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Digital rights necessary for Nigeria’s growth

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By Abraham Adekunle

Civil society organization calls on FG to pass Digital Rights and Freedom Bill.

A Civil Society organization, Accountability Lab Nigeria, has called on the Federal Government to work with the National Assembly to ensure the passage of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill. The CSO says that it is pertinent for the nation’s progress. The organization also asked the two arms of government to gazette the Nigerian Data Protection Regulation (NDPR) in order to make it enforceable and part of the Nigerian law. The communication manager, Mukhtar Suleiman, made the announcement yesterday September 16, 2022, in Abuja while speaking with newsmen during training for Security officers from DSS, Police, NIA, NITDA, and FRSC on digital rights.

He said the law will ensure that Nigeria becomes a respectable 21st-century digitized Economy and a society governed by the Rule of Law where the citizens are not harassed by Law Enforcement Agencies. He noted that there have been cases where citizens have issues with Security Agencies stopping them and searching their phone. He said while it cannot just happen in the ambit of the law, there are limitations with the laws regarding this aspect.

The Digital Rights Freedom Bill protects citizens’ data.

The Digital Rights and Freedom Bill is intended to guard and guide today’s internet users in terms of their freedom, safeguarding their rights and protection against any form of infringement. There are also provisions against hate speech online in Nigeria. The bill intends to promote freedom of expression, assembly, and association online; Data Privacy rights of citizens and define the legal framework regarding surveillance; digital liberty of Nigerians, now and in the future, and equip the Judiciary with the necessary legal framework to protect Human Rights online.

Since 2016 the bill had been in the National Assembly. It was first approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate in 2018. However, in March 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari refused to sign the bill into law. He justified his refusal by saying that the bill ‘covers too many technical subjects and fails to address any of them extensively. This decision has been widely criticized by media rights organizations. However, the revised version of the bill has passed first reading in the House of Assembly.

Individuals’ data needs more protection by the government.

If the president refused to sign the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill into law, it would not only be a missed opportunity to protect Nigerians, but it would also speak volumes about the government’s concern for the protection of its citizens. We live in a digital space right now. Our gadgets — phones, laptop, iPads, etc. — are analogous to our physical space now; invaded that privacy is just like burgling a private property. A Technology lawyer Veronica Pana Igube said that the way we communicate is changing and there is a need for our rights to be protected.

She added that the goal of the training is to raise more awareness about digital rights. “We’re educating law enforcement officers about digital rights, so we’re bringing awareness for them to understand that citizens have certain rights.” Since Nigeria’s Cybercrime Act was signed into law in May 2015, politicians and public authorities have sued activists, journalists, and bloggers who criticized them on Social Media with cyberstalking, a section of the cybercrime law. Critics have said that there should be no law to prosecute criticism online or even offline especially in a democracy.

There is no central law on data protection in the country.

Presently, Nigeria has no principal Legislation on data protection. The principal data protection regulation in Nigeria is the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation 2019 (NDPR). This is just a subsidiary legislation issued pursuant to the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) Act 2007. What this means is that since there is no central law on data protection in the country, other legislation will interpret data protection as it is defined in them. Other pieces of legislation that impact data protection in Nigeria include: the Child Rights Act, 2003; the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc.) Act, 2015; the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, and more.


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