Appraisal Of Digital Rights In Nigeria Amidst Repression By Authorities: Pathways For Enforcements. By Monday Chinaecherem
The existence of digital rights in Nigeria has precipitated the advanced access and usage of diverse telecommunication networks, digital media and technologies, and the internet to foster various schemes towards a digital global exploit. However, with the upsurge in digital rights violations such as the unlawful arrests and intimidation of online users, delinquent blockages to the internet, countless online users have been stripped of their right to personal liberty and human dignity leading a ceaseless increase of human right abuse. The Amnesty International report on freedom of expression noted that 50 journalists and bloggers had been arrested since the introduction of the 2015 Cybercrime Act. Apparently, the government and several agencies are taking subversive steps that undermine internet access and affordability, and weakness to the potential utilization of digital technologies.
The Nigerian government officially banned the operation of Twitter and restricted its functionality within the country from 5th June, 2021 to 13th January, 2022. The disruptions ordered by the government is to curtail the citizens’ access to information via the platform; citing that the continue usage of Twitter would necessitate the spread of disinformation, propagate hate speech, and fan public disorder and undermine national security.
On June 2016, the ‘United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution reprimanding internet shutdown in several countries, Nigeria inclusive. The council condemned and faulted regulations and measures that intentionally disrupt the access and dissemination of information online as such is in violation of the International Human Rights Law and called on all States to refrain from such measures. It is also recognised that network disruptions are inappropriate measures, as they affect users’ fundamental human rights in contradiction with Section 37 and 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as Amended 2018. The freedom of expression also includes the freedom to criticize the government and its functionaries… No Government should arrest its citizens indiscriminately or gag the general means of expression simply because it feels offended by the criticism. Parameters must be set, showing that public security and order must be affected if such action is not taken.
- REGULATORY FRAMEWORKS FOR THE ENFORCEMENT OF DIGITAL RIGHTS IN NIGERIA.
The introduction of certain regulatory structures and legislation often present the opportunity to sustain and enhance the feasibility of digital rights in Nigeria amidst clampdowns by several authorities. The foremost legislation governing ‘rights’ in Nigeria is the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended). The constitution is the overarching law; its provisions exert binding force on all authorities in Nigeria, to the effect that if any other authority or law is inconsistent with the provision of the constitution, such is deemed void and of no legal relevance. Other regulatory frameworks governing digital rights in Nigeria include;
- NITDA Act, 2007: The National Information Technology Development is a digital regulatory agency established by the NITDA Act 2007, mandated with the implementation of laws and policies and the obligation to set out guideline for driving ICT in Nigeria. The NITDA is also empowered under the Act to make regulations and issue guidelines for the monitoring, evaluation and enforcement of information technology practices, activities and systems in Nigeria and all matters related to digital technologies. This is to ensure the privacy and protection of Nigerians’ personal data due to the alarming increase in breach of personal data. To achieve this goal, the National Information Technology Development Act (NITDA) issued the Nigerian Data Protection Regulation (NDPR) to ensure the feasibility of digital rights in Nigeria through the safeguards afforded by a just and equitable legal regulatory framework on data protection and which regulatory framework is in tune with global best practices.
- The Nigerian Data Protection Regulation 2019 (NDPR, 2019): The paramount purpose of the NDPR is to protect the rights of natural persons to data privacy. The agency is obliged to address the issue of the rampant breaches of data belonging to individuals and companies and also mandated to prevent any possible manipulation to the detriment of the data subject, to foster safe conduct for transactions involving the exchange of Personal Data and to prevent manipulation of Personal Data.
- INTERNATIONAL LEGAL FRAMEWORK FOR THE ENFORCEMENT OF DIGITAL RIGHTS
- United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies: The United Nations Human Rights Committee is responsible for the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its States parties. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantees and protects everyone from arbitrary or unlawful interferences with their privacy and correspondence. This is also in accordance with the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which provides that: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation- Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” The right to privacy seeks to protect what an individual considers “private” to him including digital rights. In the United Nations resolution (2016), an agreement was reached that people’s offline rights should also be protected online, meaning that the UN’s contemplation of digital rights would mean an extension of the existing human rights to cyberspace.
- The Open Rights Group (ORG) is an international organization, that is mandated to preserve digital rights and freedoms by campaigning and providing awareness on digital rights and related issues in the digital world.
- CLAMPDOWNS BY AUTHORITIES ON THE FEASIBILITY OF DIGITAL RIGHTS IN NIGERIA.
With the current upsurge of internet shutdowns, and pushback against digital rights abuses and violations, numerous laws and policies are set by authorities to impinge on digital rights in Nigeria. The government has furtively setout moves to take down websites and blogs which they deem offensive, under the guise of national security-contrary to the provisions of the Section 146 of the National Communications Act of 200. In recent years, the Nigeria’s Cybercrime law, sections 24 and 38 precisely have been the prime legal authority for stifling digital rights and instigating unlawful arrest of online users. A legislative bill to repeal and re-enact the Cybercrime Act of 2015 as a result of its ambiguity and uncertainty, was termed needless and unessential by the parliament, citing reasons that the content and exact purpose of the Act is to check ethnic sentiments online, which the Federal government now likens to terrorism. Furthermore, on January 20, 2017, a High Court ruled against the ‘Media Rights Agenda’- a bid to challenge the constitutionality of sections 24 and 38 of Nigeria’s Cybercrime Act which has been the main legal authority for the unlawful arrest of citizens and online journalists. The court however, ruled that the two sections of the Nigeria’s Cybercrime Act are consistent with the provisions of the constitution, thereby making the two-section valid and still enforceable in Nigeria.
Similarly, the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, a bill conceived by the Paradigm Initiative-a digital rights group that seek to address the demanding issues of digital right protection in Nigeria. The bill seeks to address digital related matters such as surveillance, censorship, interception, and many more. The aim of the Bill includes: –
- To guarantee the fundamental privacy rights of citizens and define the legal framework regarding surveillance;
- To promote the freedoms of expression, assembly and association online;
- To outline the provisions of lawful and authorized interception of communication within the digital environment without sacrificing the freedom and constitutional rights of citizens;
- To guarantee the application of human rights within the digital environment;
- To provide sufficient safeguards against abuse online and provide opportunity for redress;
- To equip the judiciary with the necessary legal framework to protect human rights online
However, in 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari refused the assent of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill into law. The refusal was followed by attempts to enact restrictive bills such as the Social Media Bill and Hate Speech Bill. Both of these bills have the effect of shrinking civic space and prohibiting freedom of expression online.
- THE JURISDICTION OF THE COURT ON DIGITAL RIGHTS MATTERS
On 28 June 2019, the Federal High Court upheld the digital rights of Nigerian citizens in the case between Incorporated Trustees of Paradigm Initiative for Information Technology (PIIT) & Sarah Solomon-Eseh (Applicants) V. National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) & Anor. Here, the FHC affirmed the need for NIMC to improve on data security and protection within its organization to avoid breach of citizens’ constitutional right to privacy. This is because the data privacy rights of Nigerian citizens are encircled within the digital rights matters. The above judicial authority underscores the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court in digital rights matters. Also, the Court of Appeal while affirming the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court in Continental Sales Limited V. R. Shipping Inc. highlighted certain conditions and criteria invoke the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court in digital matters, the Court of Appeal in Continental Sales Limited V. R. Shipping Inc. declared that;
- the offense must have occurred on a digital platform
- and a breach on the fundamental human rights must have occurred such as the ‘right to privacy.
- RECOMMENDATIONS AND PATHWAYS FOR ENFORCEMENTS OF DIGITAL RIGHTS IN NIGERIA
In order to improve digital right protection in Nigeria and introduce effective pathways and regulatory frameworks that can aid facilitate the feasibility and enforcement of digital rights, some recommendations are discussed below;
- Political Participation and Digital Right Activism: In order to influence public policy in the interest of a particular cause, various activists and advocate groups have engaged the masses to influence the decisions and policies of the government, many of such include the hashtags of #EndSARS, # BringBackOurGirls, # NotTooYoungToRun. Yet the freedom of digital advocacy in Nigeria is on shaky terrain and has been for a while. However, digital rights in the United Kingdom is paramount amongst other human rights. This is owed to the enormous participation and activism of the Open Rights Group (ORG), a UK-based organisation that works to preserve digital rights and freedoms by campaigning on digital rights issues and fostering a community of grassroots activists. Such digital rights activists and pressure groups are not effective in Nigeria, as such, the government and many other agencies may impinge on individual’s and company digital rights. Therefore, Digital rights advocacy in Nigeria is exceptionally critical as the government does not provide strong protection for these rights. Advocacy groups can apply pressure on decision-makers to develop, implement and enforce the laws required to ensure these rights are recognized as human rights. Nigerian’s participation in digital right activism and mass advocacy would necessitate an effective pathway for the enforcement of digital rights in Nigeria.
- Strategic Litigation for Digital Right Enforcement. Government and several agencies are the most frequent perpetrators of digital rights in Nigeria. Numerous legislations and emerging practices have a potentially severe impact on enforcements of digital rights in Nigeria. Litigating against such digital right infringements is very vital especially important to establish legal precedents in Nigeria and clarify the interpretation of laws, as government institutions do not uphold or routinely enforce these rights. Whilst these legislative frameworks are unfavorable and incompatible with digital right laws, strategic litigation has a pivotal role to play in how the society and the government respond to these issues. This Strategic litigation would help enhance the impact and bring about legislative and policy change which can be a crucial lever to protect human rights in the digital rights ecosystem. As a high impact activity, it can help pave the way in creating progressive jurisprudence and the reform of existing repressive laws that give rise to human rights violations. It also helps raise awareness of the weaknesses that exist in the legal systems and understand why and how they can be exploited.
- Engagement of Eminent Stakeholders. One of the challenges facing the Nigerian state with relation to human right enforcements, is the problem of political elitism. Often times political propaganda has been deployed to achieve devious mechanisms under different situations and circumstances in Nigeria. This underscores the need to engage Stakeholders; Public servants, lawyers, judges, ministers, senators, private stakeholders alike need to be critically involved in the enforcement of digital rights in Nigeria. An example is the BudgIT’s engagement with some institutions and stakeholders necessitated the financial transparency and data accessibility training, (2020 Annual Report). These collaborations are vital for the best practice in data protection enforcement.
In the light of the above, it is evident that Human Rights abuses, Digital Rights particularly has become a prevalent issue in Nigeria. This issue therefore requires urgent attention of the judiciary specifically, since the government are taking subversive steps to repress digital rights in Nigeria. The judiciary as the last hope of a common man needs to set out tactical structures to enhance and ensure the enforcements of digital rights.
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Paragraph 2.0 of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, 2006
Paradigm Initiative: Digital Rights in Africa 2017 Report, Internet Governance Forum (6 January 2022) <https://paradigmhq.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Digital-Rights-in-Africa-Report-2017.pdf>20 September 2022
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Monday Chinaecherem, Feasibility of the Nigerian Policies, Insecurity and Insurgency, Legal Idea Forum ( 22 September 2022)< https://legalideasforum.com/nigerian-policies-on-insecurity.html>accessed 25 September 2022
Author: Monday Chinaechere
Institution: University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus.
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