Staff from the Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit have arrived in Nigeria to begin installing a mass Internet surveillance system that has been the focus of national outrage since first revealed in April, according to the Abuja-based newspaper Premium Times.
Oglala Emanuel, who broke the original story in April, writes, “As the world battles the American government over its invasive Prism project that has snooped on Americans and other world leaders, workers of Israeli defense electronics firm, Elbit Systems, have quietly landed in Abuja, to install a comprehensive spying facility that will help the Nigerian government spy on all online activities by its citizens.”
As part of the sale, a “team of about twenty Nigerian intelligence officers are currently training” at Elbit’s headquarters in Haifa to operate the Wise Intelligent Technology (WIT) system.
Nigeria, like most states, already had significant capacity for mass data collection. In addition to enhancing data collection, the WIT system allows the Abuja authorities to analyze that data.
The website Israel’s Homeland Security notes that “In recent years the traditional structured databases of the past are being complemented by much bigger repositories of unstructured data, information that has never been tapped before — video surveillance, satellite images, emails, social networks, Internet pages, open source news, voice and data interception etc. Managing these new repositories requires new systems, storing huge volumes of information and able to retrieve specific pieces of data in an efficient and timely manner.”
As well as surveillance equipment, Elbit makes drones that the Israeli army has used when attacking civilians in Gaza.
A state’s ability to control its population is dependent on its capacity to analyze and interpret all the data it records. This is where the WIT system will come into play.
Nigeria has significantly more Internet users than any other African country. A variety of social movements, bloggers and journalists make extensive use of Internet technology. Shortly after the 1998 death of the country’s military ruler Sani Abacha, journalists digging around the web exposed how Nigerian House speaker, Salisu Buhari, had forged his academic credentials. The exposé led to Buhari’s 1999 resignation.
Yet just ten days before Premium Times broke the Elbit story in April, the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan appointed Buhari to a federal position governing Nigerian universities.
It is striking that the first major Nigerian politician brought down by an online investigation is brought back into federal government as the Jonathan administration hires an Israeli firm to take control of Nigeria’s Internet.
An earlier version of this post incorrectly dated Sani Abacha’s death as 1999.