Passage of Digital Rights Bill Timely, Says ICT Operators

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Emma Okonji

Information and communications technology (ICT) stakeholders and operators have commended members of the House of Representatives for the passage of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill (HB. 490), adding that the passage is timely and will enhance citizen’s rights and freedom.

The bill, which was passed on December 19, 2017, is a piece of legislation that is proposed for “an act to provide for the protection of human rights online, protection of internet users in Nigeria from infringement of their fundamental freedoms and to guarantee application of human rights for users of digital platform and/or digital media and for related matters.”

Sponsored by Hon. Chukwuemeka Ujam, the bill has passed through several legislative processes since it was first conceived by Paradigm Initiative working with the NetRights Coalition in 2015.
First introduced to parliament in April 2016, the bill has now successfully completed its journey through the House of Representatives at the plenary session on December 19, 2017.

Commenting on the urgency and priority accorded the Bill by members of the House of Representatives, the Programme Manager of Paradigm Initiative, Adeboye Adegoke, said: “Paradigm Initiative is elated by the news because the Netrights Coalition, which we lead has put in serious effort in seeing the idea to fruition. We believe strongly in the potential it has, to make a great impact on the development and recognition of digital rights in Nigeria. And we hope that after its passage, other African countries, and indeed the world, would follow suit.”

In his remark, the sponsor of the Bill, Hon. Chukwuemeka Ujam said, “The Bill has come a long way and will proceed to the Conference Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives for further approval before the final assent by the President, hopefully with no hitches.”

According to Ujam, “The content of the Bill is laudable and brilliant. It is clear evidence of what can happen when the government involves its citizens in lawmaking and governance, and I am proud to sponsor it.”

Digital rights and freedom are increasingly gaining relevance with increasing advocacy in Nigeria. Several civil society organizations exist to ensure that the rights recognized offline are on-boarded to the digital space as well. This is simultaneously in accordance with the advocacy going on internationally.

Paradigm Initiative leads advocacy for these rights in Africa and has embraced policy and legislative intervention as a way to protect digital rights in Africa. The organisation has for years, actively spearheaded projects and partnered other interested civil society groups in ensuring that digital rights are upheld in Africa.

Commenting on the passage of the bill, the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, Mr. Gbenga Sesan, said: “I believe this is a notable moment in 2017. And news like this strengthens our faith in the Nigerian legislative system; in believing that laws which are of significant benefit to citizens are also taken seriously by our lawmakers. We look forward with renewed hope to the next stage of this process at the Senate.”

Chairman, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers (NATCOMS), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, hailed members of the House of Representatives for what he described as the timely passage of the Bill. He said Bill of this nature that seeks to protect citizens freedom online, deserves close attention and called on the Senate to also expedite action in the passage of the Bill, to facilitate the quick assent of the Bill by President Muhammadu Buhari.

“I am happy and the entire telecoms subscribers are equally happy for the timely passage of the Bill by members of the House of Representatives. I look forward to the quick passage of the Bill by the Senate, it’s harmonisation by both the House and the Senate, before the final assent by President Muhammadu Buhari,” Ogunbanjo said.