Operators Kick as Buhari Declines Assent on Digital Rights Bill

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Muhammadu Buhari

Emma Okonji

Some operators in the telecommunications sector have continued to react to the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Digital Rights Bill into law, after six weeks it was presented to him by the National Assembly.

Speaking on the importance of the bill, which seeks to protect the rights of people online, the operators urged the lawmakers to put pressure on the president to sign the legislation into law without further delay.

They argued that the bill was people oriented that seeks to protect the rights and privileges of Nigerians online.

The National President, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers (NATCOMS), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo said: “Nigerians’ presence online is on the increase, going by the present statistics where over 100 million Nigerians have access to the internet and 174 million Nigerians have access to telecommunications voice services. “What this portends is that data usage is also steadily increasing, which signals the need for laws that will protect Nigerians while browsing or transacting businesses online.” Ogunbanjo called on Nigerians to support members of the National Assembly in putting pressure on the president to sign the bill.

The pan-African digital rights advocacy organisation, Paradigm Initiative has expressed disappointment over the decision of the president, saying “the refusal of the President to sign the Bill is a huge setback for human rights online in Nigeria.”

Giving reasons for declining assent, the Presidency in a letter to the National Assembly, had said the bill “covered too many technical subjects and failed to address any of them extensively.”

“These areas include surveillance and digital protection, lawful interception of communication, digital protection and retention etc. Which are currently the subject of various bills pending at national assembly. We therefore suggest that the scope of the bill should be limited to the protection of human right within the digital environment to reduce the challenge of duplication and legislative conflict in the future,” the letter read further.

The group, however, promised to continue to work on getting the bill passed into law.
Speaking on the development, the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, Mr. Gbenga Sesan said: “Work will continue on the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill in Nigeria, and in other countries where Paradigm Initiative is now working with partners on the adoption of similar positive rights legislation.

“We would like to make it clear that the efforts of our coalition on the Bill are not a lost cause. Although the President’s refusal to assent the Bill is a setback, we are currently liaising with our partners towards a strategy to take this work forward. “At stake is the state of human rights online in Nigeria, which is too important to abandon, and which we have dedicated ourselves to protect.”

Paradigm Initiative’s Program Manager, Boye Adegoke said: “We also acknowledge the role that certain stakeholders played including the role of a government agency but we consider it strange that assent was denied to a bill on the ground that its provision could conflict with proposed laws that have not been passed by the national assembly.”

The Digital Rights Bill provides for the protection of human rights online, protect internet users from infringement of their fundamental freedoms and guarantee the application of human rights for digital platform users.

The bill seeks to guarantee human rights within the context of emerging innovative technologies, security concerns, increasing citizen participation in governance and democratic processes.
The bill, when passed into law, according to its promoters, was expected to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from global technology companies, aside strengthening the Nigeria technology industry by ensuring there is a positive regulatory environment.

It is an assemblage of conventional rights aimed at making online spaces rights-inclusive and is an attempt at balancing the friction between security and human rights in the digital age.

On the day the bill was rejected by the president, he also declined asset to the Nigeria Film Commission Bill 2018, the Climate change Bill, 2018, the Immigration (amendment) Bill, 2018 and the Chartered Institute of Pension Practitioners of Nigeria Bill, 2018.