By Abbas Badmus
THE National Assembly Joint Committee on ICT and Cyber Security recently put on hold a public hearing on the National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA, Bill 2021, when it couldn’t form a quorum.
Since the postponement of the hearing, several industry stakeholders and critical onlookers have described the development as an attempt to frustrate the bill knowing the imperatives of the digital economy on national growth and development.
Surprisingly, it was immediately followed by a series of deliberately orchestrated, biased and uninformed criticisms not only of the NITDA Bill but also of Professor Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, Nigeria’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy. Most of the vague postulations hinged on the misconstrued assumption that the proposed bill would override the independence of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) on its mandate.
After studying the draft NITDA Bill 2021 and NCC Act 2003, 2007 critically, I make bold to state that there is absolutely no basis for such reasoning or belief except of course the intention of the critics is to pursue a sinister agenda. While the armchair critics attempted to hide facts in plain sight, the recurring question they have failed to address convincingly and empirically remains, where is the clash of mandate between NITDA and NCC?
The facts are obvious in the history of both the NCC and NITDA Acts.
The mandate and authority of NCC is derived from the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 (NCA 2003), which was signed into law, after having been passed by both Houses of the National Assembly, by President Olusegun Obasanjo on July 8, 2003.
The NCA 2003 applies to the provision and use of all telecommunications services and networks, in whole or in part within Nigeria or on ships or aircraft registered in Nigeria. (see fact on the NCC website via this link: https://ncc.gov.ng/accessible/licensing-regulation/legal/nca-2003)
The laws that guide and enable the operations of the Commission include: NCC decree 75 of November 1992, the National Telecoms Policy (NTP) 2000. (New one under review), Wireless Telegraphy Act , 1990 and Nigerian Communications Act 2003.
The major mandates of Nigerian
Communications Commission – NCA 2003 include to facilitate telecom investment and entry into the market, protect the rights and interests of service providers and consumers; Management, monitoring and use of scarce national telecommunications resources and ensure efficient and qualitative telecom services and advise the Minister on the formulation of policies and other matters.
In a nutshell one can understand that the key function of NCC is to regulate and oversee the telecom industry in Nigeria.
Meanwhile NITDA was commissioned by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo through the perfection of a bill designed to provide for the establishment of National Information Technology Development in 2007 (NITDA Act). Operations of NITDA started in 2001, six years before the bill was passed into law.
NITDA is therefore mandated by its Act to establish Standards, Guidelines and frameworks for the development, standardisation, and regulation of Information Technology practices in Nigeria.
The agency is therefore empowered to operate and implement the National IT policy; to ensure that the entire citizenry is empowered with Information Technologies through the development of a critical mass of IT proficient and globally competitive manpower; to enter into strategic alliance with the private sector as well as international organisations for the actualisation of the IT vision; to develop and regulate the Information Technology Sector in Nigeria; to create IT awareness and ensure universal access in order to promote IT diffusion in all sectors of our national life; and to ensure Simple, Moral, Accountable, Responsive and Transparent (SMART) governance, using the instrument of Information Technology.
In addition, NITDA is empowered by law to encourage local production and manufacture of IT components in a competitive manner in order to generate foreign earnings and create jobs; to serve as a clearing house for all IT procurement and services in the public sector and to empower Nigerians to participate in software and IT system development.
NITDA has since its establishment, provided the legal framework for information technology and pioneered development projects in areas of capacity building, provision of access to information technology goods and services, bridging digital divides, boosting digital literacy as well as job creation and national security (see fact on NITDA website: https://nitda.gov.ng/nitda-act/).
Why NITDA Bill 2021?
On the 23rd of October 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the re-designation of the Federal Ministry of Communications as the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy.
The primary purpose of the re-designation was to create a policy organ that would oversee the development of the digital economy for Nigeria.
The Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy has developed the Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), which focuses on the development of the digital aspects of Nigeria’s economy, thus creating the need for a review of the regulatory framework.
The Nigerian National Policy on Information Technology was approved in 2001 with the vision of making Nigeria an IT-capable country by 2005. However, we have long gone past that vision as Nigeria is now more than an IT-capable country. The NDEPS has a new vision of making Nigeria a leading global digital economy.
The current mandate of NITDA is focused on the vision of the initial IT policy. NITDA needs a new mandate to refocus its regulatory and developmental mandate for competitiveness in the 12 trillion-dollar global digital economy.
Therefore, there is a need to review the mandate of the Agency in line with the current realities in cyber and technology space. Additionally, NDEPS requires a more robust approach to regulations, standards setting, and guidelines development for the country, with a focus on digital and emerging technologies, and NITDA is best suited to implement this mandate.
It is against this backdrop that the Agency seeks to repeal and re-enact the NITDA establishment law to improve the regulatory space and encourage Nigerians to reap the benefits of the digital economy while supporting the development of indigenous solutions for economic benefit to the country.
NDEPS is set to develop the digital economy through 8 distinct pillars which include Developmental Regulation, Digital literacy and skills, Solid Infrastructure, Service infrastructure, Digital service development and promotion, Soft Infrastructure, Digital society and emerging technologies and Indigenous content development and adoption.
The NITDA Act is one of the Principal Instruments to implement 8 key pillars of NDEPS above.
Where is the clash of mandate?
The proposed draft bill is set to consolidate the Agency’s regulatory power to include emerging technologies and digital economy development; to provide administrative enforcement powers; to reduce the number of governing board members for the agency and to adequately develop regulations on aspects of ICT and Digital Economy.
The bill if passed will deepen initiatives to bridge the digital divide and digital participation and facilitate investment into the digital economy, innovative entrepreneurship and emerging technologies.
From the above analyses one can see that the anticipatory act will go a long way in building platforms for local and global collaboration in the sector and enabling indigenous content development to serve local and International markets.
Without an iota doubt, the draft NITDA bill 2021 does not conflict with, nor usurp the power of any other agency of Government. For instance, while NCC’s powers largely concentrate on the telecommunication sector, NITDA’s duties focus on Information Technology.
It is on this basis that one can say the legislators owe Nigeria a patriotic duty to support the NITDA Bill which is geared towards ensuring that Nigeria taps into the multi trillion dollar ever evolving ICT and digital economy. At the end of the day, its benefits would be positively felt not only on the tech ecosystem but by Nigerians who leverage on technology to eke a living right out of their mobile and other digital devices.
Badmus, a staff writer with TechDigest, writes from Abuja.