Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has urged President Muhammadu Buhari “to urgently redirect the proposed spending of N4.8bn of public money to monitor WhatsApp messages, phone calls, and text messages of Nigerians and other people, to pay some of the salaries of striking resident doctors.”
In the open letter dated 14 August, 2021, and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said, “Redirecting the proposed spending of N4.8bn would be entirely consistent with your constitutional oath of office, and the letter and spirit of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], as it would promote efficient, honest, and legal spending of public money.
“Redirecting the proposed spending of N4.8bn would also remove the threats to fundamental human rights of Nigerians, and ensure access to quality healthcare for the socially and economically vulnerable people who rely on public hospitals, and have no opportunity for medical treatment elsewhere.”
The letter added, “Any appropriation law ought to comply with the Nigerian Constitution and the country’s international human rights obligations and commitments.
“The constitutional oath of office implicitly provides some safeguards on the appropriation and spending of public funds, and imposes a legally binding obligation on public officers to preserve the public money, and not to disburse it except conformably to the Constitution.
“SERAP believes that any proposed spending of public funds should stay within the limits of constitutional responsibilities, and oath of office by public officers, as well as comply with Chapter 2 of the Nigerian Constitution relating to fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy.
“The mere threat of mass surveillance, even when secret, coupled with the lack of remedy, can constitute an interference with human rights, including the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.”
Speaking with IBrandTV, Adetokunbo Abdulmumuni, the Executive Director of SERAP, said the move to monitor social media conversations was a case of misplaced priorities by the government.
He said, “What does a government use when it needs people to hear their views? We know that there are boundaries when inflammable comments are made.
“The business of the government is to provide for people, give them the enabling environment to do their thing.
“How would the spending of N4.8bn to monitor what… Monitor the way people speak, the way they express their opinion, I don’t think that money will be used to monitor anything, it will end up in some people’s pocket.”