Emma Okonji writes on the acceptance of the first lady, Patience Jonathan, to champion the global campaign on child online protection, and the impact of such campaign in reviving Nigeria’s battered image in the eyes of global community
When in May 10, 2013, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the body that is regulating telecommunications operations globally, with the United Nation’s Cyber Security executing arm, which is known as the International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber Threat (IMPACT), visited Nigeria to present a certificate of appointment to the first lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, as the ‘Child Online Protection Champion’ (COPC), many experts in the Nigerian technology industry, saw the appointment as a turning point for Nigeria to redeem its image on cybersecurity fraud, labelled against the country.
The ITU-IMPACT team that visited the first lady, and gave her the global appointment, was led by the Director of Telecoms Development Bureau of ITU, Mr. Brahima Sanou. The team is passionate about addressing the menace of child online abuse globally, and was looking for someone with high personality, and commitment to drive its agenda in curbing online fraud and online child abuse. It beamed its search light on Nigeria and found the first lady, who then, was already the President of African First Ladies Peace Mission.
By virtue of her commitment and involvement to charitable activities in and outside Nigeria, Mrs. Jonathan accepted the appointment and had since swung into action in championing the campaign for global child online protection as well as addressing online fraud in Nigeria.
The ITU-IMPACT Team
On September 8 2011, IMPACT became the cybersecurity executing arm of the United Nations’ (UN) specialised agency. This was sequel to the agreement signed during the World Summit for Information Society 2011 (WSIS) Forum in Geneva, in May 2011, by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
IMPACT is tasked by ITU with the responsibility of providing cybersecurity assistance and support to ITU’s 193 member states, which Nigeria is a member, and also to other organisations within the UN system. The Memorandum of Agreement was officially signed by ITU Secretary-General Dr. Hamadoun Touré, and the Chairman of IMPACT at the ITU’s head office in Geneva, Datuk Mohd Noor Amin. Founded in 1865, ITU is the oldest organisation within the UN system and functions as the UN’s specialised agency for information and communication technologies.
IMPACT’s involvement with ITU began in 2008 when it was chosen as the physical home of ITU’s Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA). The GCA is an international cybersecurity framework that was formulated following deliberations by more than 100 leading experts worldwide. The GCA contains many recommendations, which when adopted and appropriately implemented, would result in improved cybersecurity for the global community of nations. Through a memorandum of understanding inked back in 2008, ITU made IMPACT the physical home of the GCA and had tasked IMPACT with the responsibility to operationalise the various initiatives under the GCA.
Implications of Online Fraud, Abuse
Online fraud and abuse are a global phenomenon and they are on the increase, with several people falling victims to such abuse and fraud. It ranges from identity theft, to financial theft through the use of credit cards, and to cyber bully. Most victims of online fraud and abuse are always innocent of the crime ahead of them, and they fall victims without knowing.
A good example is the case of Miss Cynthia Osokogu, a 25 year-old girl who was murdered in a Lagos Hotel on July 22, 2012, by four friends that she met on the internet. She had long online discussions with them and assumed them to be friends until they lured her into exchanging physical addresses and they eventually invited her to Lagos, where she was killed by the same people, who she thought were her good friends.
Some victims that survived online attack ended up losing several millions of naira to unknown persons whom they may have chatted with online, or may not have even met for the first time. Some children have been mentally and sexually abused through online communications with people.
Considering the implications of online abuse, especially among teenagers globally, the ITU-IMPACT team deemed it necessary to launch a global campaign against it and chose Mrs. Jonathan to champion the campaign from Nigeria.
From the inception of global online fraud and abuse, Africa, especially Nigeria has been labelled black as heavy perpetrators of online abuse and fraud. The negative campaign against Nigeria by the international community, escalated the more, since Nigeria has no cybersecutity law to prosecute online offenders. The international community had even gone to the extent of accusing the Nigerian government of aiding its citizens in committing cybercrimes, since Nigeria is reluctant to pass its cybersecurity bill that is before the National Assembly.
The acronym ‘419’is used to describe criminal offences, which include online offence in Nigeria, yet it was originated from the Indian Penal Code. Section 419 in the Indian Penal Code of 1860, clearly explained it as punishment for cheating by impersonation. The code states that whoever cheats by impersonation shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
But today the international community sees it as a Nigerian thing and they believe that everybody in Nigeria is involved in ‘419’ deals.
The ugly situation degenerated to the extent that the western communities now block every financial transaction from Nigeria that carries the Nigerian Internet Protocol (IP) address. This was exactly why many technology experts saw the acceptance of Mrs. Jonathan as the Child Online Protection Champion as a good opportunity for the country to polish her image before the international community that has painted Nigeria black.
New Horizons’ Impression
One of the information technology (IT) experts that welcomed the appointment of the first lady as Child Online Protection Champion, is the Chief Executive Officer of New Horizons, an Information Technology Training Institute. Mr. Tim Akano.
Akano, who spoke with THISDAY on the issue of child online abuse and online fraud, said the appointment is an opportunity for Nigeria to address the issue of its battered image before the international community. Narrating his experience, he said he almost lost the franchise of bringing New Horizons, a US based IT training institution to Nigeria, on the ground of Nigeria’s records on 419 that are before the US training institute. “I was asked why I wanted to bring New Horizons to Nigeria, given our dented image as a country in the area of online fraud, but I was able to convince them that online fraud is a global issue and that the records they have on Nigeria was on a minute percentage of the over 160 million people in the country.” Akano said.
Patient Jonathan’s Involvement and Impact
According to Akano, the first lady took the right step in accepting the appointment, and had since then, championed many programmes on child online abuse and online fraud in Nigeria and outside the country.
Between September 9 and 11, 2013, the first lady sponsored 6 Nigerian youths to Costa Rica on online campaign. On September 3, 2013, she hosted the World Cybersecurity Conference and the first National Youth Online Protection Summit, in Abuja, where she facilitated the training of over 1,000 youths on cybersecurity. Speaking at the World Cybersecurity Conference, Mrs. Jonathan said: “From my interaction with youths around the world, I am convinced that online crime is indeed a global challenge, which needs urgent action from all of us.”
Through the World Cybersecurity Conference, the first lady was able to bring to Nigeria for the first time, the former Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Ehud Barak, and his wife, Nili Priell. She was able to prove to the world that Nigeria is a safe place to visit and to do business, through her campaign on online protection.
“Since my appointment as ITU Champion, we have been working in close collaboration with our partners to ensure that the huge responsibility placed on my shoulder by the United Nations, through ITU, is successful,” she said.
Speaking on the benefits of the internet, Mrs. Jonathan said the technology remained one of the most outstanding innovations in the field of communications in the history of mankind. “Its content is as diverse as human thought. It has completely changed society and opened up new avenues for communication, research, commerce and entertainment,” she said, but lamented that the immense benefits of the internet, however come with its risks, and must be guarded against.
With the renewed efforts by the first lady to champion child online abuse and cybersecurity, there is urgent need for the National Assembly to speedily pass the cybersecurity bill before it, to enable Nigeria maintain a strong position in the global fight against cyber fraud and online abuse.