con­grat­u­la­tions

Buhari: Thank you very much, your Ex­cel­lency. Jonathan: So, how are things? Buhari: Well, I’d con­grat­u­late you more be­cause you…

Jonathan: In a few days find time to come so that we can sort out how to plan the tran­si­tional pe­riod.

Buhari: Al­right, Your Ex­cel­lency. Thank you very much Jonathan: Okay, con­grat­u­la­tions Buhari: My re­spects, Your Ex­cel­lency. Thank you.

Again, in June 2015, soon af­ter Se­na­tor Bukola Saraki be­came the Se­nate Pres­i­dent, an au­dio of Sen Shehu Sani (APC, Kaduna) dur­ing a re­cep­tion in his hon­our was leaked. In the au­dio, the Kaduna se­na­tor was heard lam­poon­ing Saraki’s emer­gence as Se­nate Pres­i­dent, de­scrib­ing it as a set­back and be­trayal to the rul­ing APC.

The Shehu Sani au­dio did not leak un­til around April 2017, about two years af­ter. The se­na­tor is now one of the close law­mak­ers to the Se­nate Pres­i­dent.

Sim­i­larly, days af­ter the De­cem­ber 10, 2015 re­run elec­tions in Rivers State, an au­dio emerged where Gov­er­nor Nye­som Wike pur­port­edly ad­mit­ted giv­ing bribe to some of­fi­cials of the In­de­pen­dent Na­tional Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (INEC) and threat­ened to kill them should they fail to do his bid­ding. The gov­er­nor has since de­nied the au­dio, say­ing it was fab­ri­cated.

Later in the same De­cem­ber, 2015, an­other leaked au­dio of a tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Wike and Gov­er­nor Ayo Fayose of Ek­iti State also emerged, where the later was heard con­grat­u­lat­ing the for­mer over his ‘ma­neu­ver­ing’ of the re­run polls.

In the leaked au­dio by an on­line medium, Wike was heard mock­ing the Nige­rian Army by telling his Ek­iti State coun­ter­part that the “Nige­rian Army does not ex­ist again.” He also de­nied the au­dio.

In May 2017, a leaked au­dio al­legedly re­vealed how Sen Dino Me­laye and a Fed­eral High Court judge, Akon Ikpeme, who headed the Kogi State Na­tional Assem­bly elec­tion pe­ti­tions tri­bunal, dis­cussing bribe.

The au­dio al­legedly re­vealed that both Me­laye and Ikpeme agreed that the bribe would be paid in US Dol­lar. Me­laye has since de­nied the al­le­ga­tion.

Last June, a leaked au­dio of an al­leged con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Borno State Gov­er­nor Kashim Shet­tima and his Ogun State coun­ter­part, Ibikunle Amo­sun emerged.

The two governors were al­legedly heard dis­cussing plot against the Igbo in the area of econ­omy, pol­i­tics and se­cu­rity. But the two governors have de­nied ever en­gag­ing in any such con­ver­sa­tion.

About a week ago, an­other au­dio clip sur­faced through an on­line medium. This time around, it was a tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion re­port­edly be­tween Mam­man Daura, Pres­i­dent

Buhari’s nephew, and Mah­mud Tukur, a close as­so­ciate.

The leaked au­dio re­vealed the duo dis­cussing Buhari’s health con­di­tion when the pres­i­dent was still in Lon­don re­ceiv­ing med­i­cal at­ten­tion. They also dis­cussed a num­ber of is­sues, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent’s wife, the sus­pended Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral of the Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Agency (NIA), among oth­ers.

Yet an­other tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion was leaked a few days ago be­tween two un­named top mem­bers of the pres­i­dency. In the au­dio, the duo dis­cussed how plans to make Buhari re­sign on health grounds and in­stall his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari as vice pres­i­dent were afoot.

Mam­man Daura, who is be­lieved to be the clos­est to the pres­i­dent, was to con­vince Buhari to re­sign on the con­di­tion that the then act­ing pres­i­dent, Yemi Os­in­bajo, would agree to make Kyari his deputy, the au­dio sug­gested.

All the above au­dio leaks have raised a lot of con­cerns among Nige­ri­ans as to their safety if the se­cret con­ver­sa­tions of top govern­ment of­fi­cials and high­ly­placed in­di­vid­u­als could be bugged and leaked.

Blame Op­por­tunists within Se­cu­rity Agen­cies

The act of wire-tap­ping tele­phone lines by se­cu­rity agents to lis­ten to con­ver­sa­tions has been a tra­di­tion for covertly track­ing high­value sus­pects on “se­cu­rity radar,” a re­tired in­tel­li­gence chief said.

“Law­ful in­ter­cept,” as he called it, “is a global means of track­ing con­ver­sa­tions and move­ments of crim­i­nals, ter­ror­ists and even kid­nap­pers. It’s a global phe­nom­e­non that is strictly and solely for se­cu­rity rea­sons,” which is dif­fi­cult to com­pro­mise.

He rec­om­mends that Nige­ria’s se­cu­rity chiefs must probe their of­fices for the cul­prits if it turns out that the leaks that are be­ing churned out are gen­uine.

“If it is a fact that the leaks are gen­uine, the of­fices of the se­cu­rity chiefs, in­clud­ing the DSS di­rec­tor -gen­eral, must be looked into. Some of the guys in the of­fices are just op­por­tunists who are not grounded on the job. Be­cause of this, they can eas­ily re­lease it for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons and oth­ers,” he said.

He, how­ever, noted that the leaks might have been done by ei­ther of the par­ties in­volved in the tele­phone con­ver­sion and not a third party.

“You know peo­ple can be funny, es­pe­cially politi­cians. For po­lit­i­cal rea­sons, they can eas­ily record and re­lease their con­ver­sions to the pub­lic, with the aim of por­tray­ing their col­leagues in bad light,” he said.

Also speak­ing, a re­tired se­nior po­lice of­fi­cer de­scribed the trend as dan­ger­ous for the coun­try’s in­tel­li­gence cir­cle and ruled out the in­volve­ment of the ser­vice providers in the leaks.

“It is a very dan­ger­ous and dis­turb­ing trend that must be ur­gently halted in the in­ter­est of our in­ter­nal se­cu­rity, and by ex­ten­sion ex­ter­nal. In the coun­try, it’s only three or­gan­i­sa­tions that pos­sess the gad­gets for wire­tap­ping or tele­phone tap­ping, as you called it. The po­lice, the DSS and the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vice providers. The DSS ac­quired the gad­gets long­time ago; it’s the po­lice that re­cently ac­quired it. It is shortly af­ter the po­lice ac­quired the de­vice that we started ex­pe­ri­enc­ing this. I know the ser­vice providers can­not be re­spon­si­ble for this,” the re­tired po­lice top gun said in an in­ter­view.’’

Adding his voice to the calls for probe, a serv­ing po­lice of­fi­cer who once served in the com­mu­ni­ca­tion unit, said there was the need for a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion of those man­ning the unit re­spon­si­ble for mon­i­tor­ing of calls for se­cu­rity uses.

“Gen­er­ally speak­ing, it poses great dan­ger on the coun­try’s se­cu­rity be­cause, as you know, se­cu­rity is all about se­crecy. But I am sus­pect­ing that these things are get­ting out from the of­fices of our top ech­e­lons. You know af­ter the in­for­ma­tion are sourced through phone con­ver­sion, they must pass through the ta­bles of our bosses,” he said.

Colonel Aminu Isah Kon­tagora (re­tired) also ar­gued that the au­dio leaks could con­sti­tute a threat to the coun­try’s se­cu­rity.

Kon­tagora, who was a mil­i­tary ad­min­is­tra­tor of Kano and Benue states, how­ever, said the new phe­nom­e­non showed that the modern gad­gets were not im­mune to third party in­ter­fer­ence.

“It’s not new in the in­ter­na­tional cir­cle. But what is new is to have the record­ing and at the same time pub­li­cise it. That is where the dan­ger is. It only but­tresses the point that modern gad­gets are not im­mune to in­ter­fer­ence by a third party. So, it is ad­vis­able you know what to say and be ready to de­fend what you say. Of course, on the se­cu­rity as­pect, those who are in­volved in se­ri­ous in­sur­gency do not use such fa­cil­i­ties. That is the dif­fer­ence,” he said.

Asked if the prac­tice could con­sti­tute a vi­o­la­tion of cit­i­zens’ right to pri­vacy, the re­tired mil­i­tary ad­min­is­tra­tor said: “With a pro­ce­dure you can re­trieve what you have just said. That is a known fact. But you have to go through the process of re­trieval. But def­i­nitely, what we are say­ing is be­ing recorded. That is why peo­ple should just be con­scious that what­ever you are say­ing on phone is some­thing you can de­fend, it’s some­thing that is cor­rect and will not lead to em­bar­rass­ment.

“There are laws against it. If you can pick any of those leaks and link it to an in­di­vid­ual, you can con­fi­dently pros­e­cute the in­di­vid­ual. No­body has the lat­i­tude to record you with­out your per­mis­sion.”

Pres­i­dent Must Act Fast – Hors­fall

How­ever, the pioneer Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of the DSS and the NIA, Chief Al­bert Hors­fall, warned that such leaks can im­pede gov­ern­ing process, ad­vis­ing the pres­i­dent to act.

“The se­cu­rity im­pli­ca­tions are many. Gov­er­nance could be­come dif­fi­cult. The best way to han­dle such leak mat­ters is to al­low the rel­e­vant se­cu­rity agen­cies to take ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tions, to find out what the mo­ti­va­tions are. It is a se­cu­rity problem.

“Now, in­ter-agency ri­valry cre­ates prob­lems for the coun­try and the govern­ment. It cre­ates bad blood among the agen­cies. Cer­tain leaks to the Eco­nomic and Fi­nan­cial Crimes Com­mis­sion (EFCC) about the op­er­a­tions of the DSS are an ex­am­ple. Such leaks cre­ate prob­lems of mis­trust from the pub­lic. It should be tack­led. If govern­ment of­fi­cials and peo­ple in au­thor­ity con­tinue not to trust one an­other, there would be lack of har­mony and trust in gov­er­nance. Of­fi­cials won’t col­lab­o­rate well in im­ple­ment­ing govern­ment de­ci­sions.

“The pres­i­dent is left to make his de­ci­sions on leak mat­ters based on the facts avail­able to him. He, and not you and I, knows the truth of the mat­ter. We can only be as­sum­ing, but he can find out the facts and act on solv­ing it. Lawyers Speak As leaked tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions con­tinue to at­tract opin­ions, con­sti­tu­tional lawyer, Se­bas­tine Hon, a Se­nior Ad­vo­cate of Nige­ria (SAN), has said that glob­ally, wire-tap­ping is un­con­sti­tu­tional and an in­va­sion of the right to pri­vacy.

He, how­ever, noted that some as­pects of the Ev­i­dence Act, sec­tions 14 and 15, agreed with wire-tap­ping, be­ing that it pro­vides that such ev­i­dence, no mat­ter how il­le­gally ob­tained, be­comes ad­mis­si­ble in court.

He ex­plained fur­ther that when se­cu­rity agen­cies are to charge some­body to court, the per­son can en­force his fun­da­men­tal rights.

Also speak­ing, Abeny Mo­hammed (SAN) said phone con­ver­sa­tions were pri­vate af­fairs that should not be in­ter­fered with, adding that even when it in­volves pub­lic of­fi­cials, it may only be in­ter­fered with if it has to do with of­fi­cial mat­ters.

Po­lice not aware of wire­tap­ping – Spokesper­son

The Nige­ria Po­lice Force (NPF) has said it is not aware of any bug­ging of tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions of high pro­file Nige­ri­ans.

When con­tacted yes­ter­day on the mat­ter, the spokesman of the NPF, CSP Ji­moh Mos­hood, said ýthe po­lice did not se­cretly record peo­ple’s phone con­ver­sa­tions, nor is it aware of any­body do­ing so.

How­ever, a po­lice source told Daily Trust on Sun­day that the po­lice had not re­ceived any com­plaint of phone bug­ging, and so, could not in­ves­ti­gate.

Gov. Nye­som Wike of Rivers State

Gov. Ay­o­dele Fayose of Ek­iti State

For­mer Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan

Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari

DG DSS, Lawan Daura

IGP Ibrahim K. Idris

CDS, Gen. Abay­omi Gabriel Olonisakin

Wife of the Pres­i­dent, Aisha Buhari

Mam­man Daura

Chief of Staff to the Pres­i­dent, Abba Kyari

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