Making Cyberspace Safe for Africa

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Emma Okonji writes on the need for a greater collaboration to address the rising rates of cybercrime and cyber bullying in the cyberspace

In order to create cyber-security awareness among Africans, Nigerians inclusive, most government agencies, including private organisations in Nigeria, penultimate week, joined other African countries to celebrate the Africa Safer Internet Day (ASID), which is the continent’s version of the World Safer Internet Day (WSID).

ASID is usually held on February 9 every year, to create awareness on the dangers of cyberspace, with a view to educate Africans on the safer way to use the internet and what they must guide against while browsing online.

Cyber-security experts have continued to research on new sets of malware that are trending and designed to corrupt computer systems, with the intention to gain unauthorised access to organisation and individual data, in order to steal vital information.

Aside malware threats, there are also cases of cyber bullying, identity theft and child abuse in the cyberspace, which the Africa Safer Internet Day seeks to address.

Cybercrime implications

In Nigeria, just like other African countries, cybercrime is on the rise among youths, who take pleasure in making quick money online as a result of the high rate of unemployment in Nigeria and Africa.

The advent of computers, the internet and the mobile telephones gave rise to a huge outbreak of cybercrimes globally. Fraudsters, who are tech savvy, use their technology skills to perpetrate evil in cyberspace and defraud people of money that runs into millions of naira.

Aside stealing, some youths take pleasure in developing malware purposely to either disable organisations’ computer systems and make them to malfunction, or to delete vital information from computers, through which the organisations could be defrauded. Some youths purposely go online to bully innocent youths who genuinely browse the internet for the purpose of research, especially which school assignments are given.

Unfortunately, the current social, economic and political trends have created fear and suspicion on the minds of many Nigerians and Africans who are now afraid to go online when they even have need for it, and the implications are even greater when some lure unsuspecting victims to their untimely deaths, just for rituals. As reported by experts, cybercrime comes in different categories in Nigeria ranging from Internet fraud, software piracy, hacking, online scam, Automated Teller Machine (ATM) or credit card fraud, virus dissemination, phishing, cyber-stalking, and cyber-defamation.

Although the federal government is keen at eradicating all forms of cybercrime, though the Cybercrime Law that took effect in 2015, but crimes committed in cyberspace are still on the rise globally, a development that promoted government agencies and private organisations in Nigeria to begin intensive campaigns against cybercrime in Nigeria.

Awareness

Given the demographics of the large population of youths that browse the internet, and recognising the fact that youths are susceptible to the dangers of online activities, most corporate organisations and government agencies, are beginning to invest in various awareness campaigns that will educate youths on the safe use of the internet.

In one of the awareness programme organised by the Centre for Cyber Awareness And Development (CECAD), in celebration of the Safer Internet Day, it stressed the need for Nigerian youths to focus on the positive provisions of the internet and utilise the opportunities therein to be innovative.

The event, which took place in Lagos, highlighted the need to keep Nigerians, especially the youths, safe while online.

Speaking at the forum, Wande Adelomo of the Founders Institute, noted that the more important things to look out for online are opportunities that abound for the youths. He also charged the youths to seek knowledge of their rights and how they can be safe online.

Also, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN), Gbenga Sesan, noted that the youths should focus on three areas of protection on the internet. According to him, they should protect the internet by making responsible use of the global resource, protect themselves and protect the nation’s economy through innovative thinking that will address national and global challenges.

The Country Manager, Digital Information Security Solutions LLC, and Founder, NoGoFallMaga, Confidence Staveley, noted that young Nigerians needed to know the inherent and unprecedented opportunities the internet has to offer and use the resource to increase their skill set while seeking opportunities that will help them provide services that can earn them money.

The Executive Secretary, Nigeria Internet Registration Association (NiRA) Edith Udeagu, stressed on the need for Nigerians to protect the good image of the country while online.
In his welcome address, the President of CECAD, Bayero Agabi, insisted that creating awareness for internet safety in Nigeria cannot be over-emphasised, going by the increasing incidences of cyber attacks, online bullying and cybercrime.

Government’s support

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is one of the government agencies that is canvassing for the safe use of internet in Nigeria and the rest of Africa.

In marking the Africa Safer Internet Day 2021, with the theme: “Positioning and Partnering for Child Online Protection,” NCC’s representatives visited secondary schools in Abuja and Lagos to sensitise and educate students, on how they can use the internet productively, avoid being victims of all forms of cybercrime, and deal with cases of cyber bullying.

The schools include Model Secondary School, and Government Science Secondary School, both in Maitama, Abuja; and Kuramo Junior College and Victoria Island Junior Secondary School, both in Victoria Island, Lagos.

Addressing some of the students of Government Science Secondary School, Abuja, under strict observance of COVID-19 protocols, the Deputy Director, New Media and Information Security at NCC, Tokunbo Oyeleye, stated that this year’s theme was in sync with one of the focus areas of NCC with respect to child online protection, noting that the Commission constantly sensitises young Nigerians on cybersecurity and its applications.

“We are here, as NCC representatives, to educate you, the younger generation of Internet users on what you need to know to keep safe while online as part of our efforts to ensure child online protection in our country in the use of Information and Communication Technology,” Oyeleye said. She further explained that the concern over child online protection should not be limited to arresting the perpetrators, but should be more of providing education and counselling that may assist in minimising the harm on younger Internet users.

At the Lagos event, the Controller, NCC Lagos Zonal Office, Nkechi Obiekwe, said the protection and safety of children while they access the internet is a shared responsibility.

She added that internet penetration permeates every aspect of life and adoption of the internet presents opportunities for learning.

Earlier, in a presentation, a Principal Manager in NCC, Chioma Ibe, spoke on cyber bullying and signs to watch out for. She also highlighted ways to resist online bullying and the importance of reporting cases of cyberbullying to relevant authorities.

“Online bullying can have a devastating impact on young people, whose online life is a key part of their identity and how they interact socially. Cyberbullying takes many forms, such as sending abusive messages, hurtful images or videos, nasty online gossip, excluding or humiliating others or creating fake accounts in someone’s name to trick or humiliate them,” Ibe said.

Also contributing to the discussion, the Executive Director, Like-a-Palm-Tree Foundation, Chukwuemeka Monyei, educated the students on how to mute conversation with, unfollow, block, and report anybody who engages in an act of cyber bullying toward them as a way of protecting themselves.

Oyeleye urged the students to share the knowledge they have gained during the programme with their friends and relatives towards ensuring a safer internet for all. Pamphlets with salient printed information on child online protection and emphasis on cyberbullying, were distributed to the students across the four schools.

The students, who participated in the intensive one-day sensitisation exercise, expressed delight for being part of such a highly educational programme and commended the Nigerian Communications Commission for its leading role in online child protection.

ITU’s Position

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a global body that regulates telecoms operations, which Nigeria belongs to, is also particular about protecting youths in cyberspace across Africa and the entire globe.

In a recent workshop, organised by ITU, in collaboration with the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI), which is a training institute established by the NCC in 2004, the ITU reiterated the need to bridge the skills gap in the Nigerian telecom sector. It also used the occasion to create awareness on the safe use of the internet.

Speaking at the forum, the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, said the Internet had become an indispensable element of everyday life and children are not excluded but particularly vulnerable to its disadvantages because young persons constitute the largest users of the internet.

Danbatta said the commission would come up with an awareness project that would sensitise the Nigerian child on the safe use of the internet.

“Subsequently, as a result of the ubiquitous availability of internet access in homes, schools, libraries, mobile phones and so on, children are increasingly becoming involved in the use of new technological applications and taking advantage of the opportunity they provide for learning, research, and entertainment,” Danbatta said.

The EVC explained that as a follow-up to several initial efforts made in adopting the ITU guidelines on Child Online Protection, the Commission developed a draft Nigerian Child Online Protection Policy (NCOPP).

The EVC said the NCOPP would be further reviewed taking into consideration the evolving global technology and practices in the cyber space as well as develop the revised National Child Online Protection document, which will comprise a policy, strategy and action plan.

Cybercrime Law

Determined to protect Nigerians from all forms of cyber attacks, including bullying, former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, signed the country’s cybercrime law for implementation across the country.

The cybercrime law, which has taken effect since 2015, prohibits cyber theft, identity theft, internet fraud, hacking, cyber bullying, child pornography cyber squatting, among others, with stiff penalties. According to the law, anyone convicted of child pornography will get 10 years inprisonment and/ or a N20 million fine, depending on the nature of the offence. Child pornography includes producing, procuring, distributing, and possession such images.

Anyone convicted of identity theft will get three years imprisonment and/ or a N7 million fine.

The Cybercrime Law also outlaws cyber stalking and cyber-bullying. Anyone convicted of these could receive a N2 million minimum fine and/or at least one year in prison. More severe offences could attract a penalty as high as a N25 million minimum fine and/or up to 10 years imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offence.

If hackers are found guilty of unlawfully accessing a computer system or network, they could be fined up to N10 million, imprisoned for five years, or both, depending on the purpose of the hack. The same applies to internet fraudsters who commit cybercrime by sending electronic messages, or accessing and using data on computer systems. The penalties as stated in the Nigerian Cybercrime Law, are meant to discourage anyone who may have the intention to launch cyber attacks, while protecting Nigerians online.