The Digital Rights and Freedom Bill seeks to protect internet users in Nigeria from the infringement of their fundamental freedom and seeks to guarantee the application of human rights for all users of digital platforms, and, or digital media. Indeed, the Internet is a multi-stakeholder space with no single point of control; more importantly, government, civil society, the private sector and technical communities utilize this platform and all have vital roles to play in its governance.
The rights in the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill will apply to all sectors and everyone will have the responsibility to act ethically and in good faith. The conversation, which took place within the Internet Freedom Forum in Abuja, is certainly a step in the right direction. The discussion gave speakers and participants an opportunity to discuss, engage, learn and reflect on varied perspectives.
Organized by PIN also known as Paradigm Initiative Nigeria on March 9, 2016 – the Internet Freedom Forum included an interactive and engaging panel on the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill. Present on this panel were Gbenga Sesan – Executive Director of PIN Nigeria, Honorable Chukwuemeka Ujam – Vice Chairman of the House Committee on Telecommunications, and Titi Akinsanmi – Google Policy Head.
For many Nigerians, access to the Internet and various social media platforms has become a useful tool for many underrepresented and underserved voices especially women and youths, to be heard. For instance, it helped during the Occupy Nigeria and the Bring Back Our Girls movements. So why seek to regulate such a powerful tool?
Honorable Ujam speaking about the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill pointed to the dark sides of the Internet. He stated that many people hide behind their mobile devices to say whatever they feel like, without first verifying the information or checking whether it is true or false. Honorable Ujam emphasized the need to regulate and advocate for the responsible use of the Internet. According to him, freedom comes with responsibility, and where one’s rights ends is where the other person’s begins. He pledged his commitment to the passage of the bill into law, and gave the assurance that he would sponsor the bill, and see to it that the bill is read on the floor of Nigeria’s House of Representatives.
Akinsanmi on the other hand said, “if there are no rights and freedom respected online, this also reflects in the physical space.” Presently the Nigerian Consumer Rights has no reference to online consumers. She reiterated that Google’s motto is, “don’t be evil and don’t break the user’s trust; and in line with this policy, Google offers people the ability to truly make a difference – especially in places where there are no rights and freedom.”
Participants posed the following questions:
(1) Why are Nigeria’s policymakers afraid of social media? What is there to hide?
(2) Who sets the standard for what it means to use the Internet responsibly?
(3) In the activities leading up to the passage of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill into law, will tweaking bill make it lose its essence?
(4) Also, what does this mean for underrepresented and underserved voices who see social media as a liberating tool – many questions remain unanswered.
Despite this, the exchange of views and learning among the participants, speakers and stakeholders was remarkable. Oh, and the best part? Every attendee was presented with a copy of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, (still in draft form) as well as the African declaration on Internet Rights and Freedom.
Written by Ebele Ezenwa – Ezenwa is a solicitor, advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and an accredited dispute resolution specialist. Well-grounded in Corporate Law, she serves and provides excellent legal advisory services to clients on diverse issues. Ebele has served as a representative of the Enugu West Senatorial District at the Nigerian Youth Parliament from 2011 to 2014. While at the Parliament, she was the Vice Chairman, Committee on National Youth Service Corps matters. She currently works as an Immigration Compliance Specialist, for Granite Services International Inc., (A wholly owned affiliate of General Electric Company).
Edited by Mary Olushoga, Founder, awpnetwork.com