On Wednesday the 26th of March, it was announced that Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari had declined assent to the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill.
The assent is the final step towards making the bill law, and this news was coming on the heels of numerous setbacks, nearly a year after it first went through the senate.
If made law, the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill will be 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 the application of human rights for users of digital platforms and/or digital media and for related matters.”
It is basically a bill that will ensure the safety and wellbeing of Nigerians on the internet.
Explaining declining assent, a letter from the president read on the floor of the Senate gave different reasons and said the Bill “covers too many technical subjects and fails to address any of them extensively.”
What does this mean?
Speaking on the president’s reservation, programme director for Paradigm Initiative, the digital rights group that conceived the bill in 2015, Boye Adegoke said;
“Well, the President would probably be in the best position to answer that question but I think this might have been derived from the perception that this bill was meant to serve some technical objective which is not the case,”
“There are a lot of digital rights violations happening in today’s world that this bill sought to address but there seems to be an assumption from the presidency or from government, if you like, that this bill was addressing subjects such as surveillance, censorship, interception, etc. If at all, it does so only to the extent that those issues touch on constitutionally guaranteed rights,” he explained to Techpoint.
A concluding part of the president’s letter to the Senate on why he declined assent to the bill mentioned that “some subjects covered in the bill are currently the subject of various bills pending in the National Assembly.”
A lawyer and human rights advocate who begged anonymity said;
“The contents of that letter suggests the president and his team probably do not even understand what that bill is about. Because I do not see why it dragged on for so long and now they turn it down.”
Whether the president does not understand the bill cannot be confirmed, but it is very likely as globally, the meaning of human rights in the digital realm still remains a difficult area to understand, and most people grapple with its scope.
Through all this, Paradigm Initiative says it will continue working to get the bill passed into law. According to the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, Gbenga Sesan;
“We would like to make it clear that the efforts of our coalition on the bill are not a lost cause. Although the President’s refusal to assent the bill is a setback, we are currently liaising with our partners towards a strategy to take this work forward. At stake is the state of human rights online in Nigeria, which is too important to abandon, and which we have dedicated ourselves to protect,”
Boye said Paradigm Initiative wants to engage relevant stakeholders and plans to hold a round table with them.
“Especially those who may have asked the President not to sign the bill. It is important to create a platform where those who are opposed to the bill can clearly and openly articulate their objections to the bill,” he said.
Judging by past precedents, chances are slim that the bill will be concluded and sent back to the president before the expiration of the 8th National Assembly. But Boye said Paradigm Initiative is working with stakeholders to achieve the best in the shortest time possible.