President Buhari has rejected a bill seeking to protect the rights of internet users in Nigeria from infringement

President Muhammadu Buhari checking out his twitter page on a Tablet during a meeting with campaign volunteers in Lagos in 2014. (Sahara Reporters)
  • Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has rejected the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill.
  • The President says the bill “covers too many technical subjects and fails to address any of them extensively.”
  • A pan-African digital rights advocacy organisation, Paradigm Initiative, frowns at the rejection of the bill.

After almost three years of legislative processes, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has rejected the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, a bill seeking to protect Internet users in Nigeria from infringement of their fundamental freedoms.

In his response to the National Assembly on Tuesday, the president said the bill “covers too many technical subjects and fails to address any of them extensively.”

The other declined bills include 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.

Commenting on Buhari's refusal to sign the bill, a pan-African digital rights advocacy organisation, Paradigm Initiative, saying “the refusal of the President to sign the Bill is a huge setback for human rights online in Nigeria.

Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, in a statement made available to Business Insider SSA by Pulse, 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,” Sesan added.

What is the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill?

Digital Rights and Freedom Bill is an enactment of the National Assembly seeking to protect Internet users in Nigeria from infringement of their fundamental freedoms and to guarantee the application of human rights for users of digital platforms and/or digital media.

The bill was passed by the National Assembly on February 5, 2019, and passed by the House of Representatives on December 17, 2017.

Among the objectives of the bill include promotion of freedom of expression, assembly and association online; data privacy rights of citizens and define the legal framework regarding surveillance; digital liberty of Nigerians, now and in the future and equip the judiciary with the necessary legal framework to protect human rights online.

What does the rejection mean to ordinary Nigerians?

Boye Adegoke, a digital rights activist, said the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the bill is strange as provisions and contents were very clear enough.

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 cost of rejecting the bill on the citizens mean a continued breach of data privacy, violation of human rights and a not too clearly defined legal framework for the judiciary to act on digital liberty cases in the country.

Checks by Business Insider SSA by Pulse also show that one of the strong points of advocacy of the bill is the clause on arbitrarily use of subpoenas without a proper court order to get information in bulk about broad categories of telephone or Internet users by government agencies such as the Department Of State Security Services and others.

  • The bill also makes case for arbitrary arrest, detention of journalists under the guise of fake news and hate speech.
  • A clear consent on the use of Personal Data by companies and multinational corporations is also clearly stated in the bill.

What's next after Buhari’s declined assent?

The pan-Africa digital rights group promised to continue working with stakeholders on getting the bill passed into law.

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