Data Tariff Hike: ‘we won’t allow Nigerians to be milked’- Buhari

Some hours before the data tariff hike could be implemented the Chairman of the Senate Committee on ICT and Cybercrime, Senator Fatai Buhari was the guest of the South West Group of Online Publishers, SWEGOP, at its maiden Breakfast Media Chat on Wednesday, November 30, 2016 where he answered questions bordering on the matter, cybercrime and the plans of the government to control it…

Members of the group took him on, on a number of issues, especially bordering on ICT, cybercrime and why the Senate had to wade into the proposed data tariff hike.

The NCC has issued a directive that data tariff should rise from tomorrow. We know the future of almost every business is online. Is this tariff increase properly timed and what do you think it portends for ICT in Nigeria?

I must be honest with you, on the issue of tariff, the National Assembly has not been consulted about it. I think it is a policy issue for them. However, I absolutely agree with you that if we say we are in recession, the purchasing power of the people has gone down, this is not the time to milk them. I absolutely agree with you on that.
I will call a meeting of my members next week, we will review it. We will not sit down and allow Nigerians to be milked and sucked.
However, we are not in the position to dabble into the policy making of an organization but we are there to what is called check and balance. So when there are policies like that, the moment it goes inimical to the wish of the people and it is going to affect our society; that is when we should come in. We will now ask them, why did you do this? That is with the populace. On the economic part of it, we have already agreed that we have to look inwards to make ICT one of the centres of revenue generation for the system.

All over the world, ICT contributes a certain percentage of the income of most countries. So if we agree that we need to look elsewhere for the source of income to the country, if you look at it from that angle and the government’s position, you will agree but what we are saying is that it is not something that is acceptable. Even if you are going to increase it, it should come gradually so that the effect will be minimal on the poor people.

Nigeria is adjudged as one of the countries with a high population of internet scammers. At what percentage is cybercrime growing in the country and if it is decreasing, by what percentage over the last four years?

It is not decreasing at all. As of the moment, the rate of cybercrime in our country is horrible and that is one of the reasons I accepted your invitation because the moment you guys have been able to form yourself into a group, you will be able to help the government in facing these challenges.
Earlier this year, I was in Korea and I was asking the Chairman of the ICT Committee in their parliament about the rate of attack on their cyber system, he told me zero, one hundred percent attack free. I looked at him and asked what do you mean? What is zero and hundred percent attack free? He said they have what is called gate stop. They don’t allow you to come into their system, talk less of attacking them.
So the attacks are stopped at the gate. When the attack comes, they have the mechanism to stop it. If you are conversant with what is called cybercrime, you will notice a high rate of attacks particularly from China and Russia. If America can be shouting today that her system has been hacked; how much more our own country that has no protection?
Having said that, United Kingdom budgeted £ 22 billion for cyber security, America budgeted $ 43 billion to fight cybercrime. Nigeria budgeted 0 Naira to fight cybercrime and this is something that is endemic in our system. The truth of the matter is that if we want to fight cybercrime, it is something that involves a lot of money. The success of it will help the economy and help foreign partners that are looking forward to doing business with you to give them confidence. We have Galaxy backbone, we have NICOMSAT, we have MINS, that is the National Identity Card Commission, all these ICT centres are what I oversight.
When you go on oversight to these people and you see the equipment they have, you will marvel. Sadly, they don’t have what is called coordination. NICOMSAT alone has a system with galaxy backbone where they can store all the data of this country but everybody is afraid of them because of what is called a second back up. If you don’t have a second back up, I will not bring my system suppose there is a crash, what happens to my system? That is the reason we are struggling that since you already have a very solid one, we will now pass a law that all service provider must go and use NICOMSAT so that will be an income generating firm for the organization and for the country. But if you are unable to use this, we will still be talking of stories and history every day.
At what rate can you say cybercrime is growing in Nigeria?

It is really growing at an astronomical rate. I don’t have an offhand percentage but it is horrible. You said something that I absolutely agree with. We have guys who are talented in this country, who we should have been able to use as geniuses to generate revenue, but unfortunately for us, they use it in the opposite direction.
Sometime last year, we were at the United Nations in New York, when a lady was presenting her paper, to God Almighty, I was angry because when the woman from Eritrea was talking about ICT and the way they’ve been able to use ICT in their country, she said they don’t have oil in their country but they have the capacity to match the people that have oil like Nigeria that don’t know with their talent and the opportunity. Though when the opportunity came for us to give it back to her, we were able to reply her appropriately but the truth of the matter was that when we got back to our hotel, we felt “ah, this woman, she really hit us o”. Though we gave it to her back that look, the total population of your country is less than 10 million, which is less than the state I come from, that is Oyo State; talk less of the population of the whole country. And if Nigeria’s population had been 10 million, America would have been coming here, India would have been coming here, China would have been coming here to learn because we would have been able to manage whatever we have to match our population.
Nigeria is a complex society and that is part of the problems we have. I am sorry, with all due respect, we are too big and everybody is intelligent and thinking about themselves. Whenever I have the opportunity to talk on Nigeria’s issue like this, there is one thing that I always say I will appreciate in my life if it happens. That is the day I will see Nigerians seeing themselves as Nigerians, not as Yoruba men or Igbo men or Hausa men. That will be one of the happiest days in my life. The moment you see that, there is unity and you have come of age.
At the Senate, do you have any bill talking about 9% communication tax?
It is not 9%. I don’t know the figure off hand but there is a bill. It is an existing law. It came into existence immediately they introduced cellular phones in 1999 but I cannot remember the figure. I know there is another 2% that is called tax from the service provider that they are supposed to remit back so that they can use it for the society.
A research has shown that Nigerians spend 18% of their salaries on internet broadband and we are losing billions of Naira to cybercrime. Internet broadband charge has increased and we are talking about this increment or tax. What are you going to do as senators to save Nigerians?

Passing the law is not the issue. The implementation is the main problem we have in this country. We look at the way things are going and we say let’s amend this law and we set it before the table of our committee, but let me give you a shocker about Cybercrime Law, we were at a hearing one day and when we told them of the existence of a Cyber Crime Law, they didn’t even know.
Jonathan signed it into law shortly before he left office. It is 7 years imprisonment. I am using this opportunity to appeal to those of you online. Social media is used as a check and balance of the society genuinely, honestly, not as a tool for destruction.
You don’t use it to fight. That is the way it is done all over the advanced world. There is a law, but people in Nigeria believe that I am of no fixed address; I can destroy you based on that. That is not good.
It is my joy today that you are gathering yourselves. If for instance, I find something online, maybe on Parrot, I can easily write the South West Group of Online Publishers that look at what your member has done. By the time I receive a reply, such a person can be taken up that why did you do this. He can say ‘well, I stand by my story’; you can see that there is a line of communication. The moment I know that he is lying, I have a right as a Nigerian to go to court but the moment every other Tom, Dick and Harry write, it will not give this association integrity. And we need it to help the society, we need it to survive and the moment every Tom, Dick and Harry decides to use social media as a means of destruction, it will not help the country.
We should be able to use this our talent to help the economy, to help our country so that the country can be taken to where we want to be, not where we are presently.
Internet fraud is one of the things Nigerians are quite known for. What has your committee done to curb their activities and are there countries you are talking with to also help in fighting internet fraud particularly among the youth?

We set up a committee about two months ago; it is headed by my deputy, Senator Ogola Foster from Bayelsa. We are having what is called Cybercrime Conference. We have called everybody in the communication sector that will participate. These are some of the things we are going to discuss. You see, in a conference when you allow all the stakeholders to come, by the time you gather experience, by the time you gather every other person and you now take it up as a law, it won’t become strange because everybody is involved.
When they were mentioning countries, they mentioned Bangladesh, India, Nigeria was number 4 country they mentioned on internet fraud. You know when you see negative things about your country, you are a human being, you will feel ashamed.
Now we want to have a relationship with almost everybody to be able to tuen that negative thought into positive things because if you are able to let them know that if you commit a fraud, you will be able to make N 10 and if you are caught you will go for ten years. But if you are able to use this talent genuinely, the way it should be done, you can make N 100. N 100 is more than N 10, you will be able to use that and people will be proud of you.
One of my happiest days since I became a Senator was about three months ago. The President went to America; while there, coincidentally, I was in America that time too, so we were gisting at the lobby of the hotel when a guy came in. Fayemi was talking to the guy, another person that was standing with said ‘that guy is from Nigeria, he is the best auto designer in the whole of America’. The guy is very young, Mohammed Iliya, he is from Sokoto. I even took a picture with him. With all due respect, I am not ridiculing anybody, now imagine the type of talent we will have in Enugu, the type of talent we have in Ibadan, the type of talent we have in Lagos. If that guy was to stay in Nigeria, he would have been an almajiri. This means we have the potential.
Look at our phones too. One day, I was at home with my daughter, watching football. Unfortunately, they were leading my team so my eyes were red. She came and was fiddling with the set, I said what is it? She said ‘Daddy don’t worry, it won’t go off’. She wanted to do something on her laptop and she needed to connect it to my TV. I said ‘no, no, go upstairs’. She said ‘Daddy, don’t worry’. I realized she did all she wanted to do. I didn’t say anything. I just finished watching my ball and when we equalized I was happy so after the match, I asked her, how did you do that thing? She said ‘Chairman ICT’ (general laughter). Before I became the ICT Committee chairman, I must be honest with you, I was always thinking I was a smart guy but with what I have seen on the field within the last two years, I have found out I was a bloody illiterate on that line. Before then, I didn’t know what was called cloud internet, broadband,
I went to South Korea, they don’t have oil but they have the best refinery in the world and when you see the way they juggle with ICT, you will ask yourself, ‘can we reach here?’ Even when I interacted with the ICT department in their senate, the guy was dazzling me but I didn’t want to look like a novice so I was just saying okay, okay because most of the things, I was seeing them for the first time. He took me to where they call the gate stop. They don’t allow the attack to come so the attack will be hitting the wall. That was why he was able to say they are 100% free from attacks.