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Home » Legal Parlance » Legal Challenges in the Age of Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria – Martha Inaingo

Legal Challenges in the Age of Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria – Martha Inaingo

Legal challenges in the age of artificial intelligence in Nigeria

Legal Challenges in the Age of Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria

Introduction

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been in existence since the 1950s but has rapidly advanced in this new age to support human activities by being fast at performing tasks giving to it. AI is a progressive technology that is surging into every ramification of modern life. AI-powered tools, machines and systems are accepted and utilized in different fields, careers, sectors and governments all over the world, and are significantly changing several aspects of living; in the Health sector AI machines are used for accurate diagnosis of any disease, conduct surgery with precision etc., in the education sector AI tools are used to enable personalized learning experience, in the military and security sector AI systems are used to track and recognize criminals.

Household appliances, vehicles, medical equipment, drones, robots and other products are increasingly using AI and AI related technologies that have been proven to perform tasks faster, efficiently and make proficient decisions in numerous industries. Examples of AIs that are mostly used and applied in every day life are chatbots, virtual assistant, self driving cars, Chat GPT, navigation systems, BARD AI, etc.

This article intends to probe into the effect of AI and the possible challenges that accompanies its adoption in Nigeria, by answering the following questions: Are there any consequences for utilizing AI? Are the consequences more of negative than positive? If yes, can they be prevented, regulated or prohibited? What are the implications of AI in the Nigerian Legal system? What are the legal challenges in the regulation of AI?

What is AI?

Artificial Intelligence does not have a uniform definition, however a number of experts and legislations have made remarkable attempts at defining AI. The most basic definition of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is that, it is a machine designed to carry out tasks by mimicking human intelligence.[i] AI, also called machine learning, is a kind of software system based on neural networks, a technique that was actually pioneered decades ago but very recently has blossomed.[ii]

Art. 3 No. 1 of the European Artificial Intelligence Act defines an “artificial intelligence system (AI system)” as:

“machine-based system that is designed to operate with varying levels of autonomy and that can, for explicit or implicit objectives, generate outputs such as predictions, recommendations, or decisions that influence physical or virtual environments”.[iii]

The World Intellectual Property Organization has also defined AI as “a discipline of computer science that is aimed at developing machines and systems that can carry out tasks considered to require human intelligence, with limited or no human intervention.”[iv]

Artificial intelligence (AI) therefore refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think and learn like humans. These machines, software or tools are designed to perform tasks that would normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and language translation.[v]

The New Age of Artificial Intelligence

AI has enabled effective voice and image recognition, as well as the ability to generate synthetic imagery and speech, it also has the capacity to effectively process large amounts of data and execute complex algorithms. It is applied everywhere and can be used to recommend movies and restaurant choices, prevent cars from crashing, book flights, track taxis, identify financial fraud and create playlists for work out.[vi]

AI has made it possible for machines to learn from experience, adapt to new inputs, and perform human-like tasks.[vii] From economics and law to technical terms, science has made it possible for AI to be placed in the function of each field in order to perform multiple tasks. Such AI  programming system represents levels of intelligence that have advanced by surpassing the human intellect.[viii]

AI systems are now used for global security as they are applied by the military for variety of military applications like intelligence gathering, target identification, tracking, and logistics in order to quickly and accurately process enormous amounts of data and conduct activities like target recognition, intelligence gathering, and self-decision-making.[ix]

Using AI in combat has raised questions and concern regarding the potential for AI to be employed for evil intent such as the creation of autonomous weapon systems or cyber-attacks. Several other issues have been identified from the use of AI, including the legal challenges which would be explored in the fourth section of this article.

Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria

Nigeria is one of the African nations pioneering the advancement and development of AI technology in the continent. The National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR) that was approved for establishment by former President Muhammadu Buhari in 2018 and other government institutions such as the recently unveiled Nigeria Artificial Intelligence Research Scheme (NAIRS) 2023, and the 3 Million Technical Talent (3MTT) Program are dedicated to nurturing AI research and development within the country to show the government’s interest in adopting AI into every system.[x]

NCAIR had been commissioned along with its modern digital fabrication laboratory (FabLab) in 2020 by the former Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, as a special purpose vehicle of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) established to promote research and development on emerging technologies especially Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics and Drones, Internet of Things (IoT), and other emerging technologies, aimed at transforming the Nigerian digital economy, in line with the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS).[xi]

The application of AI systems have penetrated into the business and professional realms in Nigeria. Both the public and private entities are involved in ascertaining the possibilities that abound from utilizing AI for institutional and business purposes.

In the banking sector AI powered chatbot are utilized to attend to customers online, one of such is Ziva, an AI powered chatbot utilized by Zenith Bank;[xii] In the legal sector AI research tools such as Timi by Lawpavilion is used by lawyers;[xiii] Zigi is used by MTN in the telecommunication sector as a digital customer care representative to attend to customers. Lara.ng an AI powered chatbot that offers individuals conversation-style directions and transport fare estimate while using public transport in Lagos, etc.[xiv] In the health sector, there are AI applications such as 247Medic that is used to connects doctors with patients across Nigeria within a maximum waiting time of about 10 minutes. The application also facilitates the provision of auxiliary services, which include lab testing, and doorstep delivery of drugs to users.[xv]

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The fast evolution of technology and adoption of AI globally and in Nigeria raises major concerns, such as the issue of job insecurity, that AI may overtake some jobs and replace human practitioners of which the legal industry is not an exception, and other issues such as ethics, fairness and biases of AI. Even though AI is currently trending in a positive direction, there are worries about what this technology will mean for society in the future. As a matter of fact these concerns are already manifesting. In South Africa there was a case of wrong citations and reference on briefs prepared by ChatGPT which incurred punitive costs on the client whose lawyer made the mistake..[xvi]

Legal Challenges of Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria

Law is used as an instrument of control to regulate the conduct of people and their activities. Everything  in this modern time is defined by law and confined to regulations which are enforceable upon any breach. It is not certain whether AI is conceived as an object or subject of law, however it is regulated by law.

The legal regulation of Artificial Intelligence involves the creation of policies or legal acts which define concrete rules on the way of functioning, application and protection of AI. The need for legal regulation of AI, in addition to the great development that this field has encountered, is also related to the need to control the consequences that this development can cause.

The adoption of AI and AI related technologies pose significant legal challenges to the Nigerian judicial system. Some of the key legal implications and challenges associated with AI technology are as follows:

Legal Framework

Currently, Nigeria lacks a specific legislation addressing Artificial Intelligence. However, guidelines for the use of AI in the telecommunications industry has been issued by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), likewise the Nigerian National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in collaboration with the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR) and other stakeholders are working towards developing an AI regulatory framework, the National Artificial Intelligence Policy (NAIP).[xvii] The major aim of National Artificial Intelligence Policy (NAIP) is to safeguard the nation against AI-driven attacks by mitigating the risk of attacks on AI systems and minimizing any form of breach.

There are several general or sector specific laws that may apply to the use of AI in Nigeria, such as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the Cybercrimes (Prohibition and Prevention) Act of 2015, the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation, 2019 (NDPR), Nigerian Data Protection Act, 2023 (NDPA) and the Nigerian Copyright Act 2023.[xviii]

Legal Personality

There are controversial arguments as to the legal personality of AI, whether AI can be categorized as a person within the meaning of the law. The emergence of AI is new to the Nigerian Legal system, thus there is the lingering issue to determine whether AI robots are properties or persons; whether AI has rights, obligations and responsibilities; and whether AI robots can represent clients in court or sue and be sued.

To determine this befuddling issue the definition of a legal person is relevant. According to the Black’s Law Dictionary, a Legal person is ‘a human being, naturally born, versus a legally generated juridical person.’ [xix]

The Nigerian Court of Appeal in the case of Akas Vs Manager & Receiver of Estate of Anwadike,[xx] also defined a legal person as follows: A juristic person is either a natural person in the sense of a human being of the requisite capacity or an entity created by the law which includes an incorporated body and special artificial being created by legislation and vested with the capacity to sue and be sued.

Although, AI technology has progressively advanced in other jurisdictions to the extent that robots are sent to represent clients in court, this is not obtainable in Nigeria. There is no Nigerian Legislation that confers any legal personhood to AI that would enable it to exercise rights and fulfil obligations.

On the issue of AI robots representing clients in court, Section 7 of the Legal Practitioners Act 1975 provides that no law shall prohibit or restrict the rights of any person to be represented by a legal practitioner in proceedings before the Supreme Court or the Sharia Court of Appeal or any area or customary court, a legal practitioner shall have the right of  audience in all courts of law sitting in Nigeria.

Section 24 of the LPA further defined a legal practitioner as a person entitled in accordance with the provisions of this Act to practice as a barrister or as a barrister and solicitor, either generally or for the purposes of any particular office or proceedings.

In the context of the law, natural or legal persons can be evaluated in relation to rights, obligations and responsibilities. If AI is recognized to have full legal personality the implication is that it can exercise ownership, enter into contracts, hold bank accounts, conduct legal proceedings or create, possess, purchase and sell intellectual property. From the aforestated provisions it is crystal clear that the law did not contemplate AI as a person or prescribe any conditions to entitle AI robots to certain rights and obligations which may have included representing a person in court.

Liability

AI is developed to be autonomous, unpredictable and proactive and this makes them different from other machines that operate only based on the command of an operator. Thus, the issue of whether or not AI can be criminally or tortuously liable before the law has raised a great deal of debate. Under Criminal law, the Actus reus and mens rea must be proven.

Among the legal arguments against the legal personality of Artificial Intelligence was the “inability” of AI to respond criminally before the law. But, in the case of Artificial Intelligence, even when the fact that an illegal action has been committed by the intelligence systems is proven, how does the latter stand in front of the definition of criminal responsibility?

There is no uncertainty in the legal practice that no criminal or civil action can be brought by or against any party that is not a natural person or persons unless such a party has been granted by Statute, expressly or impliedly or by common law:- (a) a legal persona under the name by which it sues or is sued, e.g. corporation sole and aggregate, bodies incorporated by foreign law and “quasi- corporation.” Constituted by Act of Parliament; or (b) a right to sue or be sued by that name e.g., partnerships, trade unions, friendly societies and foreign institutions authorized by their own law to sue and be sued but not incorporated.[xxi]

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Since the AI lacks legal personality, it cannot be held criminally (lack of mens rea) or civilly liable for damages caused or wrong done, and this further raises the challenge of who bears liability, whether it is the user or manufacturer of the machine that should bear liability. For instance, where AI commits a mistake during surgery, who would be responsible for the liability of negligence? Is it the hospital or the developers?

Where a civil wrong is committed by an AI system or robot, there are three propositions to impose liability; the tort of negligence, vicarious liability and product liability. The neighbour Principle established by Lord Atkins in the landmark case of Donoghue Vs Stevenson,[xxii] where he stated thus:

You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour. Who, then, in law, is my neighbour? The answer seems to be persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them”

This case is a locus classicus for the tort of negligence and it established the liability of manufacturers to consumers with whom they did not have a direct contractual relationship. Thus where any damage is caused that is traceable to the manufacturer, liability can be imposed.

It is also important to identity the actors involved in the decision-making and creation of the AI to impose vicarious liability on him, especially where the AI system or robot is employed to carry out certain duties for a legal person.

Intellectual Property (IP)

One of the most significant legal implications of AI is intellectual property. AI technology can be used to generate creative works, such as music, art, and writing, which raises questions about who owns the copyright to these works.

Presently in Nigeria, there are three (3) major laws relating to Intellectual Property: Copyright Act 2023,[xxiii] the Trademarks Act,[xxiv] and the Patents and Designs Act.[xxv] Intellectual Property protection therefore covers copyright, trademark, patent and industrial design which grants a person rights or licences over artistic works, music, designs, writings etc. and the rights enable the person to enforce the law when a breach or violation occurs.

The Voice.ai enables a person to use any sound whether copyright or not which could amount to a breach of IP. Similarly where a design, music, literary work, art, or cinematography is generated to an individual, the question of ownership of the rights over the work is a debate.

In some cases, the copyright may belong to the person or organization that created the AI system, while in other cases, the copyright may belong to the person or organization that provided the data or training that the AI system used to generate the work.[xxvi] The Nigerian Copyright Act 2022 seem to settle the puzzle a bit by providing for digital copyright. Sections 28 & 29 of the Copyright Act 2022 provides that the person that put some effort to producing the work can exercise ownership and where some form of compensation is made to the maker of the creative work, the purchaser has ownership rights.

Data Protection

AI technology often relies on large amounts of data to function effectively, which raises concerns about privacy and data protection. For example, AI systems may collect and analyze personal data, such as biometric information or internet browsing history, which could be used for nefarious purposes if not properly protected. As a result, there are several laws and regulations in place around the world to protect personal data, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the United States, [xxvii] and the Nigeria Data Protection Act 2023.

The Court of Justice of the European Union decided in the Google case that personal and sensitive information of individuals should be deleted from their search engines.[xxviii] While this ruling is only applicable in Europe, the defense raised by Google that the search engines work autonomously raises a big concern on the issue of privacy and data protection whether AI complies with data protection policies, regulations and laws.

Section 40 of the Nigeria Data Protection Act 2023 imposes liability of any personal data breach on the data controller or data processor which may be an individual, private entity or public authority that processes data on behalf of a data controller or another data processor. Section 65 of the Act further provides an unwavering imposition of the liability for breach on the individual, private entity or public authority whether the breach was caused by an automated processing (without human involvement) or not.

International Governance

The application of AI is borderless like the cyberspace and thus its regulation is trans-boundary. Governments and International organizations must take into account the potential consequences of this technology and establish suitable rules and regulations to govern its use.

International security could be affected by the use of AI in warfare, which has the potential to fundamentally alter how wars are fought. Lethal autonomous weapon systems that could decide when to use force without human intervention could be developed and deployed using AI, which raises serious safety concerns. The loss of human control over the use of force that could result from this could have terrible repercussions.

Another concern is the potential for AI to be used to disrupt or hack into military systems, potentially causing confusion and chaos on the battlefield. The risks and moral ramifications of AI in military settings must be carefully considered by policymakers, who should also work to create global standards and regulations that will control its application.

Consequently, several countries have started making effort to address the risks associated with AI as well as respond to the global call for collaboration to regulate artificial intelligence through laws and recommendations. The first international AI Safety Summit where leaders from twenty eight (28) countries agreed to a declaration of intent to collaborate and ensure a safe and responsible future use of AI was hosted by the United Kingdom (UK) at Bletchley Park on the 1st – 2nd of November 2023.[xxix]

At the global level the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which is a 38 Member-countries organization that span the globe, from North and South America to Europe and Asia-Pacific, also issued the OECD Recommendation on Artificial Intelligence (AI), which can be reckoned as the first intergovernmental standard on AI in May 2019.[xxx] Similarly, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation issued the first global ‘Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence’ in November 2021 which was adopted by all 193 Member States as the standard for AI ethics.[xxxi]

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Recently, the United Nations (UN) intends to establish a 39-member advisory body that would make research and consider the global governance challenges of AI. One primary duty of the UN advisory body is to publish its preliminary recommendations by the end of 2023 and final recommendations by the summer of 2024.[xxxii]

At the regional level, legislations and recommendations are beginning to spring up to establish a framework that would regulate AI. The European Union has implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which applies to the use of AI and other forms of advanced technology. The European Parliament has also adopted the long proposed Artificial Intelligence Act on the 14th of June 2023, which is the first harmonized AI regulatory framework within the European Union.[xxxiii]

Many countries are also formulating regulatory frameworks to govern AI development such as the Canadian government that has established the “Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy”.[xxxiv] The People’s Republic of China has published its finalized rules on generative artificial intelligence, the Interim Measures for the Management of Generative Artificial Intelligence Services (Interim GAI Measures), which came into effect on August 15, 2023, with the objective of regulating generative AI alongside other local laws.[xxxv]

Nigeria could adopt a comprehensive AI framework from the extant international recommendations and legislations.

Some other concerns regarding Artificial Intelligence systems or tools are potential ethical ramifications. For instance, AI algorithms could produce unfair outcomes if they were biased or discriminatory, invasion of privacy, tracking of people, and behavior manipulation are all  risks associated with AI. As the trend continues to grow, law also develops to regulate it, however not without challenges.

Conclusion

AI is a rapidly developing technology that has the potential to influence and change how people work, live, and interact with one another. It is no doubt that AI has opened a new world of opportunities, however one cannot deny the challenges it poses and risks associated with its use. Many countries are formulating regulatory frameworks to govern AI development, but the technology is advancing at a speed that is outpacing legislations created to keep its development in check, thereby creating a regulatory gap.

Although, in this new age there are many positive trends in AI, there are also many serious worries about the implications of this technology in the future, the legal framework regulating it in Nigeria and the international overview of it, as it gains global recognition and acceptance.


[i] Nadir Ali, ‘In The Age of Artificial Intelligence,’ Modern Diplomacy- Europe, (March 11, 2023) here, accessed November 21, 20213.

[ii] Devin Coldewey, ‘Age of AI: Everything you need to know about artificial intelligence,’ Techcrunch, (August 4, 2023) available here, accessed October 27, 2023.

[iii] Deloitte, ‘A milestone for AI regulation: European Parliament approves new legal framework for artificial intelligence,’ here, accessed November 23, 2023.

[iv] Funmirob, ‘When AI Meets Law: The Legal Implications of The Use Of Ai Systems,’ (August 8, 2023) here, accessed November 13, 2023.

[v] Sani Sa’ad Bunza, ‘Is Artificial Intelligence (AI) Regulated Under Nigerian Laws?’ (May 25th, 2023) here, accessed November 13, 2023.

[vi] R. Bartram, M. Lazarte, K. Lockett, and C. Naden, ‘The age of Artificial Intelligence, ISOFocus_137, November-December 2019 – ISSN 2226-1095, here, accessed October 27, 2023.

[vii] SAS. ‘Artificial intelligence: what it is and why it matters,’ available here, accessed November 21, 2023.

[viii] Max Tegmark, ‘Benefits & risks of artificial intelligence,’ available here, accessed November 22, 2023.

[ix] Nadir Ali (n i)

[x] Seun Timi-Koleolu and Olawale Atanda, ‘Artificial Intelligence In Nigeria: Legal And Regulatory Guidance,’ Mondaq-Nigeria (16 November 2023) Pavestones Legal, available here., accessed October 27, 2023.

[xi] Uche Val Obi, Ngozi Chinwa Ole and Samuel Uzoigwe, ‘Artificial intelligence (AI) systems use in Nigeria: charting the course for AI policy development,’ LexologyNigeria, (October 27, 2023) here, accessed November 13, 2023.

[xii] Zenith Bank, ‘Zenith Bank launches intelligent chatbot ziva’, here  accessed November 21, 2023.

[xiii] Oladimeji Ramon, ‘LawPavilion designs AI tool for fresh lawyers’, The Punch-Nigeria here  accessed November 20, 2023

[xiv] Uche Val Obi et al (n xi)

[xv] The Punch, ‘Nigeria start-up Chiniki Guard wines best AI prize at Gitex’, here accessed November 20, 2023.

[xvi] Chanté Ho Hip, ‘South African lawyers caught using ChatGPT to argue case,’ (11 July 2023) available here, accessed October 21, 2023.

[xvii] Josephine Uba, ‘Artificial Intelligence (AI) Regulation In Nigeria: Key Considerations, Recommendations, Legal Framework, And Policy Development For Artificial Intelligence (AI) In Nigeria,’ Mondaq-Nigeria (05 October 2023) here , accessed November 24, 2023.

[xviii] Sani Sa’ad Bunza (n v).

[xix] The law Dictionary, Natural Person definition and legal meaning, here, accessed November 13, 2023.

[xx]     [2001] 8 NWLR (PT. 715) PG. 436.

[xxi] S.O. Giwa Esq, ‘Is A Party Often Described With Nomeclature ‘The State’ On A Process A Juristic Person?’ (January 21, 2020)  here, accessed November 21, 2023.

[xxii] (1932) House of Lords

[xxiii] Chapter C28 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.

[xxiv] Chapter T13 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.

[xxv] Chapter P2 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.

[xxvi] Law Offices of Salar Atrizadeh, ‘Artificial Intelligence Technology: Legal Implications and Challenges’

(May 08, 2023) available here, accessed November 21, 2023.

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] Kelvin Chan, ‘EU court: Google must delete inaccurate search info if asked,’ London, AP (December 8, 2022) here, September 22, 2023.

[xxix] World Economic Forum, UN advisory body created to address global AI governance, and other digital technology stories you need to read, here, accessed November 24, 2023.

[xxx] Uche Val Obi et al (n xi)

[xxxi] Ibid

[xxxii] World Economic Forum (n xxix)

[xxxiii] Deloitte (n iii).

[xxxiv]   Sani Sa’ad Bunza (n v).

[xxxv] Fasken, ‘China’s New Rules For Generative AI: An Emerging Regulatory Framework,’ (August 29, 2023) here, accessed November 24, 2023.


About Author

Martha Onate Inaingo is currently a Law School student at the Nigerian Law School. She is an enthusiast of International Law, Environmental Law, Cybercrime Law, and Oil and Gas Law.

Inaingo, Martha Onate

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