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Press Release

Groups Sue Gbenga Olorunpomi and Lauretta Onochie Over “Hate Speech”

By | Press Release, Uncategorized

Two Civil Society organizations, Enough is Enough Nigeria and Paradigm Initiative have instituted a case asking the court to declare comments made by some political aides in Nigeria as Hate speeches.

Relying on documentary evidences gathered from online comments made by the two affected aides, Gbenga Olorunpomi, Aide to Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State and Lauretta Onochie, Aide to President Muhammadu Buhari, the organizations through their lawyer are asking the court to determine if the statements violates sections of Nigeria’s Cybercrime(Prohibition, Prevention etc) Act 2015 .

However, due to the elusiveness of the Defendants and their addresses, the Court favoured that the court processes should be advertised in national dailies. This was subsequently done on Wednesday, March 13, 2019 in two leading National Dailies with national spread

According to Adeboye Adegoke, Program Manager at Paradigm Initiative, “the two organizations filed the case as a measure to curb the spread of hate speeches in Nigeria, a trend which is mostly associated with the political class. While their principals may not be less guilty of similar accusations, Governors and Presidents are however protected from prosecution by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. It is, however, significant that those political actors with links to power are being challenged for comments made at several times. The usual trend in Nigeria was for the political class to use their position to persecute citizens, journalists, activists and opposition whom they deem too critical of power under the guise of fighting hate speech or fake news.”

“If hate speech is to be curbed in Nigeria, then the prosecution must start from the political class who has always gotten away with inciting statements some of whom have led to crisis and deaths of many in the past.” Says Adeboye

The case is expected to come up for hearing at the Federal High Court Abuja today, Thursday, March 14, 2019.

Paradigm Initiative Releases 2018 Annual Report, Demonstrates Impact

By | Digital Rights, Echoes From Life, Press Release

The social enterprise, Paradigm Initiative has released its 2018 annual report. The report provides insight into the work of the organisation, especially in how it lives up to its mission of improving the “livelihoods of underserved youths”.

Featured in the annual report is Joy Ukpong, an alumna of the group’s free digital inclusion program. At the time of joining the program, 27-year old Joy Ukpong’s income was N10,000 a month as a  struggling hairdresser in Ajegunle, Lagos. She was desperate for a break, and Paradigm Initiative’s Digital Inclusion program gave her the break which she wisely seized, learning relevant digital and life skills.

Few weeks after the conclusion of the 10-week training, Ukpong got a job as an administrative assistant at a law firm. Her income immediately jumped to N25,000. Thanks to her new skills, Ukpong has a more stable income and work structure that allows her to develop herself.

Her story, according to Paradigm Initiative’s Communications Officer, Sodiq Alabi, “is another proof that our investment in digital inclusion programs in underserved communities is indeed improving the livelihood of the beneficiaries.”

The Executive Director, ‘Gbenga Sesan also said, “As a result of the year’s investment in under-served Nigerian youth, we were able to train 869 students through the 10-week LIFE program, LIFE@School Club and the quarterly workshops. 150 students got internships, picked up jobs, earned enough to return to school, joined apprenticeship programs and/or started micro businesses. During the year, the average income among our students grew from N4,805.15 to N23,083.25!”

Highlighting the group’s work in digital rights, Sesan said “In 2018, our Digital Rights work covered Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia. We hosted 13 training programs, reviewed 36 policy documents, produced 12 research-based reports, acted on 20 digital rights violations, and led 4 litigation processes.”

The Director of Programs, Tope Ogundipe said the passage of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill in Nigeria is an important milestone for the group in 2018. The Bill, which was transmitted to President Muhammadu Buhari on February 5 2019, has been a major project of the group since 2014 when it began advocacy for the passage of a law dedicated to the protection of online rights and freedoms.

Paradigm Initiative, which was founded in Nigeria in 2007, is physically present in five African countries, from where it executes programs across the continent.  The group said its new Strategic Management Plan (2019-2023) would even see it do more over the next few years.

Free speech and press freedom continue to be under attack in Tanzania.

Is Tanzania Moving Towards Totalitarianism?

By | Digital Rights, Press Release

By ‘Gbenga Sesan

Last Wednesday, January 30, Tanzania moved decisively closer to becoming a one-party state when parliament approved proposed amendments to the Political Parties’ Act that was first passed in 1992. That was the year that the country adopted multi-party democracy, after 31 years of maintaining its one-party status that it nearly started with as an independent nation in 1961 and made official through a 1963 announcement by the then President, Julius Nyerere.

The man whose leadership influenced the Tanganyika African National Union’s landslide win of all but one seats in the 1960 Legislative Council elections, President Julius Nyerere, admitted that the system brought about “slackness and indifference”. Why is Tanzania now undoing, in 2019, a problem it fixed 27 years ago? There was more than one reason why a move to a multi-party system was necessary; not only to keep the competing parties on their toes but also to avoid muting authentic dissent. It was also necessary to modulate the voice of the party which then had great significance.

In a report by the 1991 Presidential Commission set up to ensure a smooth transition to multipartyism, they stated that surveys showed that the multi-party system gave voters a wider choice of politics, parties and candidates than the one-party system. The Nyalali Commission recommended the formation of the office of the Registrar of Parties whose function as suggested was to register political parties. Since the advent of multipartyism in 1992, Tanzania has seen the opening of the political arena which represented every citizen and brought more competition to how the government accounted for its responsibilities. Opposition parties took up their roles as expected in a democracy, bringing diversity and critical scrutiny of government. A vibrant opposition started gaining more ground during the turn of the new century when they exposed the gray areas that the ruling party needed to address.

However, since 2016, there has been an effective, if largely illegal, ban on political parties carrying out public meetings and rallies. Many opposition leaders, including Zitto Kabwe, have been arrested for violating the ban as well as making “anti-government” comments. While this ban has been strongly opposed, social media has been serving as a public space for the discussion of political and urgent matters of concern. At times, issues are taken up directly with political leaders on social media platforms such as Twitter. When online activist Mange Kimambi defied the ban and made a call for protests, several police commissioners and the minister of Home Affairs ensured the protests did not hold.

The government intensified the clampdown on freedom of expression, following the emergence of the 2015 Cybercrime Act that criminalized criticizing government officials online. In May 2018, the Electronics Postal Communications Act came into play with vague regulations and sanctions to further stifle online rights. Not only are provisions of these law enablers of human rights violations, but they have also gone a step further into shrinking civic spaces.

In late 2018, a bill proposing to amend some provisions of the Political Parties’ Act was brought to Parliament. The proposed amendments include giving enormous power and immunity to the political parties’ Registrar, who is an appointee of the ruling parties’ government, to act as a regulator and police all political parties. In these new amendments, the Registrar has the power to deregister, dismiss and request information at any time. While activists and the opposition have put up a fight to speak out against the draconian amendments, the ruling party has maintained an unsurprising silence. The bill also proposes jail time and hefty fines for breach of the law, still giving the Registrar the powers to manage internal affairs of political parties. A coalition of political parties approached the  courts to block the government from bringing the political parties bill to the parliament but the coalition was turned down by the High Court, and was also asked to pay the government for inconvenience!

The government of President Magufuli appears to be in a sworn fight against freedom of expression and freedom of assembly – online and offline – and its stifling of opposition voices clearly contravenes the principles of democracy. As with many African governments, including that of my home country, Nigeria, the government of Tanzania is so afraid of criticism that any such voice is targeted through restrictive legislation. It is now unlawful to openly criticize through traditional media, online or even as members of opposing political parties. Is Tanzania heading towards totalitarianism, away from the democratic principles it has been identified with over the years?

The Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs has questioned some of the legislative provisions that pose a threat to the country’s political diversity. At a press conference on January 27, 2019, members of the opposition commended the Committee for rejecting provisions such as granting the Registrar, Deputy Registrar and other officers immunity from prosecution. The committee also asked that section 6 of the bill be reworded to correspond with the current Political Parties’ Act and called for the removal of the provision that bars political parties from operating as pressure groups. Unfortunately, when Parliament resumed this week, the bill was passed into law.

This infringes on real democracy. Online and offline activities of political parties, and citizens will be restricted. We have seen the silencing of online voices through the legislation that called for an annual $927 registration fee for bloggers and the victimisation of civil society voices, and while I wonder what the reaction of affected political parties and civil society in Tanzania would be, it is important for us to shed light on the clampdowns on digital – and other forms of – rights in Tanzania.

From Nigeria to Tanzania, and Angola to Zimbabwe, Africa must stop this trend of clampdowns that have created a climate of fear online. The continent needs the Internet as a platform for innovation and economic opportunities, along with its natural role as a civic space, instead of a space where young people – who are the continent’s resource hope – look over their shoulders.

‘Gbenga Sesan is the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, the pan-African digital rights and inclusion group.

Paradigm Initiative Celebrates Safer Internet Day

By | Advocacy, Press Release

As the world commemorates the 2019 Safer Internet Day, Paradigm Initiative has urged Nigerians to adopt safer internet practices. The pan-African digital rights and inclusion advocacy organisation made this call at a media parley held Monday, February 4, at its office in Lagos.

 

According to Sodiq Alabi, the organisation’s Communications Officer, “The Safer Internet Day is a day set aside to raise awareness of emerging online issues, and leverage this to help improve the safety of internet users, especially children and youth. Paradigm Initiative has been empowering youth with digital skills in Nigeria for over a decade, and we have always been conscious of the need to train internet users on the responsible use of the tool.”

 

The organisation has embarked on a digital literacy campaign targeted at young people in Abia, Lagos and Kano, the three states where it currently runs training centres dedicated to information and communication technology skills acquisition among underserved youth.

 

The digital literacy campaign includes classes on digital security for youth, media outreach and roadshows. The campaign is aimed at encouraging internet users in the country to make positive use of the Internet.

 

According to Tosin Abolaji, Paradigm Initiative Digital Inclusion Program Manager, “This is a crucial time to embark on this campaign as Nigeria heads to the polls in a matter of days. Young people are especially impressionable. We want them to recognize that issues of false news, hate speech and cyber harassment are phenomena that can negatively affect peace and security, but also the integrity of an election.  We believe internet users education is one of the ways to combat these phenomena.”

 

“Our message to youth is to be more discerning in how they consume content on social media and other platforms. That something is online does not make it true. We encourage all users to acquire fact-checking skills so they don’t fall prey to misinformation campaigns and they don’t themselves unwittingly spread misinformation,” Abolaji added.

Paradigm Initiative to host digital rights workshop in Zambia

By | Press Release

Paradigm Initiative will be hosting the Southern African Digital Rights Workshop in Lusaka, Zambia. The interactive workshop will take place over the course of two days from the 18th to 19th of October 2018, introducing participants to the basic concepts of Digital Rights. This is according to a statement signed by the social enterprise’s communications officer, Sodiq Alabi.

According to Wathagi Ndungu, Paradigm Initiative’s Google Policy for East and Southern Africa, “the purpose of the workshop is to create an empowered Civil Society digital rights community for Southern Africa that is able to  defend and advocate for digital rights in the region, as part of a Pan-African coalition.”

“The media will also be trained to competently report on digital rights issues in the region. The end goal of the workshop is to ensure that legislators, after interacting with trained Civil Society Organizations and media that understand and follow current trends in digital rights they will be able to analyse and articulate digital rights issues in their respective countries thus improving the quality of parliamentary debates on the issues,” Ndungu added.

Representatives from government and law enforcement will gain insights and thus employ them when making policy. They will b able to formulate policy from an informed position.

In attendance will be representatives from Civil Society, Government, Private Sector, Media and Law Enforcement. They will be coming from Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and the host country Zambia.

Speaking on the development, Paradigm Initiative’s Director of Programs, Tope Ogundipe, said  “during the workshop and after we will create a Southern African Digital Rights Strategy and come up with ways to empower more individuals in the Digital Rights sphere. This workshop is a significant step towards informing individuals in the Southern African region how they can influence Internet policy and avert further Digital Rights abuses in the region.”

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda

Rwanda Cartoon Ban an affront on free speech and press freedom- Paradigm Initiative

By | Press Release

 

Freedom of Expression is threatened in yet another Eastern African State as the Rwandan government makes the decision to ban cartoons. This decision came as part of the new amendments to The Rwandan Penal code.

In the new penal code cartoons that depict images of politicians in an unflattering manner that would, in turn, humiliate them.

According to this legislation, any person who, verbally, by gestures or threats, in writings or cartoons, humiliates a member of Parliament when exercising his/her mandate, a member of the Cabinet, security officers or any other person in charge of a public service in the performance or in connection with the performance of his/her duties, commits an offence.

Any person convicted of this is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than one year and less than two years and a fine of not less than five hundred thousand Rwandan francs (FRW 500,000) and not more than one million(FRW 1,000,000) Rwandan francs.

Moreover, if the cartoon targets a parliamentarian or top-ranking government official the penalty will be doubled. The law goes further by stating that any person who defames the president could also be jailed between five and seven years and fined 7 million francs. Editing images or statements in bad faith without stating it wasn’t the original version could also draw up to two million francs and a prison sentence of not more than one year.

Civil Society groups in Rwanda have accused the President, Paul Kagame of ruling Rwanda with an iron fist. They have expressed disappointment in him trying to limit the already gravely controlled freedom of the press and the freedom of expression in the East African state. In the recent past have faced intimidation, arbitrary arrests and whimsical jail terms.

According to Wathagi Ndungu, Paradigm Initiative’s Google Policy Fellow for Eastern and Southern Africa, ” the new ban is another attempt by the Rwandan government to further control the democratic space. Its arbitrariness makes journalism a more dangerous trade in Rwanda while also creating a climate of fear in the country. The ban is an affront on free speech and press freedom and should be condemned by all lovers of freedom.”

“In the trade of journalism, cartoons are by nature humorous… leaders may perceive them negatively or as humiliating even when they’re not,” said the Executive Secretary of The Rwandan Journalists Association, Gonza Muganwa.

We call for the immediate review of this repressive legislation and restoration of the artistic expression to address national ills faced in the country.

Fellows and Paradigm Initiative Staff at the Orientation Program for 2018 Media Fellows

Experts Call for Improved Coverage of Digital Rights in the Media

By | Press Release

Digital Rights experts have called on media practitioners across Africa to focus media attention on digital rights violations on the continent. The experts made this call while speaking at the induction ceremony for the 2018 Digital Rights and Inclusion Fellows in Lagos at the headquarters of Paradigm Initiative.

Speaking at the induction, Sodiq Alabi, the Communications Officer of Paradigm Initiative, said “Undoubtedly, we are seeing an increase in media coverage of digital rights, both in the legacy media and in the new media. But there is still room for significant improvement in terms of quality of content and the depth of the reporting. It  would be great if major media houses can assign journalists exclusively to digital rights and inclusion issues so that we could have an improvement both in the number of reports and the quality.”

In his address to the media fellows, Paradigm Initiative’s Executive Director ‘Gbenga Sesan reiterated the need for media houses to focus more attention on the issues affecting digital rights. These issues, according to him, included the absence of data privacy laws, persecution of bloggers and online journalists, mass surveillance, internet shutdown and the new taxes on over-the-top services like social media.

Paradigm Initiative is a social enterprise dedicated to deepening digital rights and inclusion in Africa. The group created the media fellowship to strengthen the capacity of African journalists interested in covering digital rights and inclusion. The pioneer fellows are Victor Ekwealor, a Nigerian and the editor of TechPoint, and Emmanuel Agbenonwossi, the Togolese editor of AfroTribune.

Déclaration de Paradigm Initiative sur le respect des droits numériques en période électorale au Cameroun

By | Press Release

Communiqué de presse : Pour diffusion immédiate

Paradigm Initiative interpelle le gouvernement Camerounais à l’approche de l’élection présidentielle du 7 octobre 2018 à respecter l’ensemble des droits numériques des utilisateurs des TIC avant, pendant et après le scrutin.

En 2017, l’Internet a été coupé pendant 93 jours par le gouvernement dans les régions du Nord-ouest et Sud-ouest du Cameroun. Cette situation a entrainé de graves conséquences sur les droits numériques dans le pays.

Paradigm Initiative rappelle au gouvernement que de tels actes violent la Déclaration Universelle des Droits Humains (DUDH), la déclaration sur les libertés de l’Internet et de la déclaration sur gouvernance de l’Internet de l’Union Africaine (UA).

La perturbation des communications et le blocage des médias sociaux tels que WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, Skype, et autres ; ainsi que la mauvaise utilisation des données personnelles pourraient sérieusement entacher le processus électorale et l’intégrité du vote.

Comme par le passé, Paradigm Initiative, condamne toutes tentatives de violations des droits numériques ou toutes fermetures d’Internet volontaires ou involontaires au Cameroun en période d’élection.

Paradigm Initiative exhorte enfin le Gouvernement du Cameroun à respecter ses obligations internationales en matière des droits de l’homme afin de contribuer durablement aux actions de protection des droits numériques dans le pays.

 

Shaping Nigeria’s Digital Future through Positive Legislation

By | Internet Freedom, Press Release

By ‘Gbenga Sesan and Mark Stephens

Nigeria stands on the cusp of great progress in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector, owing to diverse efforts by mostly youth-led entrepreneurs and collaborations. In recent years, policymakers and economic experts alike have come to appreciate this reality, looking beyond an annual budget built around oil barrels to better measure the country’s diverse economic potential. Startup hubs are sprouting up across the nation; huge investments are being made in capacity building; a critical mass of Nigerians now have access to telecommunications services, and the government is finally exploring the economic potential of the  ICT sector. These indicators position Nigeria as a possible leader of Africa’s emerging digital economy.

Nevertheless, a major obstacle remains. Around the world, the global digital economy is built upon the foundation of strong legal and policy frameworks, often grounded in international human rights law, which protects the actors within it. Individuals and organizations only thrive and invest in the digital sector when there is a legal certainty, regulatory trust, and rule of law that ensures that the rights of users are respected and that the interests of citizens, businesses, and the government in the digital age are protected.

This is not yet the case in Nigeria. Although the country’s constitution mentions certain rights, there are many laws—nominally in place to protect against legitimate concerns over cybercrime and terrorism— that are ripe for manipulation, leading to clampdowns and digital rights violations. Experience shows that the resulting uncertainty, abuses, and lack of trust will hinder innovation and experimentation by entrepreneurs, chill the critical work of journalists and advocates who use the Internet to improve government services and foster accountability and limit investment by technology platforms. The collective pushback against the proposed “Frivolous Petitions Bill” demonstrates Nigerian citizens’ recognition of such risks

But this could change with the stroke of a pen.  The Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, which was developed through deliberate, multistakeholder consultations, and has been passed by both houses of Nigeria’s Congress, provides a comprehensive legislative framework that describes and clarifies relevant obligations and responsibilities for human rights online.  Making it law will boost Nigeria’s burgeoning Internet economy, improve governance, and further Nigeria’s position as a regional and global leader in information, communications, and technology issues.

The Digital Rights and Freedom Bill addresses a range of critical digital policy issues, such as data in the cloud; surveillance and a lawful interception; data privacy; and freedom of expression online. The bill also provides for the protection of citizens from errant behaviours such as hate speech and misinformation, as defined by a competent court of law. Overall, the bill addresses key challenges, provides regulatory clarity, and safeguards users rights, all while maintaining a preference for “openness”, which the OECD and many others have noted is vital for boosting trade, enabling innovation and entrepreneurship, fostering new, creative and cost-saving business models, and enriching social well-being.

The Bill presents Nigeria with the opportunity to build an effective digital economy with a robust policy framework that protects businesses and secures human rights, complementing ongoing efforts by citizens, civil society, the private sector, government and other actors. The Digital Rights and Freedom Bill will further cement Nigeria’s reputation as a pioneer in progressive, positive legislation in a world where repression, clampdowns, violations and dangerous laws are on the rise.  We urge the national assembly to transmit the bill to President Muhammadu Buhari for his presidential assent. We also urge the President to give his assent to the bill immediately it reaches his desk.

‘Gbenga Sesan is the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, a social enterprise he founded in 2007 to improve livelihoods of underserved youth through provision of ICT-enabled support system and entrenchment of digital rights. 

Mark Stephens, CBE has served as the Independent Board Chair of Global Network Initiative since 2014. A partner at UK firm Howard Kennedy, Stephens has undertaken some of the most important freedom of expression and privacy cases in the United Kingdom and around the world. 

Paradigm Initiative Statement on the Introduction of Social Media Tax in Benin Republic

By | Press Release

Paradigm Initiative has condemned the decision of the government of Benin Republic to introduce new levies on telecommunications operators with two taxes relating to the use of telecom services by consumers. This condemnation is contained in a statement released by the social enterprise today August 29th.

According to Internet Sans Frontiers, the development arises from Decree No. 2018-341 of July 25, 2018, adopted by the President of the Republic of Benin, President Patrice Talon. The decree creates a contribution of 5% on the amount excluding tax of communications (voice, SMS, Internet) and a fee of 5 FCFA per megabyte consumed by the user of Over The Top services such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Viber, Telegram, etc.

According to Tope Ogundipe, Paradigm Initiative’s Director of Programs, “we received this news with displeasure and wish to condemn this alarming trend in Africa countries. Earlier this year, the government of Uganda forged a policy which imposes taxation on social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Viber to curb what is referred to as ‘Lugambo’ (gossip) by the President.”

“In August 2018, Zambia followed suit by approving a tax on Internet calls in order to protect large telcos, from losing money. In this same month, reports have it that the Government of Benin has also adopted this policy to tax Over-the-Top (OTT) services; producing a similar reason to Zambia.

We are also aware that the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) is currently agitating and putting undue pressure on the Nigerian Telecommunications Commission for the same practice to be adopted in Nigeria. According to ALTON, the activities of the OTT service providers are eating into the revenue telcos used to enjoy,” Ogundipe added.

The statement continued, as an organization working on ICTs for development, Paradigm Initiative is dismayed at this sort of advocacy by the association of licensed telecommunications operators which is entirely focused on gain and which aims to undo all efforts of government and its stakeholders to deepen access to ICTs in Nigeria.

The citizens of many African countries, including some of those currently affected by this policy, are barely able to boast of good connectivity (or any connectivity at all) to the Internet. For instance, the Internet Penetration in the Benin Republic is 33.1%,  in Zambia, it is 41.2%, in Uganda s 42.9%, and in Nigeria is 50.2%. Internet Technology is only just slowly developing in these regions yet the government is already stifling its development.

Rigobert Kenmogne, Paradigm Initiative’s Digital Rights Program Lead in Francophone Africa said, “It is an overstated truth that the growth and development of technology in any country directly affect its overall development. We call on the governments of Benin, Uganda and Zambia to challenge traditional telecoms providers to leverage and improve the use of technology in their business in order to position themselves to compete favourably in the new era of communication via the internet. Competition is only natural and even necessary for economic growth and should not be the reference point for governments to shoot themselves in the leg and stifle development. It is the 21st Century. Any nation desirous of growth and economic continuity must make itself suitable to accommodate innovations.”

Paradigm Initiative calls upon the government of affected countries to review and rule out these policies from its regulatory space.

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