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If you don’t want another #EndSARS, don’t spy on our phones – use them to engage!

By Joel Popoola
14 December 2020   |   8:26 am
Imagine the government demanded that we download an app to our phone that would tell them where we were at all times, who we are with and even what we were having for lunch. We’d be on the streets in seconds, right? But they don’t have to. We all voluntarily download apps that do this…

Imagine the government demanded that we download an app to our phone that would tell them where we were at all times, who we are with and even what we were having for lunch.
We’d be on the streets in seconds, right?

But they don’t have to. We all voluntarily download apps that do this anyway and use them to make all that information available to everyone, which makes claims that Nigeria’s Defence Intelligence Agency has allegedly acquired software to spy on our mobile telephones even harder to take.

A report from Canadian University into digital surveillance, security, privacy and accountability, claims software used to “spy on dissidents by taking control of their smartphone, its cameras and microphones, and mining the user’s personal data” has been found to be registered to computer addresses linked to “HQ Defence Intelligence Agency, Asokoro, Nigeria, Abuja”.

At least two state governors are also accused of using the technology to “spy on their political opponents”.

I’m not sure what I find the most exasperating: That the people of Nigeria have to put up with such routine invasions of privacy, or that our security services are so secure that their skulduggery was effectively exposed by a school project!

But what angers me most is how unnecessary all of this is. You don’t have to hack into people’s mobile phones to find out what they think; they already use them to tell you everything you need to know! You just don’t listen!

Yet again, the establishment is antagonising when it should be engaging. One course of action leads to the toxic and mistrustful relationships which led to the #EndSARS protests. Another leads to us all working together for a Nigeria which is at peace with itself and ready to pull together to achieve its vast potential.

Put simply, if you want to avoid another #EndSARs don’t spy on our phones – use yours to engage with us.

Digital communication is a vital tool leaders should be using to identify the issues which are creating political opponents – not using it as a weapon to fight them with later.

That way they can unite with voters to tackle the matters that matter most to the people they serve, engaging to make connections, build trust, and share ideas for a better Nigeria.
More and more Nigerians use social media every day to chronicle their anger and frustration at a political class they believe to be wholly lacking in accountability, transparency and responsiveness.

You don’t have to hack their phones to see it – they are putting it all out there in public themselves!

Just imagine how powerful it would be if you used social media to vent your frustrations and instead of just howling at the moon, you got an immediate response from someone who could fix them?

Social media should make this possible. Sadly, traditional social media platforms have proved themselves incapable at allowing electors to engage politely, let alone effectively. Instead, we just end up using them to shout over each other when we should be talking to each other.
At the digital democracy campaign I lead we are trying to do things differently.

We have developed a free app called Rate Your Leader to help local leaders engage directly, on a one-to-one basis, with verified local voters, letting decision-makers show themselves to be accessible, accountable and responsive to the people who decide whether or not they’ll have a job after the next election.

Our app is also abuse-proof, making uncivil or aggressive communication impossible.
This might not sound like much, but we believe it can be a first step towards building more trust in our political system. The app also lets politicians better understand the needs and hopes of their electorate, to rapidly respond to any questions or concerns they have and listen to their ideas to make their communities better.

The Rate Your Leader app also allows voters to rate their local politicians, boosting the credibility and reputation of those politicians with their own social networks.

Certainly, it does more for their credibility than being caught trying to spy on them, especially when you’ve been caught doing the digital equivalent of burgling a house, but leaving a calling card with your name and address behind!

Joel Popoola is a Nigerian tech entrepreneur, digital democracy campaigner, political commentator and creator of the free Rate Your Leader mobile app. Follow Joel on Twitter via his handle @JOPopoola