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Nigeria’s Data Protection ‘Porous’ – Report

Despite regulations criminalising the sharing and usage of personal data for other purposes rather than for the purpose which they were gathered, the private data of Nigerians have created an economy which politicians and cybercriminals buy into.

A report released by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) has found that private firms in Nigeria have access to people’s data that they should not “ordinarily have access to.” 

The nonprofit, in partnership with Tactical Tech, conducted semi-structured interviews with 20 unidentified persons in Nigeria’s influence industry and found out that private firms use new technology to access and manipulate citizens data for private or political purposes. 

The report titled: “Personal Data and the Influence Industry in Nigerian Elections, Data-Driven by Formal and Informal Actors” focuses on the use of data in campaign activities during elections in Nigeria.

“Modern data-driven campaign techniques are used in Nigeria to fundraise, test for the resonance of campaign messages and target messages to specific geographic locations,” the report revealed. 

The report uncovered that the private firms operating in the political influence industry have access to the data of over 80 million Nigerians on the database of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). 

The data generated, according to the report, is mostly used in sending out bulk SMS, audio, and WhatsApp messages, and in polling to generate voter data. 

However, the report did not rule out the possibility of using the data for criminal purposes in Nigeria. 

The Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act, Nigeria’s foremost law on cybercrimes, criminalises data privacy breaches, prohibits, prevents and punishes cybercrimes that include unlawful possession of anyone’s personal data in Nigeria. 

The Act prescribes that anyone or service provider in possession of any personal data shall take appropriate measures to safeguard such data.

Section 14 of the Freedom of Information Act protects personal data and restricts the disclosure of information which contains personal information by public institutions except where the involved data subject consents to its disclosure or where the information is publicly available. 

Section 37 of Nigeria’s constitution guarantees and protects the right of Nigerians to privacy with respect to their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications. 

The section considers privacy in this respect a fundamental right which is enforceable in a court of law when breached.

“In Nigeria’s 2015 election, Cambridge Analytica (CA) spread targeted disinformation to suppress opposition votes and allegedly released sensitive medical and financial information about then opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari,” CDD narrated. 

“In 2018, the Nigerian government formed a committee to investigate, amongst others, CA’s 2015 activities and promised criminal prosecutions if necessary. However, two years on, there has been no update from the government committee.”

“The lack of attention given to the CA scandal is worrying coupled with the morally questionable techniques used by the political actors in Nigeria.”

“The CDD and Tactical Tech, therefore, believe that there is a strong need for an overview of the use of data in Nigerian elections, as the first step to increasing awareness and activism. This report is an attempt to fill this gap.”

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Aliyu Dahiru

Aliyu is an Assistant Editor at HumAngle and Head of the Radicalism and Extremism Desk. He has years of experience researching misinformation and influence operations. He is passionate about analysing jihadism in Africa and has published several articles on the topic. His work has been featured in various local and international publications.

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