The United Nations (UN) has called on the Nigerian government to speed up the passage of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill. The call is contained in its concluding observations from Nigeria’s review at the 126th session of the United Nations Human Rights Committee which held at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland from July 1-26, 2019.
The global body urged that Nigeria should speed up the process to pass the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill and take all necessary measures to ensure that all surveillance activities are in keeping with its obligations under article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and that any interference with the right to privacy is governed by law and conducted in accordance with the principles of necessity and proportionality and subject to effective safeguards.
Also, while noting the steps taken towards passage of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, the committee is concerned about reports of website shutdowns and increased monitoring of online activities by government, particularly on social media. The committee is also concerned that the Terrorism (Prevention) Act and the Cybercrimes Act of 2015 provide for broad authority with respect to surveillance measures.
Digital Rights Programme Manager at Paradigm Initiative, Adeboye Adegoke, while commenting on the development said: “Paradigm Initiative is excited that its advocacy on Digital Rights is yielding results and getting the attention of the United Nations and other key regional and global organisations. Nigeria puts itself in the positive spotlight by initiating the laudable process of having a Digital Rights Law, but it must ensure that the process is completed to earn deserved commendation from across the globe and more importantly, to establish and cement its leadership position in Africa.”
In July 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution for the “promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the internet” which condemns any country that intentionally disrupts the internet access of its citizens. The resolution stresses that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online”, particularly with regards to the freedom of expression already protected by Articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Research Officer at Paradigm Initiative, Babatunde Okunoye, said: “We live in the digital age and the United Nations Human Rights Committee is emphasizing the importance of human rights in the digital age, that rights that apply offline, must apply online.”
In February this year, President Buhari declined assent to the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill after it was passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate at the 8th National Assembly. Meanwhile, stakeholders revised the Bill and asked the National Assembly to revisit the Bill. On July 16, 2019, the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, 2019 (HB. 98) was read on the floor of the House for first reading in the Nigerian 9th National Assembly. The Bill will be passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate before it is sent to President Muhammadu Buhari for presidential assent.