Hackers and Yar’Adua’s rumoured resignation

By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 21 Sep 2008

PENULTIMATE Saturday, I got a frightening text message on my mobile phone. It read, “Now dat (that) Tinubu has filled the LGs with his boys, we can expose him too. That is why U (you) are receiving this text from your own No. We apologise to Osun Tribunal.” The sender used my Glo line, 08058104058, to send the message. And I received it on the same Glo number.

I was still trying to unravel this puzzle when I read a similar experience of the President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mr. Gbenga Adefaye. In this case, the hackers used Adefaye‘s MTN number. And they asked, “Was the so-called Osun scandal contrived to embarrass the judiciary and fool us?”

Recall that TheNews magazine had alleged that members of the Osun State Election Petitions Tribunal had contacts with the counsel to the Osun State governor, Kunle Kalejaiye. This was shortly before the ruling in the suit instituted by the Action Congress governorship candidate in the April 2007 election, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, challenging the election of Olagunsoye Oyinlola as governor of Osun State. The magazine even published purported logs of calls between the chairman of the tribunal, Thomas Naron and Kalejaiye.

The questions are: could the architects of this own-phone message be trying to lay a foundation for the denial of the allegations against Naron and Co? What explanations do the Nigerian Communications Commission and the phone service providers have over this dangerous trend? And why is it that we hone our ingenuity largely to crime and other negative tendencies?

Generally, hacking is a major problem in the cyberspace. It is not peculiar to Nigeria, though it seems to be more rampant here. Last week, I got a message from some friends in the United Kingdom and Poland on the social network platform called Facebook. It says, ”If someone by the name of Akran Mohamed Elsamadouni wants to add you to their list, don‘t accept it. It is a virus. Tell everyone on your list because if somebody on your list adds them, you will get it too. It is a hard drive killer and a very horrible virus…”

So far, I have escaped the Elsamadouni virus. But I could not escape the one that goes by the name Raila Odinga. I used my flash drive to copy something from a computer that had the virus. Immediately I inserted the drive to my laptop, the Odinga virus duplicated itself all over my desktop. It even defied the computer‘s Panda anti-virus software. This virus is so wicked that no matter what you do to delete it, it will bounce back.

Last Thursday, some hackers invaded the official website of THE PUNCH. They claimed to have logged out all the newspaper‘s online system administrators and taken full control of the website‘s content management system.

Though the organisation has reclaimed control of the site, the situation shows how mischievous some Nigerians can be. It is in this light that I want to see the recent rumour regarding the resignation of President Umaru Yar‘Adua. Some hackers, last week, sent out information to the effect that Yar‘Adua might resign after constituting a new cabinet. They allegedly used the News Agency of Nigeria‘s email address to send the information.

Unfortunately, Channels Television and the Agence France Presse fell for the bait. The Federal Government immediately denied the report. And as soon as Channels discovered the slip, it retrieved the story and apologised. It should have ended at that. But in a show reminiscent of the military era, the State Security Service invaded the station and arrested some of its staff. The National Broadcasting Commission suspended its licence.

Though the NBC lifted the suspension last Friday, the action was uncalled for in the first place. It was a mistake arising from the secret way we run government affairs in Nigeria. The other day, the President was in Saudi Arabia ostensibly for a lesser hajj. There were reports that he was hospitalised. His information managers denied this report. The official mantra was that the President was hale and hearty, though it was apparent that all was not well. His eventual return to the country was also shrouded in secrecy. This gave room to all manner of rumours and speculations. The point is that when you tell one lie, you need a thousand lies to cover it up.

Be that as it may, I expect that a regime that professes the rule of law should have known that the action of the SSS in particular was illegal. The government should have gone to court if it feels strongly against the broadcast of the purported resignation.

This should serve as a lesson to media organisations in the country. Editors and reporters should be vigilant and endeavour to crosscheck sensitive stories before publication. Just as I was rounding off this piece, news filtered in that South African President, Thabo Mbeki, has accepted to resign on the promptings of the African National Congress. This comes against the backdrop of a recent suggestion by a High Court judge that Mbeki might have interfered in a corruption case against his rival, Jacob Zuma.

Conversely, after the secrecy and misinformation trailing the health of our President, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party came out to express support and solidarity with Mr. President. Can we draw any lesson from this episode?

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