Social Media Regulation Will Hamper Nigeria’s Digital Economy Ambition - Experts Warn FG

Social Media Regulation Will Hamper Nigeria’s Digital Economy Ambition – Experts Warn FG

8 months ago
4 mins read

Two human rights organisations, Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) and Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF France), alias Lawyers Without Borders have warned the Nigerian government against controlling the digital space in order not to stymie or work at cross purpose with the country’s ambitious digital economy initiatives.

The organisations said it is contradictory for the Nigerian government to on one hand recognise the immense potential of digital technology to transform the economy yet be bent on controlling the means through which citizens independently access and deploy digital tools on the internet.

READ ALSO: Space Tech Only Vehicle For Africa To Catch Up With Developed World – Tinubu

They expressed this concern in Abuja on Tuesday during the inaugural meeting and training of the Digital Rights Expert Group under the eRIGHTS project in Nigeria implemented by ASF in partnership with CITAD and Spaces for Change, funded by the European Union.

The Executive Director of CITAD, Y.Z Ya’u, observed that Nigeria has over the years introduced obnoxious bills in the National Assembly to circumscribe the digital space, and harped on the need for the authorities to create safe space for everybody to utilize the digital space to transform Nigeria’s digital economy.

A week ago, Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Balarabe Ilelah, disclosed that a bill for an act to repeal and amend the NBC Act, CAP L11 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, to among other things regulate social media and related matters has been read for the first time on the floor of the National Assembly.

At a meeting with the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, the Director-General referred to social media as a “monster” and maintained that “unless there is a law that allows NBC to address social media issues, the problem will persist in our daily lives in this country.”

Prime Business Africa recalls that the quest for a regulated online media featured among the top priorities of the Muhammadu Buhari government with then Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed insisting that the government has a responsibility to monitor media content. He even accused Twitter and its founder, Jack Dorsey, of being vicariously liable for the losses recorded during the #EndSARS protest.

This newspaper had reported President Bola Tinubu as saying yesterday that “the only vehicle for Africa to catch up with the rest of the world is to explore the immense potentials hidden in the space sector.” This was as he enjoined African leaders to leverage Industry 4.0 and disruptive technology in the Space sector to move the continent toward the direction of a more prosperous and promising economy.

Now, while Ya’u warned the National Assembly against wasting precious time and resources legislating against social media, the Country Director of ASF France Nigeria, Angela Uzoma-Iwuchukwu, advised the government to work with web developers and technological platforms to ensure that there is regulation within those organizations in line with international standards.

Uzoma-Iwuchukwu insisted that attempts to restrict or regulate social media by bringing in obnoxious laws and policies will trample on Nigerians’ freedom of expression “because freedom of expression is guaranteed in the Nigerian constitution, and also in the region and other international human rights instruments that Nigeria is a signatory of.”

On his part, Ya’u said: “Three years ago, the country announced the National Digital policy strategy, a very ambitious digital economy document. The ambition is that the government will use that document to transform Nigeria into a striving economy based on digital technology. And that requires massive development of infrastructure, massive digital skills acquisition but even much more allowed Nigerians to effectively utilize digital tools, devices and spaces.

“But on the other hand, over the last couple of years, we have also seen a progressive attempt to shrink the digital space in Nigeria. We have seen obnoxious bills being introduced in the National Assembly, including the one on fake news on the internet, and so forth.

“Recently one has resurfaced again in the National Assembly. So what we have seen is that on the one hand, the government has recognized the potential of digital technology to transform the economy. On the other hand, it has also recognized the potential of this technology to enhance citizen independence, urgency for transforming these conditions, and that while it wants to capture the economic potentials, it also wants to control the way in which citizens are able to assess and deploy digital means independently of government.

“So that’s the paradox we are and I think that it’s very important that we recognize that government itself is a hostage of its own policy and you cannot have that ambitious Digital Agenda while you are not allowing for free and safe utilization of the digital space. You can only have to transform the economy digitally, if all Nigerians feel free and safe to utilize the digital space that you are creating.”

“And I think that for me, this is really what we need to focus on. What do we do to make the government recognize that its own interest, in its effort to promote the digital agenda, should also allow for free and safe internet in Nigeria.

“I think that for me, it was down to one thing. Instead of our National Assembly wasting a lot of precious time and resources legislating on social media, what they need to do is take the digital rights and freedom bill that has been on the agenda for many years that will make the internet safe for everybody, especially, women who are victims of online harassment and remove ambiguities in the cybercrime act, which was created to ensure that we fight cybercrime, but if you look at the statistics, or the highest number of people who are being detained and arrested using the cybercrime are actually journalists and activists rather than the criminals who have been swindling people of money. So, it’s not an effective tool for fighting cybercrime rather, is the tool that is being used to harass and detain journalists.

“So for us as campaigners, and also government agencies that are interested in promoting the effective utilization of digital technology, I think we should focus on creating a safe space for everybody to utilize the digital space so that Nigeria can be greater.”


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