Lawyers, AGF

•Bill conflicts with regulatory powers of existing agencies

By Prince Osuagwu, Hi-Tech Editor

Legal practitioners who were part of a webinar on ‘Stakeholder engagement for Legal Practitioners in Nigeria on National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA Bill, 2021’  have picked holes in the propositions of a new National Information technology Development Agency (Repeal and Re-Enactment) Bill 2021, saying it is not only confusing but also conflicting.

Almost all the participants who said they have taken time to go through the document said it was an attempt to unnecessarily duplicate the regulatory powers of some existing government agencies in the country.

The webinar was put together by the Information and Communication Technology, ICT Committee of the Nigeria Bar Association Section on Business Law, NBA-SBL, in collaboration with the NITDA and Farisad Investment Limited, FIL.  It was hosted by the Chief executive Officer of FIL, Mr Sanusi Musa.

 This followed an earlier stakeholder engagement meeting also organised by NITDA in Abuja February 28, 2022. Just like the webinar at the weekend, the February engagement was also to consider the proposed NITDA Bill 2021 which, among other things, aims at changing NITDA from an IT Development Agency, to a regulator of the information technology industry ecosystem.

Providing the overview of the essence of the new bill, Director, Legal Service Department at NITDA, Emmanuel Edet, said: “What we are trying to do at NITDA is to ensure proper alignment with the management of the ever-expanding ICT ecosystem and maximally protect the users of digital services, thereby bridging the gap in the digital economy without necessarily straying into the regulatory power of other existing regulatory agencies”

Corroborating him, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy,  Dr Isa Pantami, who was represented by his Technical Adviser, Prof. Saliu Junaidu, said NITDA Act 2007 is one of the laws that required a repeal and re-enactment in order to keep it in tune with the developmental regulation direction of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), 2020-2030.

Also justifying the need for the Bill, Director-General of NITDA, Kashifu Abdullahi, said the scope of ICT has widened over the years with a lot of convergence and expansion in technology platforms being used by businesses and governments for delivery services. Abdullahi said: “Considering that NITDA Act is almost 16 years old, we consider it necessary to keep the Act up-to-date with the current reality in the Nigerian digital economy space”.

But all that did not cut a bug with the lawyers who said the bill was standing on a faulty foundation.

Taking the first shot was the NBA President, Olumide Apata, who, after his brief remark, raised three fundamental concerns. They are; how the Bill will align with the Startup Bill before the National Assembly, how the NITDA Bill intend to navigate its way within the broad context of regulatory functions of other agencies to avoid overlapping of functions; and what will be the implications of the harsh penalties for violation of certain sections of the Bill on the ICT business environment?.

Hardly had Apata who was represented by ICT Committee chairman, NBA-SBL, Rotimi Ogunyemi, dropped the microphone before other legal experts descended on the bill saying it almost generally conflicts with existing regulations of some other organisations including the Central Bank of Nigeria,CBN, the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, Standard Organisation of Nigeria, SON, Computer Professional Registration Council of Nigeria, CPN, Federal Completion and Consumer protection Commission, FCCPC, National Identity Management Commission, NIMC, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unity, NFIU and Office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA, among others.

Each of the Act establishing all these existing agencies were looked into vis-à-vis the new provisions in the NITDA Bill and it was unanimously expressed by the legal stakeholders that there were regulatory conflicts that may be detrimental to the peaceful regulatory atmosphere experienced in the nation’s digital economy space.

Aside some of the provisions overlapping on the regulatory functions other agencies, the legal experts observed that a number of the provisions in the Bill was “ambiguous, unclear, and capable of exerting substantial regulatory conflict in the system.

They called on the drafters of the NITDA Bill 2021 to go back to the drawing table and address all the areas of regulatory conflict with existing regulatory powers and functions of other agencies.

Some of the stakeholders also called for outright expunging of the conflicting sections from the Bill, stating, however, that if NITDA wishes to collaborate with other agencies in some critical areas of regulations, it is better to simply resort to signing Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with other concerned agencies instead of interloping into their regulatory arena.

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