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NITDA directs big techs to open local offices

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By Abraham Adekunle

Nigeria mandates social media platforms to have offices in Nigeria.

In the aftermath of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ban on Twitter in Nigeria and its subsequent lifting of the ban, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) has about one year after suspending the platform, published a document titled “Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms/Internet Intermediaries,” which is intended to curb online abuse, misinformation, disinformation, hate speech, and fake news. The code of practice is in line with directive from the president who has tasked the NITDA with drafting the document. The spokesperson for the agency said in a statement dated June 13, 2022 that the regulations were developed with input from big tech companies such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, TikTok, Google, and other popular platforms in the country.

In the document, NITDA recognizes that public and private organizations “are gradually moving their businesses and information services online.” It also acknowledges that the internet has transformed and is still transforming our daily activities and that even children have a significant presence on the internet without necessarily being supervised. Thus, information and communication technology systems have become a vital Infrastructure in the Nigerian society and it must be “safeguarded, regulated, and protected against online harm.”

NITDA mandates social media platforms to open a local office in Nigeria.

In the code of practice, NITDA said these platforms will be required to provide relevant information to users or authorized government agencies for the purpose of preserving Security and public order. The Code includes a comprehensive compliance mechanism which the agency has required these platforms to adhere to. In addition, NITDA mandates all platforms whose users are more than one hundred thousand (100,000) to be incorporated in Nigeria; have a physical contact address in Nigeria, which the platform must publish on its website; appoint a liaison officer who will bridge the communication gap between the government and the platform; provide users of authorized agencies, upon request, with report of due process on their activities, and/or open investigation to ensure individuals are not targeted; and more.

In other words, these Social Media platforms must be registered entities legally documented with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), must open local offices, and must appoint a representative. The code of practice also states that some social media platforms with less than one hundred thousand may be mandated to comply with the requirements stated for those big social media platforms. The agency said that these conditions have been set thus for protecting the fundamental Human Rights of Nigerians and non-citizens living in the country, and they will also help to define the guidelines for interaction on the digital space.

The NITDA code of practice comes a year after Twitter ban.

The Federal Government of Nigeria, following a directive of President Buhari, suspended the activities of Twitter in Nigeria from June 5, 2021 to January 13, 2022. The ban on Twitter had come about a year after the platform was used to publicize, strategize, and mobilize for the #EndSARS Protest which rocked the country in October 2020. Also, news that peaceful protesters have been shot at the Lekki Toll Gate was spread largely using the platform. Consequently, the government suspended Twitter on the grounds that it threatened the corporate existence of Nigeria.

Following serious backlash from internet users, stakeholders and concerned Nigerians, the government had said that it would lift the ban if Twitter set up a local office in Nigeria and paid taxes to the government. President Buhari has warned in his speech to Nigerians on the country’s 61st Independence Day anniversary to beware of bad actors who use the platform to “organize, coordinate and execute criminal activities, propagate fake news, and promote ethnic and religious sentiments.”

NITDA’s code of practice embodies guidelines required of Twitter.

On January 13, 2022, the government lifted the ban on Twitter and said that the social media platform had agreed to register a legal entity in Nigeria in the first quarter of 2022 as well as to other agreements, most of which can now be found in the code of practice. NITDA’s head of corporate affairs, Mrs. Hadiza Umar, has said in an accompanying press statement to the announcement of the code of practice that “the new global reality is that the activities conducted on these online platforms wield enormous influence over our society, social interaction and economic choices.”


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