President Goodluck Jonathan is considering the cancellation of the $40million Internet spy contract awarded to Israeli firm, Elbit Systems, in April, multiple sources within the Nigerian presidency and intelligence community have told PREMIUM TIMES.
Embarrassed by the widespread national outrage that arose after reporters exclusively exposed the secret contract, the presidency had summoned the management of Elbit Systems for a meeting to explain why the contract should not be revoked after it allegedly breached a confidential clause in the contract.
The Nigerian government is angry the Isreali company went public with the contract, in a global press release that tipped off PREMIUM TIMES which, after extensive investigation, revealed the details of the deal. The disclosures sparked national outrage, with a lot of Nigerians now apprehensive that their country might be sliding back to dictatorship.
Our sources said President Jonathan has now ordered a process that will most likely lead to the cancellation of the contract, saying the explanation by top executives of the Israeli company that they did not breach the confidentiality clause in the contract was unsatisfactory. Gen. Yair Cohen (Rtd), Elbit’s vice president for intelligence and cyber solutions had led the top echelon of the company to the meeting with National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, and the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, Olaniyi Oladeji and other unnamed top security chiefs in the presidency.
Mr. Cohen reportedly explained that the press statement circulated by his company did not mention the Nigerian destination of the contract and that elements within the Nigerian government should be blamed for leaking details of the project to PREMIUM TIMES. The Elbit team could not meet with Mr. Jonathan because the President was away in South Africa for a state visit at the time. But when he was briefed about its outcome, Mr. Jonathan reportedly insisted that with its details now public knowledge, the whole essence of the contract had been defeated.
“The president has given orders that the contract should be cancelled immediately,” one of our sources said. “He prefers that the contract is reawarded to a company that can execute the project as discreetly as possible. The president is really angry and embarrassed.” Our sources however say Elbit and its supporters in the presidency, led by an unnamed retired General and an ex-governor, are trying to pressure the president to rescind his decision. They reportedly warned the president that Elbit Systems could make trouble by drawing the Nigerian government into a fierce and embarrassing legal battle over the matter.
“Some people in government are telling the president that Elbit even took their own government (the Government of Israel) to court concerning few projects and that Nigeria should be careful with the way it’s handling the issue,” another presidency source said. Presidential spokespersons, Reuben Abati and Doyin Okupe, were unavailable for comments Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Calls to Elbit’s headoffice in Israel were also unanswered.
President Jonathan and other top government officials are miffed that Elbit’s action let this newspaper to probe into details of the secret contract, which would have seen the Israeli company spy on citizens’ computers and Internet communications under the guise of intelligence gathering and national security. A source close to the deal has told this newspaper the government is angry for two reasons. First, the administration is angry and embarrassed that the contract, considered by government as top national security secret, was blown open.
Elbit announced the contract award few weeks ago in a global press release in an opaque statement that did not disclose the Nigerian destination of the deal. “Elbit Systems will supply its Wise Intelligence Technology (WiT) system to an unnamed country in Africa under a new $40 million contract announced on 24 April… for Intelligence Analysis and Cyber Defense,” the company’s general manager, Yehuda Vered, said. But PREMIUM TIMES was able to tap its sources within the administration to determine that Nigeria is indeed the “unnamed African country.”
The contract was to help the Jonathan administration access all computers and read all email correspondences of citizens in what is clearly, an infringement on constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression, multiple channels confirmed. On the other hand, politicians in Aso Rock are angry over the disclosure of the contract sum, and what is left of the originally approved sum, our sources say.
The administration had indicated in the 2013 budget that it would procure a Wise Intelligence Network Harvest Analyzer System, Open Source Internet Monitoring System and Personal Internet Surveillance System at a cost of N9.496 Billion ($61.26 million). With the contract awarded to Elbit for about $40million, and the story made public, attention has been drawn to the leftover $21million earmarked for the project.
“That money was meant to be shared,” one of our sources said. “It is a security contract and no one will ever ask questions. Now everybody is angry that sharing the money is now difficult.”