Abuja – Security sources have revealed that almost 70 percent of mobile phones in Abuja are bugged by a covert security unit made up of Department of State Services (DSS) and Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), comprising intelligence units from the Army, Air Force, and Navy.
The revelation is coming on the heels of reported plans by the Federal Government to shut down more than 21 websites which it believes to be a national security threat.
One of the sources informed INDEPENDENT that the operation followed government’s procurement of satellites and other sophisticated eavesdropping equipment in the last two years.
“If your phone appears to be slightly hot to touch, or you hear crackling in your connection wherever you stay in Abuja, chances are that your conversations are being listened to,” explained the source.
He added that distinct looking vans with different colours, mostly bland, with tiny antenna, seen around Abuja these days, were some of the means used to effect eavesdropping and other intelligence operations.
According to the source, the operations are intended purely for security purposes.
The vehicles have been spotted largely around sensitive areas like the three arms zone, the federal secretariat, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Defence Headquarters, Area 10, and Apo Legislative areas and some highbrow residential areas.
Some observers have expressed anxiety over the bugging decision amidst militarisation of some parts of the country.
INDEPENDENT exclusively reported earlier in the year that the Federal Government had concluded plans with China to build two more space satellites with eavesdropping capabilities.
It cannot yet be determined if the curious vans spotted in Abuja receive signals from these satellites.
Despite owning two satellites, Nigeria Sat 1 and Nigeria Sat X – the second exclusively built by Nigerian scientists – the government has announced its decision to spend $550 million, from China’s Export-Import Bank, to build and launch two more satellites.
The money covers 85 percent of the cost of the project while investors and government in Nigeria would fund the rest 15 percent of the project.
Inside sources in Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), say that one of the proposed satellites has eavesdropping capabilities.
“The satellite can capture signals from all telecommunication installations in areas it is tasked to cover.
“What this means is that things like voice calls, video calls, and e-mails can be captured,” one of the sources said.
The minister has not shed light on the matter.
Critics have picked holes in the acquisition of these space facilities, especially with regard to its propriety at this time, given claims that previously built and launched constellations were underutilised.
This is in addition to concerns over the rather controversial capability attributed to one of the new satellites.
The Federal Government has consistently expressed anxiety over the somewhat unregulated social media enterprise.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had earlier promised fresh laws to curb what he termed as ‘hate speech’ on social media during the long stay of President Muhammadu Buhari in London for treatment.
His call came despite the presence of provisions in the constitution to curb such menace, especially with the administration of the Criminal Justice Act, ACJA 2015.
Attempts had also been made to introduce a bill to the National Assembly to regulate the social media, and this had provoked public anger.
Last weekend, the nation’s space was abuzz with protestations and warnings after a newspaper revealed that government, through the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) has engaged a private firm to shut down 21 websites which government believes pose national security threat.
As alleged, government, through NCC, engaged the services of a firm in Lagos to block the domain names of “several identified websites threatening national security”.
According to the report, the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) drew a list of the offensive websites and the number is in excess of 21.
The closest clue to what has been interpreted as an attempt to gag the press and suppress opposing views since the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is the controversial bill to regulate social media, which has passed second reading at the Senate.
Reacting to the report, Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, urged the Federal Government to respond to the reports of its plans to clamp down on online newspapers, social media and internet users.
Fayose, who said democracy was about press freedom, made the call on his twitter handle @GovAyoFayose.\
He wrote: “The FG must clarify the reported move to clamp down on online newspapers, social media & internet users. Democracy is about press freedom.”