The perception of the Nigerian cyberinfrastructure and the legal apparatus for the sustenance and governance of cyberspace is one which has been largely left in the dark, as such enough misconceptions abound as to trending legal and socio-economic issues arising in respect of cybersecurity.
One of such misconceptions presently rocking the Nigerian social corridors is whether or not the average IT enthusiasts and IT professionals walking our streets, who concern themselves with digital technologies, coding, web development, software development, ethical hacking, graphic designs, and a host of others are cyber criminals within the context of the Nigerian laws?
It is kindly observed that although a host of handlers of the cyberspace in Nigeria employ their level of technological expertise to indulge the cyber environment in furtherance of their malicious intent and purposes, to commit frauds and other unlawful acts, this should not make the entirety of our IT professionals criminals under the intentions of our laws.
Are Cyberspace Operators, Criminals in the Eyes of the Law?
To set this discourse in the right perspective, it is imperative to state clearly that social opinions and perceptions do not amount to what is legally right or wrong, as the above is strictly within the confines of cold laws and fact, and as such, are not subject to the dictates of social opinions, assertions, arguments, and conclusions. They are governed by the provisions of the laws in force, which govern such areas of humanity and the ability of the Courts, to give meaning to the relevant laws, in the light of facts before it thereby determining the fate of the individuals before it and doing justice.
The issue of whether or not a cyber-operator is a criminal, or guilty of a crime or not, is strictly governed by the existing laws, enforcement processes, and legal frameworks. The provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999(as amended), being a chief actor in the totality of Nigeria’s Criminal justice administration, has laid the above to rest, where it provides quite unequivocally under Section 36 (5) that:
“Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty.”
And Section 36 (11) of the Constitution, where it states clearly:
“a person shall not be convicted of a criminal offence unless that offence is defined and the penalty, therefore, is prescribed in a written law, and in this subsection, a written law refers to an Act of the National Assembly or a Law of a State, any subsidiary legislation or instrument under the provisions of a law.”
By the combined construction and deduction of both provisions above, a person can only be declared a criminal when the Courts make a pronouncement to that effect, in the light of the relevant statutory provision, defining such act as an offence and punishing it.
In addition to the above existing legal foundations for criminal enforcement in Nigeria, our criminal justice administration has laudably evolved to meet the demands of cybersecurity through the recent enactment of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc.) Act, 2015, which has clearly defined and punished a wide variety of cyber-offences, all in a bid to make cyberspace a better place, including but not limited to cyberstalking, bullying, and terrorism, to mention but a few.
In recent days, the Court of Appeal, in the case of Solomon Okedara V. AGF (2019) LCN/12768 (CA), had to consider the Constitutionality of Section 24 of the Cybercrimes Act to determine whether or not such was inconsistent with the overriding provisions of the Constitution.
The above Section provides:
“A person who knowingly or intentionally sends a message or other matter by means of computer systems or network that is grossly offensive, pornographic or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character or causes any such message or matter to be sent, or he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another or causes such a message to be sent, commits an offence under this Act and is liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7,000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term, not more than 3 years or both.”
In determining the constitutionality of the above provision, The Court reasoned from the above provision that the legislature has the power to enact laws that are reasonably justifiable in a democratic society and that such laws shall not be declared invalid merely because they appear to be in conflict with the rights and freedom extended to citizens under the Constitution. However, the Court noted, for example, in the case at hand, that the right of freedom of speech guaranteed under Section 39 cannot be taken away “except for the purposes of preserving the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, public health or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.”
Thus, the question of whether a person is a cyber-criminal or not is exclusively determinable by the Courts, when the Courts breathe life into the provisions of the Cybercrimes Act and other existing legal frameworks relevant to Nigerian cyberspace. Today, the Act has defined and punished several acts which are capable of being committed on the online space, including:
- Section 18, Cyber Terrorism,
- Section 22, Identity Theft and Impersonation
- Section 23, Child Pornography and Related Offences,
- Section 23(2) Cyber Bullying
- Section 24, Cyber Stalking,
- Section 25, Cybersquatting, to mention but a few.
It is, therefore, clear that IT gurus and Fintechs are not cybercriminals within the ambit of our laws. In the event that society wrongly terms them as such, they only become criminals when the Courts pronounce them as such and do justice in the light of relevant and pre-existing legal frameworks.
Cyberspace Operators and Law Enforcement Agencies: Towards a Mutually Beneficial Partnership
As the Fin-Tech and IT industry continue to grow and develop, so do the opportunities for criminals to exploit such systems meant to foster innovation as well. Thus, it is important to have that trust and collaboration between regulators, enforcement agencies, and Fintech companies through establishing better lines of communications and also getting involved in their regulations by reporting violators, operate according to standards and confines of the law, host workshops and symposia regularly.
Establishing an open channel of communication is imperative to enhancing legal collaborations and partnership, which helps to secure productive platforms of curbing the events of criminality in our cyberspace, For the following reasons;
- The availability of the requisite skills and technical know-how among cyberspace operators could help beef up the apparatus of the Nigerian law enforcement agencies towards better cyberspace policing.
- The operators of the Nigerian cyberspace could help make reports of any suspicious occurrences among the cyberspace operators, capable of evolving into cybercrimes.
- The Nigerian law enforcement agents can better leverage indigenous cyberspace organisations, bodies, and associations to report acts of misconduct or ethical breaches among their members, thereby curbing potential threats to the security of Nigerian cyberspace.
- The law enforcement agents could better curb the menace of cybercrimes by engaging cyber operators within their ranks, thereby enhancing the efficiency of cyber policing.
The Emerging Fields of Cyber Threats: A Wake-up Call for Nigerian Cyberspace Protection.
While it is laudable that the Nigerian criminal justice system has set in motion a legal framework for managing and controlling the events of cyber-crimes within her borders, through her recognition and enactment of the Cyber Crimes Act, 2015, it is imperative to note that law exists as a tool of social engineering and must continually evolve to meet the emerging curves that hamper man’s existence, by the constant review, amendment and if need be, enactment of new and relevant laws, which tackle emerging trends in crime commission in the cyberspace.
It is also important for cyberspace law enforcers to be fully abreast with these emerging tendencies and potentials in cyberspace today to adequately build capacity and enforce sanity in cyberspace. Among the emerging areas of cyber threats are:
- Identity Theft: This has become very prevalent in Nigeria. Identity theft is the crime of obtaining the personal or financial information of another person to use their identity to commit fraud, such as making unauthorized transactions or purchases. Identity theft is committed in many different ways, and the end result is that victims are typically left with damage to their credit, finances, and reputation.
- Ransomware: This is a form of malware (malicious software) that attempts to encrypt (scramble) your data and then extort a ransom to release an unlock code. Most ransomware is delivered via malicious emails.
- Hackers: Gaining access to IT systems from outside an organisation still offers rich pickings for criminals. Traditionally they have attempted to gain access to bank account information or credit card databases. However, intellectual property is another source of value. The use of social engineering, tricking staff into revealing user names and passwords, remains a threat.
- Data leakage: While cybersecurity in the office may seem challenging, it is essential to understand that security extends well beyond the office these days. The use of smartphones and tablets has become widespread. The ubiquitous and cheap nature of portable storage devices makes them a useful tool for the backup and transportation of data. Those features mean they are also a target for data thieves.
- Malware on Mobile Apps: Mobile devices are vulnerable to malware attacks, just like other computing hardware. Attackers may embed malware in app downloads, mobile websites, or phishing emails and text messages. Once compromised, a mobile device can give malicious actors access to personal information, location data, and financial accounts.
- Phishing: An email-borne attack that involves tricking the email recipient into disclosing confidential information or downloading malware by clicking on a hyperlink in the message.
- Spear Phishing: A more sophisticated form of phishing where the attacker learns about the victim and impersonates someone he or she knows and trusts.
- Cyber Espionage: Both large and small organizations are beginning to store at least some of their data in the cloud. Right Scale recently found that private cloud adoption increased to 77% among organizations; hybrid cloud computing increased as well. Whether the thief is coming from the inside or outside, attacking private, public, or hybrid cloud technologies, trade secrets and other valuable intellectual properties are at risk. This is, of course, in addition to valuable customer data.
Conclusively, it is kindly observed that the Nigerian cyber policing infrastructure must develop competence in the light of the recent emerging issues and threats which are presently exasperating the Nigerian cyberspace. It is not enough that there are laws and legal frameworks recognising and curbing the events of cybercrimes in Nigeria. Our cybersecurity enforcement frameworks must treat the commission of cyber offences differently in the light of enabling legislations, expertise, technical know-how, and experience, and awake to the demands of cybersecurity, policing, and enforcement. When this is done, the issues of cybersecurity will be brought to a definite rest.
Mr. Oyetola Muyiwa Atoyebi, SAN, is the Managing Partner of OMAPLEX Law Firm. He is one of the leading Senior Advocates of Nigeria in Information Technology, Cybersecurity, Fintech, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). He is the youngest in the history of Nigeria to be elevated to the rank of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. At age 34, he was conferred with the prestigious rank in September 2019. He has a track record of being diligent, and he ensures that the same drive and zeal are put into all matters handled by the firm. He is also an avid golfer.