Vision Spring Initiatives welcome with great delight the joint statement signed by Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, France, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United states. VSI acknowledges their understanding of the threat posed by the misuse of commercial spyware and the need for strict domestic and international controls on the proliferation and use of such technology. Commercial spyware technology plays dual role of protection and exposure of citizens to breach of their personal security. The effect of this breach of security unfortunately has more consequences and negative impact on women, girls and human rights defenders whose fate is hinged on weak democracy marred by lack of rule of law and leadership currently headed by retired army personnel; which is another concern we hold about the challenges of a democratic governance aptly described by Dent in 1978 when he states that the military features of Nigerian democratic government are defining traits of militarizing the Nigerian political system. Dent explained that the amount of soldiers and their enormous influence on Nigerian civil rule are more than the quantity of teachers and their influence over all aspects of the polity. Obi (2007) further explains that Nigerian militarized political system is beyond the experience of military rule in the country; it has developed to include the political legacy characterized with cultural impunity, the consideration of active-combative posture and suppression over dialogue land negotiation, and the participation of high-ranked retired military officers in civil rule. Though Nigeria claims to be a democracy, the country is currently facing enormous challenge in being completely so; this heightens our concerns about leadership in Nigeria and the multi-layers of laws and policies. We therefore share in the concern of the world leaders that commercial spyware will be misused in Nigeria if unchecked and likely to negatively impact women and girls who are at the fore-front of disadvantages of shrinking civic space. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s regulations on internet use and other online operations like its laws and policies are not properly monitored to ensure that it does not lead to abuse and suppression of the weak and vulnerable. While government quest for safety and security of all citizens is a genuine concern we share as a civil society organization, we are worried about due diligence and the intrusive use of technology into people’s privacy and the intended and unintended effects it might have.
In 2021, Vision Spring Initiatives contributed to the Security Play Book; a project coordinated by Action Group on Free Civic Space (AGFCS) with support from the Fund for Global Human Rights. The research made visible the many layers of challenge faced by women, girls and human rights defenders which often go unnoticed, un-documented and when documented often trivialized due to the patriarchal nature of the country. (see https://spacesforchange.org/coming-december-8-security-playbook-ofdigital-authoritarianism-in-nigeria/). These myriad of problem is worsened by shrinking civic space which has heightened abuse as women’s source of support which is the voices of civil society have come under attack by the many layers of surveillance by the its leadership.
According to the result of literature review on the research which Vision Spring Initiatives was a part of, most women and girls interviewed attribute shrinking civic space to failure of government to do their work. On many occasion government has imported technologies which starts out as an attempt to check the activities of insurgent and other criminal groups but turns out to work against the citizenry with adverse impact on women, girls and human rights defenders. While we applaud the world powers for flagging this looming danger, we call on government to make surveillance inclusive and ensure that women, girls and human rights defenders take ownership of its implementation.
Project Director, Vision Spring Initiatives(VSI).