There appears to be deepening worry by digital right groups and many Nigerians on social media over the delays by the National Assembly to transmit Digital Rights and Freedom Bill to the Presidency for presidential assent. Recall that the much anticipated Bill was passed in March by the Senate, following passage by the House of Representatives in November 2017. Since then, the National Asaissembly has not transmitted the Bill to the Presidency. 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.
President Muhammadu Buhari said although the Bill was earlier hailed as a commitment by the government to guarantee that Nigerians enjoy a free and open web, the delay in the Presidential assent of the Bill has received condemnation as many Bills passed after HB490 have been transmitted to the President for assent. Digital rights and freedom are increasingly gaining relevance with increasing advocacy in Nigeria and the rest of the world. Already, Paradigm Initiative, a right advocates group is leading a campaign in support of immediate transmission of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill to the presidency.
The campaign which had run on the Social Media was to encourage the National Assembly leadership to expedite actions on the transmission of the Bill. Meanwhile, the Bill empowers law enforcement agencies in Nigeria to leverage technology to carry out their work with best practices obtainable anywhere in the world. It also empowers young Nigerians who want to learn, innovate and do other forms of legitimate activities online by safeguarding their rights to do so. The Bill when it becomes law will boost technological innovations in Nigeria and reverse the adversarial tendencies often displayed towards young people who embrace technology by security agencies as demonstrated by recent outrage against SARS in Nigeria. However, in a recent campaign led by Paradigm Initiative, hundreds of posts were made on twitter and other social media platforms, calling on the National Assembly leadership to immediately transmit the Bill to the President. Using the hashtags, #DigitalRightsBill and #HB490, Social Media campaigners ensured the Bill received adequate attention throughout last week. According to recent statement by Paradigm Initiative, “We are worried that since the passage in March, the National Assembly is yet to transmit the Bill to the President for assent. Many Bills passed after DRFB have been transmitted to the President for his assent.
This is why we have called on Nigerians to join us in a campaign dedicated to encouraging the National Assembly to send this Bill to President Muhammadu Buhari for his signature.” According to ‘Gbenga Sesan, Paradigm Initiative’s Executive Director, “As we have said times without number before, The Digital Rights Bill is an important piece of legislation, not only for human rights in Nigeria but also for the economy of Nigeria. “The Bill provides for the protection of human rights online, protect internet users from infringement of their fundamental freedom and guarantees the application of human rights for digital platform users. “The Bill strengthens users’ trust & has been lauded as a step in the right direction because of the value it brings to the digital economy and the rights of the people of Nigeria.
The Bill seeks to guarantee human rights within the context of emerging innovative technologies, security concerns, increasing citizen participation in governance and democratic processes.” Commenting further on the Bill’s transmission, Web Foundation’s Interim Policy Director, Nnenna Nwakanma, said that, “This Bill is important right now, not only for the digital rights of Nigerians, but as a signal that Nigeria intends to be a regional tech leader. We’re urging the National Assembly to put this forward to the presidency for signature as a matter of urgency so Nigerian web users can be protected in an online environment that guarantees them the same rights online as offline.” She was of the hope that the Bill would move forward swiftly so that Nigerians are ensured the protection of internet freedom and the fundamental rights of expression, assembly and association online.
It would be recalled that Media Rights Agenda, MRA had called on President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill into law as soon as he receives it from the National Assembly MRA believes that signing the Bill was the most practical way for his Administration to demonstrate its support for Internet freedom for Nigerians. MRA had applauded the leadership of National Assembly for the speedy passage of the Bill by both the House of Representatives and the Senate and urged them to ensure that a clean copy reached the President for signature in the shortest time possible in order to bring their efforts to fruition. Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda had described the proposed Law as “a strong piece of legislation that seeks to effectively protect the rights of Nigerians on the Internet and in the digital environment in accordance with the global norms and standards that Nigeria has helped to establish.”
While calling on President Buhari to assent to the Bill without delay and thereby demonstrate his willingness to protect the rights of all Nigerians online as they were protected offline, he said: “The Bill provides a comprehensive framework for the advancement, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet and in the digital environment, consistent with Nigeria’s regional and international obligations under various international human rights instruments, some of which Nigeria has led in bringing into being by co-sponsoring”