Civil society representatives at a two-day Advocacy Workshop for Civil Society Organizations have called on other civil society organizations, the Media, the Private Sector, Trade Unions, Professional Bodies and Other Non-State Actors to support the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill and contribute to creating public awareness about it.
The workshop which held in Abuja on June 28 and 29, 2017 was organised by Media Rights Agenda as part of a Global Internet Freedom Program supported by Global Partners Digital (GPD) in London, and the United States’ Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) in Washington DC.
The objective of the workshop was to improve the understanding of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill by representatives of civil society organizations, build their capacity to advocate for its passage in the National Assembly and increase civil society engagement in the ongoing legislative process on the Bill.
The workshop was addressed at its opening session by Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda, and Mr. Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, while Mr Tolu Ogunlesi, Special Assistant on Digital and New Media to President Muhammadu Buhari, gave the Keynote Address on: “Protecting Human Rights Online in the Digital Age: Opportunities and Challenges”.
Mr Ogunlesi’s address and presence provided civil society with insight into the government perspective on the issue of digital rights, challenges faced even within the government and advice on best steps for civil society representatives to take.
Tolu Ogunlesi emphatically stated that the safeguards that exist offline must also be able to exist and apply online. He urged citizens and civil society to test existing
laws in cases of violations of fundamental rights online. He stated that it is important to challenge violations of digital rights in court as rights offline are challenged.
Another crucial point made by Mr Ogunlesi was the need to get the media involved in the digital rights conversation. He stated that he absolutely believes all human rights should be protected on the Internet but pointed to the fact that the Internet has played a big part in helping to disseminate hate speech and divisive conversations leading to a need to elevate safeguards and prevent them from dominating the online environment.
The workshop featured sessions on The State of Digital Rights and Freedom in Nigeria; Understanding the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill; Making the Case Against Network Disruptions in Africa; Effective Communications in Campaigns and Advocacy; Conducting Advocacy in the National Assembly; Building an Effective Coalition for Civil Society Engagement; among others.
Participants at the workshop noted that the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, if passed into Law, will provide a comprehensive legal framework for the advancement, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet and in the digital environment.
They further noted that if passed into Law, the Bill will effectively protect the rights of Nigerians on the Internet and in the digital environment, boost the innovative spirit of Nigerians and accelerate the country’s development in the digital age by enabling Nigerians to take maximum advantage of emerging opportunities online.
The participants commended the Nigerian Government for playing a leadership role on the digital rights issue globally when it co-sponsored in 2012 the landmark “Resolution on the Promotion, Protection and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet” at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva along with Sweden, the United States, Brazil, Turkey and Tunisia as the Resolution provided the much needed guidance on how to protect human rights on the Internet through its affirmation that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.”
The participants observed that there was ample evidence available to support the proposition that maintaining an open, human rights respecting online environment has beneficial economic impact for countries as well as aiding development, democracy and innovation.
They called on the National Assembly to speedily pass the
Digital Rights and Freedom Bill into Law to bring Nigeria’s domestic law, policies and practices on the protection of human rights online into conformity with international norms and standards.
They also urged the National Assembly to ensure that the Law that will emerge from the process is a strong piece of legislation that can effectively protect the rights of Nigerians on the Internet and in the digital environment.
Finally, participants called on President Muhammadu Buhari to sign Bill into Law as soon as it is passed by the National Assembly and sent to him for assent.