Stakeholders in Nigeria’s constitutional democracy have decried what they described as an attempt by government agencies and personnel to muzzle up freedom of press and expression in Nigeria.
This is coming as findings revealed that over seven journalists and bloggers have been jailed within the last one year of the current administration, using various Cyber Crime laws that tend to suppress freedom of speech in Nigeria.
The stakeholders at a conference in Abuja yesterday, called for the speedy passage into law of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill (HB. 490), which has passed second reading at the Federal House of Representatives, so as to guarantee freedom of speech and press in the country.
The Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Communication, Hon. Chukwuemeka Ujam, said the consensus reached after the stakeholders’ roundtable session to discuss the Bill, was aimed at bringing up to speed on the legislative activities around the HB.490.
Ujam, who sponsored the Bill at the National Assembly in support of advocacy efforts of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria and other coalition partners, expressed hope of its passage before the end of the year.
He noted that in its core objectives, the Bill seeks to guarantee that the rights that apply off-line also apply in the digital space to promote freedom of expression online, freedom of assembly and association online, guarantee the fundamental right to privacy of citizens, define the legal framework regarding surveillance and seek protection of the data of every Nigerian citizen.
He explained that the Bill will not only assist in the legal framework for every Nigerians’ digital future plans; but will also be a tool for education of the masses, law enforcement officers/agencies and as well as the judiciary. He stressed that “a free digital environment in Nigeria will ensure active participation of citizens towards socio-economic development.”
In the same vein, the Programme Manager (ICT Policy) of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, Mr. Adeboye Adegoke, said the need for such a bill of rights has become increasingly imperative; considering the current global debate on Internet governance and Internet policies in light of actions by state and non-state parties that threaten the rights and freedom of internet users in Nigeria.
“A case in point is the incessant arrests of bloggers in Nigeria and lack of regulatory frameworks guarding the untamed biometric data mining in Nigeria. As at the last count, not less than seven bloggers have either been arrested or detained in the last one year on the instruction of a political office holder or some powerful individuals.
“Also, at least eight government agencies have collected citizens’ data in Nigeria without a data protection law or exclusive policy in place,” Adegoke said.
He commended the 8th National Assembly for their spirited dedication to ensuring that the human rights concerns of every Nigerian are not only protected but also making sure that they lend their support for the Bill as the first of its kind which gets to project this Assembly for global view.
Adegoke also congratulated the sponsor of the Bill, Hon. Ujam, for being named a ‘Hero’ of Human Rights on his dedication to this Bill by the organisers of the Necessary and Proportionate Principles Awards.
“We then use this medium to welcome the members of the National Assembly back form recess and urge them to expedite action towards the speedy passage of the Bill by calling for its Public hearing in earnest,” he said.
Also, Programme Assistant (ICT Policy), Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, Mr. Tomiwa Ilori said, ”the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill (HB. 490) seeks to protect Internet users in Nigeria from unauthorised infringement on their fundamental freedoms and to guarantee enjoyment of human rights for users of digital platform and media while safeguarding their proprietary rights.”
Ilori stressed that HB.490 is the most comprehensive Bill till date that factors into consideration major developments in technological policies and also includes affirmative and definitive measures that puts the fundamental freedoms and economic interests of every Nigerian, first.
He said the provisions of the Bill cover issues such as right to Digital Privacy Online and other innovative provisions like Data and Information Privacy and Data stored in the Cloud. Other major sections of the Bill focuses on e-Governance and Digital Economy while the Bill further reiterate Fundamental freedoms we enjoy offline to Online.