UN Urges Nigeria to Speed up Passage of Digital Rights and Freedom Bill

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António Guterres, UN, Secretary-General
António Guterres, UN, Secretary-General

The United Nations (UN) has called on the Nigerian Government to speed up passage of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill. The call is contained in its concluding observations from Nigeria’s review at the 126th session of the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) which took place in Geneva, Switzerland from July 1 to 26, 2019.

The UN urged Nigeria to speed up the process of passing the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill and to take all necessary measures to ensure that all surveillance activities are carried out in keeping with its obligations under article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and to ensure that any interference with the right to privacy is governed by law and conducted in accordance with the principles of necessity and proportionality and subject to effective safeguards.

While noting the steps taken towards passage of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, the Committee expressed concerns over reports of website shutdowns and increased monitoring of online activities by government, particularly on social media. It also expressed concern over the Terrorism (Prevention) Act and the Cybercrimes Act of 2015 which it noted provide for broad authority with respect to surveillance measures.

On February 4, 2019 the Bill was transmitted to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent after it had been passed and hamonised by both the House of Representatives and the Senate at the 8th National Assembly.

But Senate president of the 8th Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, disclosed to the upper Chamber on March 20, 2019 the decision of President Buhari to decline assent to the Bill.

Giving reasons for denying assent, President Buhari said the bill “covers too many technical subjects and fails to address any of them extensively”, listing such areas to include surveillance and digital protection, lawful interception of communication, digital protection and retention, among others, which he said “are currently the subject of various bills pending at National Assembly”. He argued that the scope of the bill poses a “challenge of duplication and legislative conflict in the future.”

Meanwhile, stakeholders have revised the Bill and asked the National Assembly to revisit it and on July 16, 2019, the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, 2019 (HB. 98) passed through the First Reading on the floor of the House for first reading of the Nigerian 9th National Assembly.

The Digital Rights and Freedom Bill seeks to protect Internet users in Nigeria from infringement on their fundamental freedoms and to guarantee the application of human rights for users of digital platforms and/or digital media. Its provisions cover a range of issues which include fundamental rights and freedoms, offences and penalties, administration and enforcement, jurisdiction and international co-operation; search, arrest, and prosecution among others.