Scandal in Nigeria over Israeli arms firm’s Internet spying contract

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan

Goodluck Jonathan


Since April, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has faced public outrage over a $40-million contract awarded to Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems.

An Elbit system would reportedly enable the Nigerian government to surveil all Internet activity in Nigeria

The scandal is reminiscent of the much larger National Security Agency spy program recently revealed by whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Some NSA spy systems are known to rely on Israeli technological support.

The disclosure that Elbit’s Wise Intelligence telecommunications surveillance system will monitor all Nigerian Internet communications “sparked national outrage, with a lot of Nigerians now apprehensive that their country might be sliding back to dictatorship,” wrote Premium Times.

The Abuja-based newspaper broke the story on 25 April with the warning: “Big brother, in the form of the Jonathan administration, is watching you, and your communication is no longer safe.”

According to anonymous government sources who spoke to the paper, the system would “help the Jonathan administration access all computers and read all email correspondences” in Nigeria.

Elbit Systems had announced the sale to an unnamed “country in Africa” in a press release. The details were then ferreted out by journalist Ogala Emmanuel who wrote that the deal would help the Jonathan administration “spy on citizens’ computers and Internet communications under the guise of intelligence gathering and national security.”

The ensuing public criticism pressured Jonathan to mull canceling the contract (with one report saying he has already done so). Nigeria’s House of Representatives has ordered the contract revoked.

This is at least the third major Israeli sale of surveillance systems to Nigeria, following a 2006 Aeronautics Defense Systems drone sale and 2008 contracts with NICE Systems for video surveillance.

Israel’s war industry

The deal with Nigeria is another example of technology developed by Israel’s war industry in the course of dispossessing the Palestinian people being exported around the world.

Dissent against the contract has not engaged this, but instead focuses on a lack of transparency in awarding the contract, and its implications for Nigerian civil liberties.

But BDS Switzerland explicitly invokes this history in a new petition drive against a pending drone contract. Two Israeli firms, Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries, are the final contenders in a Swiss drone bid worth between 300-400 million Swiss Francs.

BDS Switzerland frames their petition in the language of international law and not Palestinian liberation but ties their effort directly to conditions on the ground in Palestine.

They note that: “IAI and Elbit Systems have developed and tested their aircraft through the surveillance, repression and killing of Palestinians including numerous civilians” and that “these two companies are notorious accomplices in the repression waged by the State of Israel.”

This is the same provenance as the technology in Elbit’s Nigeria contract, though the campaigners against it have yet to significantly engage this angle.