Last week Tuesday, the National Assembly in Nigeria eventually transmitted the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill to President Muhammadu Buhari for required assent to make it law.
The bill is an “act to provide for the protection of the human rights online, to protect internet users in Nigeria from infringement of their fundamental freedoms and to guarantee application of human rights for users of digital platforms and/or digital media and for related matters”.
Better known as the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, this bill is expected to be a framework for the responsible survival and safety of Nigerians on the internet and in the digital space.
Ever since conception, the bill has gone through all the necessary stages, including multiple hiccups that have held it up.
Its transmission coincided with the 2019 Safer Internet Day and intensive electioneering for Nigeria’s 2019 general elections.
By law, President Muhammadu Buhari has 30 days from transmission day to make a decision on this. If he does not, one of 3 things will happen. According to an expert;
“After 30 days of inaction, the bill either goes back to Parliament who can either decide to override the President’s veto; this rarely happens. Or they address the President’s concern and send the bill back, but there is no time for this as the 8th session is almost over. Or they can decide to not do anything and the bill dies a natural death.”
None of this options bode well and so the bill has to be signed.
If signed, the bill will make Nigeria the first country in Africa to have an all inclusive digital rights bill.
On this, policy analyst and researcher, Tomiwa Ilori says the bill “amplifies the rights in the Nigerian Constitution to properly suit our present-day realities’.
“The average Nigerian can now be rest assured, upon the passage of this bill, that his (or her) right to engage in public policy and partake fully in governance through online media is now formally guaranteed by law. Second, the bill resolves the unclear future that awaits the average Nigerian in the age of data appropriation for unfair purposes, indiscriminate surveillance and violation of free speech online,” he said in an email interview with Techpoint.
According to stakeholders, the transmission is a very important, and hopefully, final step towards making the bill into law. And they are generally optimistic that the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill will be signed into law.
A signed statement from Paradigm Initiative, a social enterprise and rights group, urged the president to immediately sign the bill into law.
The fast pace of digitisation and its impact on political participation and economic improvement in Nigeria underscores the important of the bill.
Tomiwa believes making the bill law will be “one of the most important legacies the President can give Nigeria in terms of protecting her future and her democratic institutions”.
Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, said by signing the bill, President Muhammadu Buhari will “position Nigeria as a leader in rights-respecting law in Africa”.