Social Media are Internet or phone-based applications that enable people to communicate, share resources and information in real time. Social Media, Open Source Analysis/Software’s and ‘Crowd Sourcing’ (obtaining needed services, ideas, or information by soliciting contributions from a large group of people especially from an online community rather than traditional sources) have immensely revolutionized the way information and knowledge are generated and disseminated.
Social media is akin to a two-edged sword: it can be a threat to National Security and also has the propensity to tone up National Security if well reined in. Facebook and Twitter played inadvertent roles in the success of the Arab Spring. There is no gainsaying the huge potentials and impact of Social Media and State-of-the-art technology in the fight against Insecurity, Terrorism and other social vices.
According to Internet World Statistics about 45.04 million people use the internet in Nigeria. This places Nigeria on the 11th position in the world after France. With a population of about 170 million people, Nigeria’s Internet penetration ratio is put at 26.5%.
Social Media Platforms- Facebook, Twitter, Hi5 etc can be a great ‘‘feedback mechanism” allowing members of the public to interface with the security agencies. Through these less formal channels, the citizenry can air their views, make enquiries and proffer useful information and suggestions while remaining anonymous if they so wish.
Social Media can be used to sniff out signs of hostility by collecting, collating and analyzing information or messages in other to prognosticate certain scenarios. For instance programs such as Open Source Indicators (OSI), Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) or ”Wise Intelligence Technology (WiT) System for Intelligence Analysis extracts and analyzes data from Social Media with the goal of monitoring and forecasting when National Security related events such as political crises, protests; emergencies etc are likely to occur. On the other hand, Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology allows Internet Service Providers, to manage network traffic and suppress unwanted connections. Civil right groups have an axe to grind with the aforementioned technologies because, they contend, it is doable for censors to identify single users and to look into every single Internet Protocol packet and subject it to special treatment based on content (censored or banned words). Courtesy of Edward Snowden, the world now knows that the United States surreptitiously monitors phone calls and internet communications within and outside the US.
Social Media can also be deployed to strengthen a country’s geopolitical position and its international credibility and to counter an adversary’s propaganda.
Social media is the in-thing now. To underscore the growing importance and recognition of Social Media in our everyday life, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently gave Companies the go-ahead to use Social Media for official announcements.
Social Media can be a good Defence and Intelligence monitoring and predicting tool. The United State’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is understood to have an automated system that constantly monitors any publicly entered information for a list of about 500-750 keywords that deal with National Security. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is believed to use Social Media to gauge how people feel by analyzing millions of Tweets, blog posts and Facebook updates from around the world. They saw the uprising in Egypt coming. Twitter also helped the CIA to give White House a snapshot of global public impression after Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan.
The Canadian Mounted Police Deputy Chief Constable-Gordon Scobbie encourages Police formations across Canada to use Social Media both for community outreach and operations. According to him, ”through Social Media, citizens can find out who their community constables are, how to contact them and what the local priorities are”.
In the United Kingdom, the MI5 and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) used Social Media to trawl for riot organizers and mobilizers during the widespread riots that engulfed London, Birmingham, Manchester and other locations. It was reported that BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) played a major role in spreading information about the riots because it allows users to send a message free of charge to a network of contacts affiliated by ”BBM Pins”.
Officers of the London Metropolitan Police Computer Unit are known to trawl popular internet chat rooms sniffing out child sex offenders, pedophiles, criminals and terrorists.
Western Security Agencies- the FBI, CIA, MI5, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police etc no doubt have a better grasp of Social Media and the internet generally than their Nigerian counterparts. I stand corrected, I am not aware of the Nigerian State Security Service (SSS) having a website for instance. Perhaps they don’t need it, they are better off been heard through their spokeswoman than seen innit?
However, it appears Nigeria is striving not to be left out in the grand scheme of things. Nigerian authorities seem to have upped the ante with purported $40 million ‘internet monitoring and surveillance’ contract allegedly awarded to an Israeli firm. There has been a lot of hullabaloo in Nigeria over this development.
Bring to mind that many of the insurgency, terrorist cells and criminal organizations are Internet savvy and have online presence- they issue online/YouTube Press Releases. Through their online presence, they cannot evade not leaving ”online forensic fingerprint trails” no matter how meticulous and IT savvy they are. The Internet Protocol (I.P) address of an online interaction or transaction can go a long way in approximating the geographical location of the Server where the message originated from.
Undoubtedly there are inherent dangers associated with Social Media or Social Networking Platforms. Unwittingly ”liking” a terrorist organization, an individual classified as a terrorist or a radicalized school of thought may be a subtle invitation to the prying eyes of Security/Intelligence Agencies. Recall the brutal murder of Miss Cynthia Osukogu sometime last year by supposed ‘friends’ she hooked up with through one of the social networking platforms. Yes that is one of the negative spin-offs of social networking platforms. The gist is that her assailants were also nabbed using the same social networking technique. News had it that her assailants sold her BlackBerry mobile phone to someone after they must have mangled her. Her BB Pin number was subsequently used to re-establish contact with the bloke that bought the phone who then led investigators to the geezers that sold the Blackberry phone to him. There is some inherent risk in buying second-hand phones particularly the BB’s that have unique pin numbers since it can associate an innocent person to a crime if the phone was previously involved in a criminal offence.
Lately, the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) reportedly issued a warning of an impending resumption of hostilities in the Oil-rich Niger Delta sequel to the jailing of their supposed leader-Henry Okah by a South African court. MEND believes the Nigerian government connived with their South African counterpart to put Henry Okah behind bars.
Rather than Nigeria’s Security Agencies been proactive and take the threat seriously, they promptly waved it aside. Sometime on 6th April 2013, about thirteen Police officers were hacked to death aftermath of an ambush which MEND claimed responsibility for. This ugly incident would have been avoided if due diligence was taken to vigorously analyze the veracity of the Press Release/warning that supposedly emanated from MEND. The security agencies would have ascertained if the latest message was consistent with previous messages that emanated from the group? Did it originate from the ab initio email address that the group were/are known with? Where was the Server of that message domiciled? These are some of the questions that would have been addressed before dismissing the threat.
Sequel to the recent killing of some Security Agents by the Ombatse Cult group, Social Media can be deployed to Crowd Source for information. It can be in the form of starting and monitoring a thread in any of the popular Nigerian blogging sites.
Our bane in this part of the world is that by acts of commission or omission, we have a predisposition to a knee-jerk approach rather than been proactive. Why bring out kegs to fetch water after the rainfall must have stopped?
As is the case in many advanced countries, it will be a welcome idea if the person or office of Nigeria’s National Security Adviser (NSA), the Chief of Army Staff, the State Security Service (SSS), the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) amongst others have dedicated and functional Facebook, Twitter, Skype accounts through which members of the public can interface directly with them and proffer solutions. It is not adequate to have a website or accounts with social networking platforms; those websites/accounts must be functional and must be regularly updated and interactive. The authorities must also ensure that they effectively respond to the questions or comments of members of the public on their Social Media Platforms or websites.
How will an ordinary Nigerian citizen privy to some sensitive or classified information circumvent protocol and get the nugget of information to the leadership of these organizations when the ”Oga at the top” is completely detached and disconnected from members of the public. This is where Social Media comes in; it dissolves unnecessary red tape.
On this note, I want to commend the current I.G of Police- Mr. M.D Abubakar for making his personal phone number public through which Nigerians can reach him directly devoid of the unnecessary bureaucracy and bottlenecks.
Need to Embrace and Deploy State-of-the-art Technological Gadgets
Nigerians always moan about the unprecedented Security challenges bedeviling Nigeria. Yes, we have a right to but we must not blame everyone else except ourselves for the decadence. With staff strength of about 350,000 rank and file, there is no doubt that the Nigeria Police is over-stretched and overwhelmed by the daunting security challenges. In a country of about 170 million people, this grossly falls short of the United Nations recommended Police to people ratio of 1:450. Hence rather than passing the buck, it is high time we took responsibility, become more security conscious and where possible, invest a little in personal security gadgets. Fortunately there is a proliferation of Security Gadgets like bug detectors, smoke detectors/fire alarms, portable battery-operated CCTV Cameras, Metal/bomb detectors, GSM/GPS Car trackers, wireless video door phones, wireless pen video/voice recorders, fingerprint/biometric door locks, pepper sprays etc are cheapo.
Thanks to the increasing penetration of technology, most of the sophisticated miniaturized surveillance gadgets we see in James Bond movies are now commonplace and are no longer the exclusive preserve of rich individuals or mainstream government security establishments.
Cases abound in Nigeria of prominent individuals being assassinated with no iota of clue as to the perpetrators. An affordable ”Pen Video Camera” on the breast pocket of the victim could have recorded what transpired. A battery-operated portable Table Clock CCTV camera in a house, office, shop or an apartment has the capacity to record goings-on in that vicinity for upwards of 24 hours. A pepper spray has the potency to temporarily immobilize a potential kidnapper, rapist or even an armed robber.
On a National level, investment in novel technologies will do a far better job than relying on incompetent manpower. For example, Satellite technology and Internet Protocol (I.P) Networked CCTV Cameras have a better prospect in monitoring or protecting our Oil pipelines/installations and strategic national infrastructures rather awarding multi-billion naira contracts to a battalion of unconventional and incompetent ex-militants, OPC or Egbesu Boys. The persistent pipeline vandalization and Oil bunkering (Nigeria reportedly looses 150,000 barrels of crude oil daily to oil theft) is a testament that these vigilantes are inept at doing what they claim they know how to do best.
Investment in state-of-the-art gadgets like Automatic Number Plate Recognition Systems, an encompassing National Crime database and Fingerprint of convicted ex-felons, functional National Forensic Science laboratory, unattended land/ground sensors for border control etc will go a long way in forestalling wanton insecurity in Nigeria.
Special attention must be paid to adequately patrolling our extensive and porous borders. According to Punch Newspaper of February 6, 2013, ”immigration uncovers 1,487 illegal entry routes to Nigeria”. This figure may be a conservative estimate. I think Nigeria can afford to deploy Unattended Land/Ground Sensors in our borders. This is one of the state-of-the-art gadgets that provide enhanced protection for Border Security, Infrastructure and Force protection. Otherwise deporting so-called arrested illegal migrants will just be a mirage as they will return to Nigeria sooner than later if they so wish. Unless Nigerian Immigration and Security officials implanted RFID chips on the deported blokes prior to their deportation. I chuckle each time I hear that illegal immigrants from Chad, Niger etc in Nigeria have been arrested and deported.
Nigeria’s Security Agencies must adapt quickly to emerging technologies such as Social Media and utilize this tool efficiently to combat Insecurity and terrorism. They must also embrace the use of state-of-the-art technologies. We urge them to be extremely vigilant, more surgical and less pugnacious in discharging their duties so as to win the hearts and minds of the citizenry. They must also channel more resources to the ‘human element’ of security and intelligence gathering in other to nip insecurity in the bud.