By Adeboye Adegoke
The year 2018 was heralded by the unfortunate news of the arrest of the UK-based, Nigerian blogger Daniel Elombah by men of the Nigeria Police at the early hours of January 1, 2018, at his residence in Anambra. While Internet users and enthusiasts especially those who are actively engaged on different platforms on the Internet were looking forward to new applications, innovations and other forms of exciting developments as the year approached, the first Internet-related news in Nigeria had to be the arrest of Elombah in a Gestapo-style operation which is suitable, only for armed and hardened criminals. This is not in any way a departure from what was witnessed throughout last year but more than anything, it is a signal that we must brace up for policies that seek to control how people use Internet platforms in 2018 and these will be for different reasons; ranging from the sheer desire by politicians to control the narratives, launder their image as the election approaches as well as legitimate concerns around security usually demonstrated by policies aimed at curbing fake news and hate speeches. It is definitely an interesting year ahead and more than before, the Nigerian citizens would be called upon as the guardian of the space as the government have an increasing vested interest in Internet Policy discourse. Forecasting 2018 suggest to me that many Nigerians will be forced to get involved in the policy process as we did when the infamous “Anti-Social Media Bill” was introduced in the Nigerian Senate in 2015 and the reason is not far-fetched; I will delve into it immediately;
The 2019 General Elections: 2018 is the pre-election year. Engagement on social media platforms is about to increase geometrically. In an African focused study titled ‘How Africa Tweets’ conducted in 2015, Nigeria was the second largest country in Africa with geolocated tweets (360) million. Also, According to Data by Internet Stats, Nigeria has 16,000,000 active Facebook users as at June 2017. These stats are to underscore how much we have embraced the use of Social media platforms in Nigeria especially for political debates, discourse, commerce and Social Interactions. While the platform providers will be smiling to the bank, the conversations will get heated, politicians will try to shape the narratives, political parties will attempt at selling their agenda. There will be hate, fake news and policies will be contemplated to curb fake news, hate and insightful comments and this, the government will leverage to its political advantage by targeting dissent and opposing voices. One important focus area for Digital Rights organization in 2018 is to work with other civil society organizations and concerned citizens to fight the monster of fake news as the election approaches. It is also important to pay attention to what the various platforms are doing to address the problems because the policies adopted by these platforms have implications for Digital Rights as well. Facebook, for example, is deleting accounts at the request of the U.S. & Israeli governments on the bogus grounds of “incitement”. In 2018, the government will collaborate more with ISP’s, Telecoms Companies to censor, limit content etc. It will use security agencies to clamp down on bloggers and people who express dissenting views but these will be justified by the need to fight fake news, hate speech and insightful comments. There is no better indicator to this assertion than the Hate Speech (Prohibition) Bill, 2017 (HB. 1211) sponsored by a member of the ruling All Progressive Party (APC): One of the lows of lawmaking in Nigeria is that the public doesn’t have access to the content of Bills being considered except you have access to insiders, but the name of this Bill gave it away as a likely dangerous Bill which will be used to gag free speech as the 2019 elections approaches. Apart from elections, other factors that will shape the Digital Rights and Policy discourse in 2018 are considered below;
NCC Internet Code of Practice: The Nigeria Communications Commissions (NCC) has not done badly with respect to making its draft regulation available for the public and it regularly calls for stakeholder’s input. Where it has erred however is how it sometimes jettison inputs without feedback to those who made the inputs as to why those inputs were not captioned. One wonders if the calls for Stakeholder’s inputs were genuine or it’s just about “fulfilling all righteousness”. The NCC must consider this as an important feedback. The Draft Internet Code of practice, however, appears to be a great initiative and one that promotes the open and free internet. The stated objectives of the code are to: a) Protect the right of Internet users to an Open Internet; b) Provide clear guidelines to Internet Access Service Providers on the use of traffic management practices; c) Outline the obligations of Internet Access Service Providers in relation to the protection of consumers’ personal data; d) Outline the obligations of Internet Access Service Providers in the handling of offensive and potentially harmful content, and the protection of minors online; e) Ensure adequate safeguards are put in place by Internet Access Service Providers against unsolicited internet communications; f) Establish best practices for Internet Governance in Nigeria, in line with emerging issues and global trends. The application of the first part of objective “D” is definitely one to look out for as it is prone to manipulations by the powers that be. Whether this will happen or not is a function of how independent the NCC is. Unfortunately the NCC is rarely independent of the government of the day, neither is there proofs that it queries memo from the office of the National Security Adviser but let’s wait and see how these code will fare when and if it becomes operational.
FCC decision to Repeal Net Neutrality: Federal Communication Commission FCC is the United States of America equivalent of the NCC. In a 3-2 close call, it voted to repeal net neutrality in the United States in December 2017. Someone might wonder how that’s relevant to Nigeria. It is relevant because a lot of countries including Nigeria look up to the United States for policy direction. It must be noted that the NCC has been under pressure before now by telecoms and ISP’s to allow them to apply extra charges for OTT services, this, the NCC resisted over the years. With the development in the US, business interest will have a “legitimate” example in their quest to subdue Net Neutrality principles and milk internet users by discriminating against Internet traffic/applications according to how much internet users are able to pay for desired services. The Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat and online streaming services’ lovers would be largely affected if this happens.
The Positives for Internet Users
Two Important draft legislation is on the verge of becoming Law in Nigeria, The Digital Rights and Freedom Bill (HB 430) which among other reasons situate human rights in the midst of technological innovations to help balance out the need for innovation on one hand, the need for rule of law on the other as emerging National security concerns are addressed. Also, Data Protection Bill (HB 02) address the need for Data protection law in Nigeria. It is hoped that these two legislations which have been passed by the House of Representatives become law by getting the required Senate concurrence and Presidential Assent in 2018. These two draft legislation have the potential to militate against any form of abuse and violations, feared, as we prepare for elections.
Adeboye @adeboyeBGO is a Digital Rights Advocate with Paradigm Initiative.