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Home » Articles » Digital Rights Improvement in Nigeria – Odii Victor

Digital Rights Improvement in Nigeria – Odii Victor

digital rights in Nigeria

Digital Rights Improvement in Nigeria

Headings: Digital Rights, Problems facing Digital Rights, Improvement of Digital Rights

Introduction

As the wildfire of technological advancement surges through the 21st century world, more people depart conventional way of life towards undertaking most of their ordinary daily activities online.

According to DataReportal[1], as at January 2022, there were roughly 109.2 million internet users in Nigeria which is about 51 percent of the total population. Consequently, as greater proportion of this population take on digitisation in business and social environments, as well as for dissemination of information, the issue of data privacy and protection of individual rights arises.

Ergo, to afford users conducive digital space, the government have promulgated some regulatory measures such as the Cybercrime Act 2015[2], however, the violation of rights and freedom has remained a recurring phenomenon likewise the invasion of online privacy in many instances by private actors, bodies corporate and even government agencies without legal justification, due to ambiguity and loopholes in extant laws[3].

Thus, this pervasive trampling of individual digital rights in Nigeria demands for improved protection and remedies. For the purpose of this paper, the author would examine the scope of digital rights, the extent of its violations and necessary pragmatic measures to ensure more inclusive protection.

Digital Rights

Digital rights are synonymous to those fundamental human rights enjoyed offline, but now adapted to a new age of technology. Bolstering this position, the United Nations Human Rights Council, unanimously agreed that the human rights people enjoy offline also applies online[4].

To wit, these rights are not novel, but an extension of those fundamental human rights to digital spaces to aid protection online. Digital rights constitute unrestricted internet access to all, freedom of expression, communication and association online, access to information, right to privacy and data protection, right to be forgotten, protection of minors online and the governance and regulations of digital spaces[5]. It protects users from online abuses.

It has been reported that, as people surf and carry-on businesses online, their movements, preferences and information are often tracked and divulged to some online corporations who use them for marketing purposes, without the consents of data subjects[6]. For instance, a person who makes a search on a particular vendor on the internet will find many suggestions of similar vendors by such app. This also resonates the susceptibility of individuals’ data online, and further risks of third-party invasion which usually results to recurring cyber theft[7].

At the heart of digitalisation in Nigeria is the social media, as it’s usage increases, however, hate speeches, discrimination, defamation and the intimidation of users as well as shutdown of the internet by authorities has been recurrent. These issues, amongst others, emphasizes the need for digital protection.

In understanding the scope of Digital Rights, it is pertinent to understand that it overgoes activities that accrue online, to encompass some non-internet related activities, such as biometric data collection and telecommunication services[8].

Problems facing Digital Rights

Although the Nigerian constitution made provisions for individual privacy and freedom of expression in sections 37 and 39 respectively[9], the absence of express provisions of digital rights has left the floodgate of unlawful violations ajar.

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As aforementioned, some Nigerian legislations, pointedly, the Cybercrime Act, have undemocratic elements that work hardship on citizens. Since its enactment, there has been an upsurge in the shutdown of internet and arrest of journalists and bloggers, owing to elusive provisions which give government agencies unruly powers. For instance, sections 23 and 24[10] provide for the divulgence of personal information of individuals by service providers to government agencies, giving them the power to act on discretion without court checks.

This precipitated the shutdown of Twitter in 2020 when the federal government, acting in solitary, purported that Twitter would evoke crisis across the country[11].

In 2019, a journalist, Obimma D. Norman of Online Realm News, was arrested in Abia state by the police on frivolous claims of harassment[12]. In another instance, the government ordered the shutdown of telecoms services in some Northern States like Zamfara in 2021[13], which is an ineffective way of fighting banditry as opposed to their claims. All these infringes on digital rights vital to human existence.

Another digital endemic is the susceptibility of individual data to the risks of cyber threats and invasion. In the face of this, the Central Bank Consumers Protection Framework, prohibits financial institutions from divulging personal customers’ information and ensuring appropriate measures to safeguard data, only retrievable upon individual’s consent[14].

Similarly, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in 2019, issued the Nigerian Data Protection Regulations(NDPR), to regulate the management and prohibit unconsented use of individuals’ information by data controllers.

Notwithstanding, there are instances where telecommunication providers often divulge to financial loaners the contact lists of runaway debtors, with which they call clueless third parties to inquire the whereabouts of such debtors.

In a Nigerian case, Godfrey Eneye v MTN Nigeria[15], the court held that unauthorized disclosure of the claimant’s mobile phone number by MTN and the subsequent unsolicited text messages he received from unknown third parties were violations of his constitutional right to privacy.

The Regulation also provided for individuals’ consent before collection and usage of data, withdrawal of such consent or erasure, but it was mute on the easement of the process[16]. For instance, some close subscribers of Spotify complained last year of the automatic renewals of their subscription, and their inability to withdraw consent later because of complexities.

In Regulation 3.1, the NDPR provided for free correction of personal data by data subjects, however, the exceptions provided is deemed to wreak havoc on individuals. Such is the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) direction for charges of N15,000 for first time changes in date of births by citizens, which has met adverse criticisms[17].

The Way Forward: Improvement of Digital Rights

Suffice to say, there is need for robust legislation and advocacy, if equal digital rights protection will be attained in Nigeria. The lawmakers in 2016 took bold steps when they passed into law the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill but was refused assent by the President due to some vague reasons[18].

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Foremost to achieving better digital rights protection regime, robust campaigns are required to urge the government to review and pass the digital rights bill into law which has been delayed over the years.

The bill sought to oversee online privacy and confidentiality, surveillance, recognition of digital assets, data security, requirements of privacy notice, anonymity and censorship of freedom of expression, prohibition of hate speech, access to the internet, protection of disabled and marginalised people and protection of students’ privacy amongst others[19]. Thus, below are elaborations of the foregoing and additional recommendations.

  • A novel provision in the bill is the recognition of digital assets which provides for the succession of digital assets like websites.

  • Foremost to digital rights, is the right to internet access which is analogous to the fundamental right to life. The UN Declaration of Global Human Digital Rights[20], provided in part II for all-inclusive equal rights to access digital environment and be free from mass surveillance and interceptions by the state. Thus, government agencies must be required to obtain appropriate court orders before intercepting or requiring individual information from data controllers or go after them, and to also control unlawful shutdown of the internet.

  • Government acting through its agencies and the judiciary, ought to collaborate with online social media corporations to regulate abuses of human rights and hate speeches. However, this should not be an invitation to pry into individual’s privacy, for example the invasion and deletion of individual private messages should be prohibited. Divulging of sensitive individuals’ information online, especially for minors, an example is the divulgence of some Chrisland school children’s sex tape on Twitter.

  • It is commendable that some data controllers now provide privacy notice before collection of personal information. However, government ought to put measures in place to ensure that others follow suit. Data controllers should also be made to comply with adequate data security measures. In a case against the National Identity Management Commission[21], the court held that it is not sufficient to have protective laws, but there must be adequate implementation of the policies.

    The law is clear on the confidentiality of personal information, and anything otherwise must be with consent, save for exceptions which must require court order. Emphases should also be placed in making consent, withdrawal and corrections of personal information easy for individuals.

  • As the world moves digital, justice systems ought to follow suit as conventional courts pose challenges of excessive cost, time, and distance barrier. Nigerian judiciary should adopt Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)[22] mechanisms, to provide citizens better access to report violation cases and attain justice. This would make civil actions and compensations easier for individuals to pursue.

Summarily, digital rights protection in Nigeria is pivotal to address issues of cyber abuses and infringements on fundamental rights. To this end, the government should see to the annihilation of repugnant extant laws and replaced with express enactments. Such express provision for digital rights would ensure a better protected clime.


[1] Simon Kemp, Digital 2022: Global Overview Report. <https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2022-global-overview%20report?utm_source=DataReportal&utm_medium=Country_Article_Hyperlink&utm_campaign=Digital_2022&utm_term= accessed on 28 February 2023.

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[2] Cybercrime Act 2015.

[3] The act was elusive on adequate digital rights protection. Also, National Communication Commission Act; some state laws like Internet Security and Enforcement Law, Akwa Ibom.

[4] United Nations, Ensuring the protection of human rights in the digital era https://www.un.org/techenvoy/content/digital-human-rights. 20 February 2023.

[5] Public Citizen, Privacy and Digital Rights For All, https://www.citizen.org/about/coalitions/digitalright4all/. Accessed on 20 February 2023.

[6] Omolara Ajayi, The Existence of Digital Rights in Nigeria Vis-À-Vis Privacy Of Citizens And The Data Protection Policies. https://www.alp.company/sites/default/files/ALP%20NG%20%26%20Co%20-%20The%20Existence%20of%20Digital%20Rights%20In%20Nigeria.pdf accessed on 15 Feb 2023.

[7] When data are not properly guarded, it is prone to the risk of hacks, as we often see people’s Bank accounts and digital handles penetrated.

[8] Omolara Ajayi, The Existence Of Digital Rights In Nigeria Vis-À-Vis Privacy Of Citizens And The Data Protection Policies. https://www.alp.company/sites/default/files/ALP%20NG%20%26%20Co%20-%20The%20Existence%20of%20Digital%20Rights%20In%20Nigeria.pdf accessed on 15 Feb 2023.

[9] The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended).

[10] Cybercrime Act 2015, s. 23&24

[11] Olawale Esther, Digital Rights In Nigeria Amidst Clampdown By Authorities; Pathway For Enforcement. https://thenigerialawyer.com/digital-rights-in-nigeria-amidst-clampdown-by-authorities-pathway-for-enforcement/. Accessed on 15 February 2023.

[12] Ibid

[13] Paul Adepoju, Regulator slammed for telecoms service shutdown in northern Nigeria. https://itweb-africa.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/itweb.africa/amp/content/lwrKxq3K9OOqmg1o?amp_js_v=a6&amp_gsa=1&usqp=mq331AQIUAKwASCAAgM%3D#aoh=16788033602710&referrer. Accessed 10 March 2023

[14] ELIZABETH KOLADE, Cybersecurity in Nigeria’s Financial Industry: Enhancing Consumer Trust and Security, https://carnegieendowment.org/2022/05/13/cybersecurity-in-nigeria-s-financial-industry-enhancing-consumer-trust-and-security-pub-87123. Accessed on 10 March 2023.

[15] Godfrey Nya Eneye v MTN Nigeria Communications ltd (2013) CA/A/689 (Unreported).

[16] Chinedu Ezomike, Data Protection & Privacy in Nigeria: What You May Not know, @2019 Andersen Tax LLC and Andersen Tax LP.

[17] Incorporated Trustees of Digital Rights Lawyers Initiative & Ors v The National Identity Management Commission (2020) AB/83/29.

[18] Oloyede R., Oluwagbeminiyi O., & Onah D. O. (April 2022). “Digital Rights Analysis (Comparative analysis of digital rights and freedom Bill and other legislations in Nigeria). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/350942541. Accessed on 28 February 2023.

[19] Ibid

[20] Maksim Burianov, An article on The Agenda of the WEF on why we need a new Declaration of Human Rights. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/08/here-s-why-we-need-a-declaration-of-global-digital-human-rights/

[21] Incorporated Trustees of Paradigm Initiative for Information Technology (PIIT) & Sarah Solomon Eseh(Applicants) v National Identity Management Commission & A.G Federation(2019).

[22] Olalekan O. Elizabeth, The Effectiveness Of Online Dispute Resolution To Resolve Internet Transactions, https://www.mondaq.com/nigeria/it-and-internet/1280258/the-effectiveness-of-online-dispute-resolution-to-resolve-internet-transactions-. Also see, Richard Susskind, Tomorrow’s Lawyers, pg. 82–84.


About Author

Victor Odii is a law student at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus. With the advancement of technology and digitisation, he has demonstrated enthusiasm in the area of digital rights protection as well as campaigns for robust incorporation of technology in the dispensation of court justice which promises more efficiency.

Odii Victor

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