Security Experts Raise Concerns Over Phone Leaks
Blame Opportunists Within Security Agencies Buhari Must Act Now – Horsfall
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
Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari