The Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Mr. Edetaen Ojo, has called on youths and civil society activists in Nigeria to improve their knowledge of Internet policy issues in order to effectively engage ongoing efforts by the Federal Government to regulate the Internet and online activities.
Mr. Ojo spoke on September 20, 2013 at the 2013 Internet Freedom Forum held in Abuja by Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN), a social enterprise that connects under-served youths with ICT opportunities to improve their livelihoods.
According to him, “one of the most significant global developments in the area of internet freedom over the last 16 months is the adoption by the United Nations Human Rights Council on July 5, 2012 of a Resolution on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet.”
Mr. Ojo noted that in the very first paragraph of the Resolution, the Human Rights Council affirmed that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice, in accordance with articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
Saying that the subsequent two paragraphs of the resolution were also significant, he said Paragraph 2 recognizes “the global and open nature of the Internet as a driving force in accelerating progress towards development in its various forms” while Paragraph 3 calls upon all States “to promote and facilitate access to the Internet and international cooperation aimed at the development of media and information and communications facilities in all countries.”
Mr. Ojo told participants, made up primarily of youths, students and representatives of civil society organizations, that a coalition of six countries, under the leadership of Sweden, submitted this Resolution on June 28, 2012 and lobbied others to support it and identified other members of the coalition as the United States, Brazil, Tunisia, Turkey and Nigeria.
Saying that the resolution has been adjudged a victory for the Internet and a victory for Internet users, Mr. Ojo however said: “given recent statements by some senior government officials and given the recent actions of various government departments, agencies and officials, the question that naturally arises is whether the Nigerian Government truly believed in the ideals and principles outlined in the resolution when it co-sponsored it.”
He argued that having co-sponsored the Resolution, “Nigeria has, at the very least, a moral duty to live up to these standards that it wants us to hold the rest of the world to.”
Mr. Ojo therefore called on the participants and other Nigerians to “hold the Nigerian Government accountable to these standards.”
Observing that Section 37 of the Nigerian Constitution provides that “The privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected”, he asked: “so what does it mean to say that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online?”
He wondered how the constitutional provision should be interpreted in the light of the Government’s attempt to put in place a communications surveillance system lacking in any sort of transparency, “particularly when we do not know the intention of this measure, we do not know the scope and we do not know whether there are any safeguards to protect the fundamental rights of citizens.”
Mr. Ojo also noted that at the moment, Nigeria has “a rash of Bills and other draft laws and regulations awaiting adoption either through the legislative process or through administrative processes that seek to regulate the Internet, the use of the Internet or other digital communication in Nigeria.”
He identified such draft instruments to include:
- The Nigerian Communication (Amendment) Bill
- The Interception and Monitoring Bill
- The Regulation of Telecommunication Facilities to Support Investigations and Other Matters Connected Therewith
- The Electronic Transfer of Funds Crime Bill
- Cyber-Security Bill
- Electronic Commerce (Provision of Legal Recognition) Bill
- Cyber Crime Bill
- Draft Lawful Interception of Communications Regulation
- A Bill for an Act to Provide for Interception, Development and Protection of Communications Networks and Facilities for Public Interest and Other Related Matters 2013.
Mr. Ojo argued that there appeared to be no policy framework guiding the draft instruments, adding that it was in fact “clear in some of them, that the texts of the bills were simply taken from other countries without due regard for the contexts and local conditions.”
He said: “Indeed, in some of the cases, the countries from which the laws were copied have since moved on and updated their legal frameworks. Besides, in their present form, many of these instruments tend to invade privacy, repress freedom of expression online and violate other rights such as the right to fair hearing.”
Mr. Ojo observed that many people were yet to appreciate the negative effects of these instruments because they are still in the draft stage and are not yet being implemented, warning that by the time they are passed and enforcement begins, it would be too late.
He also argued that “since many ordinary citizens seem to be ahead of government in terms of their digital sophistication, these draft instruments, if passed, have the potential to hold the country back,” adding: “How can those who are behind seek to direct those who are ahead of them.”
Saying that the Government ought to adopt a multi-stakeholder approach to Internet regulation as is being done at the international level, he stressed that the critical issue at the moment is for Nigerians to upscale their capacity to engage the government and government agencies on issues of Internet regulation.
He urged the youths not just to preoccupy themselves with using social media but to take a serious interest in the policy issues which would preserve the free and open nature of the Internet and enable them to continue to enjoy its full benefits.
Mr. Ojo argued that the thrust of the engagement with Government could not possibly be that there should be no regulation whatsoever of the Internet or of the use of social media as such a position would not be tenable having regard to the present state of international human rights law and the Nigerian Constitution.
He insisted however that any attempt to regulate the Internet must confirm to the requirements of international human rights law both in terms of the circumstances under which regulation can occur and in the permissible scope of the regulation.
Mr. Ojo told the participants that they need to equip themselves with the knowledge and skills to engage the regulatory process, whether initiated by the Executive or the Legislature, in order to ensure that its outcome conforms fully with international standards and norms.
Earlier, PIN’s Executive Director, Mr. Gbenga Sesan, explained that the Forum was part of an effort to provide a platform for youths to add their voices to the ongoing debate about Internet freedom and the future of the Internet as they stood the best chance of experiencing that future.
He said the Forum would also enable the participant to discuss what type of Internet they want and strategize on how to achieve it.
Mr. Sesan announced that the Forum was also to initiative the process of developing an Internet Freedom Charter, a process that would continue online until the Charter is finalized and adopted.