The EFCC’s arrest of blogger Abubakar Sidiq Usman shows a number of things.
First, the commission is clearly not busy enough with the Buhari administration’s anti-corruption war, and has a lot of spare time on its hands to go chasing ‘internet people’. If it were not so, there would not be time to arrest a blogger early on Monday morning. It is therefore important that they have more work to occupy their idle hands.
In an update on its website about the arrest, the commission said Usman was arrested for offences bordering on ‘cyberstalking’, which ‘contravened sections of the Cybercrime Act’. It did not name the sections, but it is safe to say that the related section is Section 38, which defines cyberstalking as: “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear”.
Here’s the thing. The EFCC is an institution, not a specific person. On top of that, there is nothing pointing to a ‘course of conduct’.
Section 47 also gives room for abuse, by saying the following: “Subject to the powers of the Attorney General, relevant law enforcement agencies shall have the power to prosecute offences under this Act”. What makes a law enforcement agency “relevant” in this case? Who has the powers of prosecution?
This leads to the second thing. The EFCC has taken advantage of Section 47 to harass and intimidate Abubakar Usman, and has also given other law enforcement agencies license to exploit that loophole in order to intimidate anyone they want to.
This cynical interpretation of the Cybercrime Act gives more ammunition to those who have always viewed the EFCC as merely a tool for intimidation and settling personal vendettas, depending on what side on the divide you are on.
Unless the EFCC comes out to reveal the activity by Abubakar Usman that warranted his arrest, it will be yet another dent in its legitimacy. The state, and instruments of the state, do not depend on only the force of the law to do their jobs. They need legitimacy as well. It is this legitimacy that breeds trust and enables citizens take sides with them, and not criminals.
More broadly, this arrest is another assault on the internet freedoms of Nigerians. Let there be no mistake: Any section like Section 47 of the Cybercrime Act that can be used to intimidate anyone, will be used. There are already established legal avenues to seek redress, like a suit for libel, but it is easier to simply show up at a man’s house and take him away. The reason is simple: In a court of law, you have to show evidence.
It is a throwback to our military era mentality, when you could simply arrest a person or lock them up without consequences. As long as intimidation like what happened to Abubakar Usman goes unchecked, it will surely continue.
It is very important to pay attention to those who contest to become members of the National Assembly, and follow the laws that are put forward there. The backlash against the Social Media Bill was successful in killing it but the Cybercrimes Act is just as problematic, if not more so. We ignore our laws and our lawmakers at our peril.