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Advocacy

Une élection sans coupure d’Internet en Afrique Francophone est-elle possible en 2018 ?

By | #PINternetFreedom, Advocacy, ICT Policy

Par Rigobert Kenmogne

Onze pays d’Afrique francophone préparent diverses élections entre février et décembre 2018.

Le Cameroun, le Gabon, le Congo, le Mali, la Guinée, le Djibouti, le Madagascar, l’Egypte et la Tunisie font partir des pays francophones d’Afrique noire et blanche qui préparent au moins élection en 2018. Comme depuis quelques années déjà, des cas de violations des droits numériques et des libertés sur Internet se font régulièrement constater. A la veille des activités électorales dans de nombreux pays sur le continent, les gouvernements influencent grandement les services de l’Internet en leur faveur soit pour étouffer les manifestions de l’opposition ou alors utilisent Internet pour surveiller les autres candidats ainsi que les citoyens ; ceci se passe souvent avec la complicité des Fournisseurs d’Accès Internet ! Au Cameroun, au Congo, au Gabon, en Tunisie et en Egypte, des cas de violations des droits numériques se font déjà ressentir dans ces périodes pré-électorales. Chaque influence en vers les libertés d’Internet divergent d’un pays à l’autre, mais avec les mêmes objectifs de privation des droits ou de surveillance à des fins politiques et stratégiques.

Le Cameroun prépare environ six élections en 2018. Avant le début des premières élections, le profil des droits numériques n’est pas reluisant. Des actes de restrictions des libertés numériques ont été constatés ; les plus visibles sont des perturbations de l’Internet dans les deux régions anglophones du pays et la lettre circulaire du ministre de la justice en fin d’année 2017 donnant l’ordre aux magistrats d’« engager après leur identification précise par les services de sécurité, des poursuites judiciaires contre toutes personnes qu’elles résident au Cameroun ou à l’étranger, et qui recourent aux réseaux sociaux pour propager les fausses nouvelles.»

Au Congo, le ministre des postes, de télécommunication et de l’information a demandé au Directeur Général de AFRICELL Congo le 30 décembre 2017 par un courrier la suspension totale des fournitures Internet dans le pays ainsi que les SMS. Cette fermeture de l’Internet de trois jours a intervenu après le début des manifestions de l’opposition. Le Congo prépare au mois de décembre 2018 des élections législatives et présidentielles.

Le 27 décembre 2017 au Gabon, le ministre d’Etat en charge de l’Economie numérique a réuni tous les acteurs œuvrant dans ce secteur. Des avis sur la surveillance des réseaux sociaux ont été émis. Selon le secrétaire exécutif de l’Autorité de régulation des communications électroniques et des postes (ARCEP), Serge Essongué, « il y a des messages de haine qui sont diffusés sur les réseaux sociaux, notamment sur You Tube. C’est également le cas dans d’autres réseaux sociaux, Facebook. La grande question c’est comment réguler ces messages. Comment faire en sorte que ce principe général qui dit que la liberté de chacun s’arrête là où commence celle des autres soit également appliqué dans les médias sociaux. » Le Gabon prépare des élections législatives après plusieurs renvois pour le mois d’avril 2018.

En Tunisie, les premières élections régionales doivent se tenir pour le mois de février 2018. Avant cette élection, le gouvernement tunisien a tenté de faire adopter un projet de loi sur la carte d’identité biométrique à puce  devant menacer la vie privée tout en mettant en danger la sécurité numérique et le harcèlement. Ce projet de loi a été retardé grâce à une coalition des ONG de défense des droits numériques.

L’Egypte prévoit des élections présidentielles en mars 2018. Mais quelques mois avant ces échéances, le réseau Internet du pays a été de très faible qualité en début janvier 2O18. Les égyptiens n’ont pas tardé d’afficher leurs colères sur les réseaux sociaux et accusent aussi le gouvernement égyptien de vouloir se lancer dans la surveillance des communications.

Les perturbations identifiées ici montrent la volonté manifeste de plusieurs gouvernements de couper l’Internet pendant les activités électorales dans leur intérêt particulier afin de rester aussi longtemps que possible au pouvoir. Les perturbations, les coupures volontaires de l’Internet, les fermetures des réseaux sociaux, les arrestations ou la pression sur les utilisateurs de l’Internet constituent une violation flagrante des droits numériques. Ces activités sont une entorse au droit de l’homme, et un blocage de la prospérité des activités économique et la diffusion de l’information, les acteurs utilisant Internet de nos jours comme principal canal. Face à ces violations, les organisations des droits de l’homme dans divers pays francophones d’Afrique restent encore impuissantes dans des solutions à apporter à cette problématique des droits numériques. Une formation et une structuration des acteurs sur les questions variées des droits numériques ainsi qu’une coalition des organisations en Afrique francophone restent aujourd’hui l’un des défis majeurs pour Paradigm Initiative.

 

Rigobert Kenmogne est Google Policy Fellow pour l’Afrique francophone chez Paradigm Initiative, une organisation panafricaine de défense des droits et de l’inclusion numérique.

 

 

 

What to look out for in Nigeria’s Digital Rights and Policy Landscape in 2018

By | #PINternetFreedom, Advocacy, ICT Policy

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.

Technology and the Future of Work: My IGF 2017 Experience

By | #PINternetFreedom, Advocacy, ICT Policy

By Babatunde Okunoye

I attended my first Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Geneva from the 18th December to the 21st December 2017. The theme of this year’s IGF was ‘Shaping your Digital Future’, and being the multi-stakeholder forum that it is, it was attended by representatives from governments, the private sector, civil society and academia.

The IGF was designed as a meeting place for governments, the private sector, civil society, academia and all other stakeholders to deliberate on the issues shaping the Internet, as equals, and over the years, it has increased in stature as a premier Internet Governance forum.

As a representative of Paradigm Initiative at this year’s IGF, I set out to attend as many digital rights and digital inclusion sessions as possible. However, in this blogpost, I share my perceptions from two sessions I attended on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the future of work. The sessions in question are:  Making artificial intelligence (AI) work for equity and social justice (WS129) and AI: Intelligent Machines, Smart Policies (WS93).

One thing which was immediately clear from the sessions was the clear underrepresentation of Africa at these sessions. When it was time for questions also, most of the questions came from the perspectives of the developed world. This was a shock because I know that African voices are heard quite clearly in forums which focus on Internet freedom and digital rights in Africa. The lack of sufficient African representation in sessions which had a bearing on the future welfare of Africans was not what you would expect from a continent seeking to bridge the digital divide.

The most important pull-out from the 2 sessions on AI I attended was on the impact AI will have on future employment and well-being. It was argued that while AI will not have a great impact on employment levels, its impact will be felt more in the levels of inequality between the developed and developing world. The explanation for this being that the current tasks assigned to AI in the workplace are tasks for which there is a scarcity of human talent, and as such the introduction of AI will not necessarily lead to unemployment. Moreover, AI would lead to the creation of new co-working roles with AI, and AI administration and governance roles. However, the automation of tasks in the developed world will create economic efficiencies which will further worsen the economic disparity between rich and poor nations.

Personally, the argument that AI will initially lead to minimal job losses was scant consolation. An OECD study has estimated that only 11% of adults in the OECD have competencies exceeding AI’s current competencies[1]. That means that at the moment, in theory at least, AI can outperform about 90% of adults in logical tasks within one of the most developed economic blocs of the world with advanced educational systems. I will be interested in knowing what the percentage for Africa is.

Which is where the challenge is: In a world which is increasingly becoming globalized, the successful integration of AI systems into critical sectors of the economy will definitely be copied elsewhere, including Africa as employers seek to cut costs and improve efficiencies. What will this mean for employment and citizens’ welfare in Africa? While the rest of the world have begun having these conversations[2], Africa seems to have adopted a ‘wait and see approach’, will not bode well for the continent.

My take on IGF 2017? While the event website already shows that Africans are already underrepresented relative to the rest of the world, it would seem the few Africans who do attend are encumbered with the weighty matters of the present – internet penetration, digital literacy, digital rights to mention a few, and are distracted from discussions which are shaping the world of the future – which do not appear as urgent for Africa. Future African representation at subsequent IGFs needs to strike that delicate balance between the present and the future, so as not to lose the future to the more foresighted.

[1] Elliot SW. “AI and the Future of Skill Demand”, October 27 2017. http://www.oecd.org/going-digital/ai-intelligent-machines-smart-policies/conference-agenda/ai-intelligent-machines-smart-policies-elliott.pdf

[2] “Prioritizing Human Well-being in the Age of Artificial Intelligence”. The IEEE Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems.

Paradigm Initiative publie son rapport 2017 sur l’état des droits numériques en Afrique

By | #PINternetFreedom, Advocacy

Lagos, December 25, 2017.

Paradigm Initiative a lancé ce 19 décembre 2017 son deuxième rapport annuel sur l’état les droits numériques en Afrique. Ce lancement s’est effectué lors du 12 ème Forum sur la Gouvernance de l’Internet (FGI) tenu à Genève, en Suisse du 18 au 21 décembre 2017.

Le FGI est un rassemblement annuel multipartite des parties prenantes internationales sur la gouvernance de l’Internet dans le monde organisé par les Nations Unies.  Cette plate-forme idéale a permis à Paradigm Initiative de faire le lancement son rapport bilingue sur les questions de droits numériques en Afrique en 2017.

Intitulé « Bon pour les affaires : pourquoi le secteur privé doit travailler avec les citoyens et la société civile pour les droits numériques ? », le rapport 2017 s’appuie sur celui de 2016 sur les droits numériques en Afrique intitulé « Étouffer le tuyau : Comment les gouvernements nuisent à la liberté d’Internet sur un continent qui a besoin d’un plus grand accès » présenté au cours du 11 ème Forum sur la Gouvernance de l’Internet au Mexique.

Le Directeur Exécutif de Paradigm Initiative, ‘Gbenga Sesan, a noté que “Paradigm Initiative continuera à utiliser notre rapport sur les droits numériques en Afrique pour enregistrer les incidents de violation des droits numériques, les politiques et les lois qui enfreignent les droits numériques, surveiller le marché des télécommunications à travers le continent et faire en sorte que les droits de l’homme en ligne pour les Africains soient respectés. “

Le rapport 2017 en français et en anglais fournit des commentaires sur les violations des droits numériques, les politiques et autres développements connexes sur les libertés numériques en Afrique au moment où “le taux de pénétration de l’Internet en Afrique est de 28,3 %, donc près de 9 sur 10 citoyens des pays africains tel que le Togo, la Tanzanie, la Somalie, la Sierra Leone, le Niger, la Mozambique, le Malawi, le Madagascar, le Liberia, la Guinée Bissau, la Guinée, le Tchad, l’Érythrée, le Congo Brazzaville, la République Démocratique du Congo, les Îles Comores, la République Centrafricaine et le Burundi n’ont pas accès à Internet” précise le rapport.

Le rapport présente également une analyse approfondie de l’état des droits numériques dans ces 21 pays africains de l’espace francophone et anglophone. Il indique entre autres que “dans toute l’Afrique, on a également observé un changement dans la façon dont les citoyens réagissaient aux violations de leurs droits numériques. En plus des recours directs et des appels aux agences internationales, les citoyens africains explorent d’autres options à savoir les recours à des actions juridiques nationales ou régionales pour défendre leurs droits numériques.”  Le rapport présente aussi les pertes économiques énormes des différentes violations des droits numériques en 2017.

Le rapport complet est disponible ici en téléchargement gratuit

Le lancement du rapport en 2017 comprenait un panel composé de Tolu Ogunlesi, Chef du bureau présidentiel pour l’engagement numérique, The Presidency, Nigeria ; de Titi Akinsanmi, Responsable des relations gouvernementales et de la politique publique chez Google; de Juliet Maina, Associée en droit des télécommunications, des médias et de la technologie à TripleOKLaw Kenya; et de ‘Gbenga Sesan, Directeur exécutif de Paradigm Initiative.

“La liberté Internet et les droits numériques sont mieux réalisés dans le cadre d’un modèle multipartite, ce qui inclut le respect de la contribution et des idées du gouvernement. Les détenteurs d’une charge politique ne peuvent pas être ignorés.” a déclaré Tolu Ogunlesi.

Selon Titi Akinsanmi,  “la réglementation ne rattrapera jamais l’innovation : la cause du développement est mieux servie lorsque les politiques gouvernementales et la loi ne restreignent pas la liberté d’expression et d’innovation, mais sont habilement et pensivement conçues pour stimuler le développement.”

Julie Maina, Associée en droit des télécommunications, des médias et de la technologie, a ajouté qu’ “adopter une vision panafricaine de la liberté de l’Internet et des droits numériques nous aide à repérer les tendances et à travailler pour le meilleur résultat pour tous les Africains.”

**

Si vous souhaitez avoir une copie du rapport en français ou en anglais, veuillez envoyer votre adresse postale à sodiq.alabi@pinigeria.org . Pour plus d’informations, contactez Sodiq Alabi (Chargé de communication)  à la même adresse.

 

 

DIGITAL RIGHTS IN AFRICA REPORT 2017-11

 

Paradigm Initiative Releases 2017 Digital Rights in Africa Report

By | #PINternetFreedom, Advocacy

Paradigm Initiative on December 19 2017 launched its second Digital Rights in Africa Report at the 12th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Geneva, Switzerland. The IGF, organized by the United Nations, is a multi-stakeholder annual gathering of international stakeholders on Internet Governance and was a perfect platform to launch the comprehensive report on digital rights issues in Africa

Download the Report (in English)

Download the Report (in French)

 

The 2017 Digital Rights in Africa Report, titled Good for Business: Why Private Sector must work with Citizens, Civil Society for Digital Rights, builds on the 2016 Digital Rights in Africa Report titled, ‘Chocking the Pipe: How Governments hurts Internet Freedom on a Continent that needs more access’ launched at the 11th Internet Governance Forum in Mexico.

The Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative, ‘Gbenga Sesan, noted that “Paradigm Initiative will continue to use our Digital Rights in Africa Report to record incidents of digital rights abuses, policies and laws which infringe Digital Rights, and monitor the Telecommunications market across the continent to ensure that the human rights online for Africans are respected”

DIGITAL RIGHTS IN AFRICA REPORT 2017-11

The report provides commentary on digital rights violations, policies and other related development in Africa. The report also features in-depth analysis of the state of digital rights in some 21 African countries. The report says inter alia, “across Africa, a shift was also seen in how citizens responded to violations of their digital rights. In addition to direct recourse and appeal to international agencies, African citizens are exploring alternative options. Citizens across the continent have taken recourse to in-country or regional legal action to defend their digital rights.”

 

The 2017 report launch featured a panel which included Tolu Ogunlesi, Head of Presidential Office for Digital Engagement, The Presidency, Nigeria, Titi Akinsanmi, Government Relations and Public Policy lead at Google; Juliet Maina, Associate in Telecommunications, Media and Technology law at TripleOKLaw Kenya; and ‘Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative.

Tolu Ogunlesi said, “Internet Freedom and Digital Rights are best achieved within a multistakeholder model, and this includes respect for the input and ideas of government. Political office holders cannot be ignored in successful Internet Freedom forums”.

Also speaking at the launch, Titi Akinsanmi reflected that “Regulation will never catch up with Innovation. The cause of development is best served when governments policies and law do not restrict freedom of expression and innovation, rather are skillfully and thoughtfully drafted to stimulate development”.

Julie Maina, Associate in Telecommunications, Media and Technology law added, “Taking a Pan-African view of Internet Freedom and Digital Rights helps us to spot trends and work for the best outcome for all Africans”.

For more information, please contact Sodiq Alabi (Communications Officer) sodiq.alabi@pinigeria.org.

House of Reps Passes Digital Rights Bill

By | #PINternetFreedom, Advocacy

Nigeria’s House of Representatives yesterday (December 19) passed the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill (HB. 490). The piece of legislation that is proposed for “an act to provide for the Protection of 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 platform and/or Digital Media and for Related Matters.”

Sponsored by Hon. Chukwuemeka Ujam, the Bill has passed through several legislative processes since it was first conceived by Paradigm Initiative working with the NetRights Coalition in 2013 and finalised in 2015. First introduced to parliament in April 2016, the bill has now successfully completed its journey through the House of Representatives at the plenary session on December 19, 2017.

According to Adeboye Adegoke, Program Manager of Paradigm Initiative, “Paradigm Initiative is elated by this news because the Netrights Coalition we lead has put in serious effort in seeing the idea to fruition.  We believe strongly in the potential it has to make a great impact in the development and recognition of digital rights in Nigeria. And we hope that after its passage, other African countries, and indeed the world, would follow suit.”

In his remark, the sponsor of the bill, Hon. Chukwuemeka Ujam said, “The Bill has come a long way and will proceed to the Conference Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives for further approval before the final assent by the President; hopefully with no hitches.”

He continued, “the content of the Bill is laudable and brilliant. It is clear evidence of what can happen when the government involves its citizens in lawmaking and governance, and I am proud to sponsor it.”

Digital rights and freedom are increasingly gaining relevance with increasing advocacy in Nigeria. Several civil society organizations exist to ensure that the rights recognized offline are on-boarded to the digital space as well. This is simultaneously in accordance with the advocacy going on internationally.

Paradigm Initiative leads advocacy for these rights in Africa and has embraced policy and legislative intervention as a way to protect digital rights in Africa. The organisation has for years actively spearheaded projects and partnered with other interested civil society groups in ensuring that digital rights are upheld in Africa. 

Commenting on the passage of the Bill at the House of Representatives, the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, ‘Gbenga Sesan, stated that “I believe this is a notable moment in 2017. And news like this strengthens our faith in the Nigerian legislative system; in believing that laws which are of significant benefit to citizens are also taken seriously by our lawmakers. We look forward with renewed hope to the next stage of this process at the Senate.”

The Journey so far: A timeline of Nigeria’s Internet Rights Bill

By | #PINternetFreedom, Advocacy

By Adeboye Adegoke

The Digital Rights and Freedom Bill (HB.490) which is “A Bill for an Act to provide for the Protection of 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 platform and/or Digital Media and for Related Matters” is a draft piece of legislation currently on the floor of the House of Representatives in Nigeria. It seeks to guarantee human rights within the context of emerging innovative technologies, security concerns, increasing citizens’ participation in governance and engagements in the democratic processes in Nigeria.  It is an amplification of fundamental human rights as provided for in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). The Bill is a potpourri of conventional rights with respect to sanitizing the online space with a rights-inclusive legislation and might represent Nigeria’s best attempt at balancing the friction between security and human rights in the digital age.

Paradigm Initiative hosted its 3rd Internet Freedom Forum (IFF) in Abuja, Nigeria, August 22-23, 2014, at 3J’s Hotel, Abuja, Nigeria. The proposed outcome of the forum was clear, which was to kick-start the process of drafting an Internet Civil Rights Framework for Nigeria, which would be shared with National Assembly. Conversations at the forum identified emerging issues around surveillance, terrorism, the proliferation of biometric data collection, online harassment and a host of other issues peculiar to the digital realm and use of technology and observed that draft and existing legislation touching on Internet use in Nigeria has tilted the scale towards security at the expense of human rights. At the end of the forum, participants drafted an Internet Freedom charter for Nigeria and committed to working with Legislator to promote this as a National law to codify the rights of citizens in the use and deployment of Internet technology. At the end of the forum, aside from having a draft Internet Civil Rights Framework for Nigeria, participants formed into the NetRightsNG coalition to promote this objective. The coalition has since grown into a bigger platform addressing Internet Freedom issues across Africa since April 2017.

However, between August 2014 and April 2016, not much was heard about this initiative; meanwhile, a lot of behind the scene work was ongoing to realize this objective. In order to ensure that the draft Bill meets required standard of a legislative draft, Paradigm Initiative engaged the services of a law firm wit a specialty in providing expert legislative drafting, and legislative advocacy services. Also, Paradigm Initiative with support from coalition members held several meetings to review the draft bill and held press conferences to intimate the press on the development. For example, a review meeting held on the 15th April 2015 at Tawona workspaces, Abuja and on April 16, 2015, a press interactive session held at Paradigm Initiative’s Abuja office to brief the press on the content of the draft legislation. Aside those who were physically present at the review meetings, many members of the NetRightsNG coalition contributed remotely throughout the review process. The NetRightsNG members worked with the Paradigm Initiative Nigeria ICT Policy team to edit the draft Bill with significant improvements on the earlier version. Also, along the line, several consultations were held to identify a sponsor for the Bill at the National Assembly.

In November 2015, after reviewing the list of legislators recommended and assessing level of interest and commitment, Paradigm Initiative team met with Chukwuemeka Ujam, honourable member of the Nigeria House of Representatives, representing  representing Nkanu East/West Federal Constituency of Enugu State who is also Vice-Chairman of the House Committee on Telecommunication and shared the draft Bill with him to sponsor as a private member Bill in the House of representatives. Despite commitment shown by the Honorable, not much happened until March 2016, when at the 4th edition of Paradigm Initiative’s Internet Freedom Forum, he made a commitment to ensure the Bill passes at least two legislative hurdles at the House of representatives before the end of the year and true to his word, the Bill passed through first and second reading respectively in April 20, 2016 and June 22, 2016 and in surpassing that expectation, a public hearing for the Bill was held on December 5, 2016 where inputs from several stakeholders were captured by the House of representatives’ committee on Human Rights. The committee was tasked by the Speaker of the House and the committee of whole to work on the Bill and capture stakeholders input. It must be noted that to mitigate possible antagonism against the Bill, Paradigm Initiative held a stakeholder roundtable on the Bill at Rockview Hotel, Abuja on September 22, 2016 to woo stakeholders on the importance and need for the Bill. The roundtables was attended by a variety of stakeholders including the National Institute of Advanced Legal Study (NIALS), Policy and Legislative Advocacy Centre (PLAC), National Human Rights Commission, the proposed custodian of the Bill, The Nigeria Communication’s Commission (NCC), The Nigeria Internet Registration Association (NIRA), The Guild of Professional Bloggers of Nigeria (GPBN), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), popular social commentator and blogger Japheth Omojuwa, Dapo Olorunyomi, publisher, premium times, and Hon. Chukwuemeka Ujam who is the sponsor of the Bill. A press Interactive session was also held immediately after the roundtable.

Many members of the NetRights coalition and others have actively been working hard to ensure the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill gets passed.  For example, In June 2017, Media Rights Agenda, a member of the coalition hosted an Advocacy Workshop for CSOs on the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill in an event aimed at drumming support for the Bill and enlisting more civil society in the advocacy for the passage of the Bill and to build a larger constituency of support behind the Bill and the advocacy for its passage to improve the chances of passage and ensure that the content is not compromised. Also, the famous Policy and Legal Advocacy organization which works to promote citizens participation in public policies and engagement with public institutions in Nigeria, PLAC (Policy and Legal Advocacy center) did an analysis of the Bill on its platform and released an infographic to educate the public about the Bill in July 2016. Several advocacy meetings with members of Nigeria’s House of Representatives held to drum support for the Bill as it nears 3rd reading in the parliament.

On October 10, 2017, after a very long wait, the committee on Human Rights laid the report of the Bill before the house for consideration. The hard work put in by the committee to capture inputs from stakeholders at the public hearing and come up with a clean and final copy of the Bill must also be commended. While the final copy of the Bill is yet to be made public, it is believed that most provisions of the Bill will be retained given that all stakeholders who participated at the Public hearing for the Bill supported the passage of Bill into Law. There are feelers that the ongoing conversations around the 2018 National budget in Nigeria and of course needed advocacy push are what stands between the bill and 3rd and final reading at the House of Representatives.

 

This Digital Rights and Freedom Bill represents a wonderful collaborative effort between the civil society and federal legislators and as mentioned earlier, the Bill is Nigeria’s best attempt at creating the needed balance between security and human rights and in securing Nigeria’s digital economy. The question of how long it will take for the Bill to become Law is not one that may be answered in the affirmative. However, there is a strong belief and hope by promoters of the Bill that it will be passed by the 8th National Assembly and that same will become law within the current political dispensation in Nigeria. To make this happen, ever concerned stakeholders must demonstrate the will and commitments needed to achieve this advocacy objective given that election season is around the corner in Nigeria and that literarily means that the task is just about to get tougher.

 

 

 

President Buhari’s Secret War on Free Speech

By | #PINternetFreedom, Advocacy, ICT Policy

By Sodiq Alabi

One of Nigeria’s most popular news websites became inaccessible, within Nigeria, late October, and has remained unavailable since. Here, I refer to naij.com, a website that has repeatedly ranked among the top ten most visited websites in Nigeria for years. I hate to be the harbinger of bad news but I must inform you that many internet service providers in Nigeria have knocked Naij and twenty other websites off the Nigerian online space for weeks now.

According to available evidence, the blockade of domain names of Naij and others was at the behest of the Office of the National Security Adviser, acting through the telecommunications regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). President Muhammadu Buhari, born-again democrat and lover of free speech, whose government just scored its biggest coup against the media and the country through this action led by his National Security Adviser, is quiet. Preventing access to naij.com in Nigeria is on the same level as stopping Punch from distributing its newspapers in the country. If this had happened to Punch or any other print newspaper, the whole country would be drowning in media-induced frenzy on the issue.  How exactly has a democratic government managed to clamp down on one of the biggest online media outlets without setting off the media’s advocacy machine?  

This is what we know so far. On November 3, 2017, ITRealms, an online news site, reported that the Federal Government through the Nigerian Communications Commission ordered a company (name withheld) to block the domain names of some websites that are deemed inimical to the Nigeria’s national security. According to the memo dated October 20, 2017, and signed by Nigerian Communications Commission’s Director of New Media and Information Security, Haru Al-Hassan, and Head of Legal and Regulatory Services, Yetunde Akinoloye, the Office of the National Security Adviser prepared the list of twenty-one erring news sites. The list is a who-is-who of “pro-Biafran” websites. However, the NSA apparently considers Naij as pro-Biafra, hence the addition of the online media juggernaut to the list.

On November 5, 2017, Nigerian Tribune released a report on the development, essentially corroborating the report of ITRealms. Tribune went a step further and quoted copiously from the NCC memo. In the Tribune report, we learnt that the NCC issued the directive to telecommunication companies relying on Section 146 of the Nigerian Communications Commission Act of 2003 to have the websites blocked.

Immediately Paradigm Initiative learnt of this development on November 6, we went to work and ran copious tests on the domain names of the listed websites. We reached out to a source at Naij and asked why their website was redirecting us to a new domain name, naija.ng. The source, who is not authorised to speak publicly on the subject, said, “The website was shut down by the Federal Government. We are currently running on our backup platform, naija.ng”. For now, many users can still access Naij content via the backup domain name, naija.ng, but what happens when access to naija.ng itself is restricted by NCC? 

It is important to note here that the implementation of the blockade directive has not been uniform. Testing Naij.com on November 6 in Lagos via MTN and Swift, we were redirected to naija.ng. However, since November 15, naija.ng has itself been inaccessible when using Swift in Lagos. As for the other websites on the list, seventeen of the websites are still available in Abuja via Spectranet, as at November 16, while only three of them are accessible in Lagos via any of MTN, Smile and Swift networks. Others using different service providers in Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt also have similar observations. Outside Nigeria, all but two of the twenty-one websites are accessible. This means that while Internet users are having issues accessing these websites inside Nigeria, others outside the country are able to access them. We encourage readers to also test the websites and communicate their findings to us via hello@paradigmhq.org

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We have issued two press statements on this issue and on November 10 submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Nigerian Communications Commission. In the request, we asked the Commission the following questions: “Is the Nigerian Communications Commission, or any of its agents, in the process of taking steps to block or restrict the domain names of certain websites? If yes, what websites would be affected? What criteria were employed in selecting these websites? Under what legal provision is this being carried out?” As at the press time, the Commission has not responded to our request.According to the FoI Act, NCC had only seven days to respond to our request and the seven days lapsed yesterday. 

On his part, however, the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, categorically denied any attempt by the Federal Government to block the domain names of news sites in Nigeria. This is what he told Tribune: “I am sure NCC will never ever write such a memo. I am sure it never happened. President Muhammadu Buhari or any of the people working for him will never do or encourage anything that will amount to gagging of the press.” Is it that the Commission is engaging in this censorship activity without carrying along its supervising ministry? This would not be the first time a ministry would not be aware of what an agency under it is doing. It is also possible that the minister was not being truthful to Tribune.

What really matters to us at this point is the precedent that the Buhari administration is setting by arbitrarily preventing Nigerians from accessing news sites of their choice. As we have said before, blocking the domain names of, or restricting access to, websites is a brazen violation of the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed, not only by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria but also by international instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory. The Federal Government has a duty to protect free speech and not curtail it.

Unfortunately, the Buhari administration, through various agencies, has not been shy about its ambition to “regulate” free speech. It has repeatedly pontificated about the danger of hate speech and why online speech especially must be regulated. President Buhari himself is no stranger to censorship and media clampdown. When he was Nigeria’s military dictator in the ‘80s, he promulgated the infamous Decree 4 that saw to the jailing of journalists and closure of media houses. Has Buhari changed since 1984 or does he still see critical speech as dangerous speech that must be fought to a standstill? The next few days or weeks would tell us.

ca. 1983-1985, Nigeria --- General Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria --- Image by © William Campbell/Sygma/Corbis

What does this development mean for digital rights in Nigeria? If the government can just wake up one day and restrict access to a website, what does that mean for the digital economy? What does that mean for democracy and Nigerians’ ability to criticise the government and voice their dissatisfaction to an administration they do not agree with? Does this mean that the website of an opposition party can be blocked ahead of the 2019 elections as long President Buhari’s National Security Adviser believes that such could prevent the commission of an offence? Nigerians should ask the government why they cannot access Nigerian websites that are available beyond the country. Today, it is Naij.com. Tomorrow, it could be your favourite news website or blog. Or it could be your personal social media account. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, a wise man once said.

Sodiq Alabi is the communications lead at Paradigm Initiative, a pan-African digital right and inclusion advocacy organisation.

Digital Rights in Nigeria 2017: The Darkening Clouds

By | Advocacy, Internet Freedom, Press Release

By Babatunde Okunoye

Nigeria, within the context of Africa, is very conspicuous and large. With the largest population and economy within the continent, no serious discussion about Africa is complete without the Nigerian situation considered.

Within the context of digital rights, however, in the past 3 years, Nigeria has achieved a relatively low profile status as a country where Internet freedom is largely respected. Although there has been worrying developments such as increased government procurement of surveillance equipment, the progress of the anti-social media bill and the use of the Cybercrime Act of 2015 as the basis of isolated incidents of arrests of citizens for comments made online, within the context of Internet shutdowns and the overwhelming repressive environments within the continent, the status of Internet freedom in Nigeria has nonetheless been deemed respectable.

Until this year, that is. The year 2017 has been a very active year for digital rights in Nigeria, in a more negative way than positive. At least 10 individuals were arrested this year for exercising their right to freedom of expression online. Many of them were journalists. Among those arrested were Mr Jerry Edoho, a Journalist with Ibom Nation newspaper in Uyo; Audu Maikori, a popular businessman; Mr Austin Okai, a youth leader in Kogi; Midat Joseph, Bureau Chief of the Leadership Newspapers and Kemi Olunloyo, a popular blogger. The Abuja offices of Premium times Nigeria, a premier investigative journalism outfit was also ransacked by Nigerian security services.

More troubling, however, were the bills proposed before the legislature to gag freedom of expression online. Prior to this year, the Cybercrime Act of 2015 was the principal legislation used as the basis of arrests of citizens for comments made online, especially via social media. In 2017, under the guise of combatting terrorism, the Federal government has introduced legislation that threatens freedom of expression. The Terrorism Amendment Act has been introduced in response to the secessionist movement in south-east Nigeria and the abundance of online chatter surrounding the matter. Similarly, a draft executive bill on hate speech has been presented by the Ministry of Justice.

Adding to the increased speculation that the Federal Government is intent on stifling freedom of expression online, it has emerged that the government through the National Communications Commission (NCC) has allegedly put in place plans to block websites and blogs deemed offensive to the government. It has also emerged that in the Federal Capital Territory, security agencies have put millions of mobile phones under surveillance. These moves are set against the planned launch of spy satellites with capabilities the public knows little about.

Nigeria has reached a tipping point. The blocking of websites and blogs, for instance, are actions that were once only associated with globally acknowledged repressive states like Egypt and Ethiopia. However, right before our eyes, the tide is turning against digital rights in Nigeria.

The warning signs of 2017 are a stark warning sign for civil society as we head into 2018, one year ahead of the election year of 2019. This is a huge opportunity for civil society and Nigerian citizens to coalesce our efforts to stem this rising tide against digital rights in Nigeria.

Paradigm Initiative Statement on the Social Media Shutdown in Somaliland

By | Advocacy, Internet Freedom, Press Release

On 13th  November 2017, the people of Somaliland went to the polls to exercise their democratic rights to elect their president. Prior to that, on 11th November 2017, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) of Somaliland announced that it had ordered telecommunications companies to block social media in Somaliland from 13th November 2017 until election results are declared. The Commission argued that the shutdown was necessary to avoid fake news and rumour mongering. Accordingly, on the polling day telecommunications companies blocked access to social media sites in Somaliland and access remains blocked until results are declared in the next couple of days.

Paradigm Initiative has been monitoring the developments in Somaliland with keen interest and hereby expresses deep concern at the gross violation of the right to freedom of expression occasioned by the action to shut down access to social media sites during this politically significant moment. Paradigm Initiative notes that blocking of access to social media sites has prevented Somaliland citizens all over the world from receiving pluralistic media coverage of the elections in question. This is evidenced by scanty online information on the progress of the election which means that citizens and the international community have to mostly rely on offline sources which are mostly characterized by limitations such as time lags. Thus the social media blockade in place may affect the credibility of the elections as crucial incidents may not be reported timely, or at all.

The social media blockade does not satisfy the three-part cumulative test for limitation of the right to freedom of expression as provided under article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Firstly, it is noted that no law was cited to justify the blockade for the purposes of avoiding fake news and rumour mongering. Secondly, the blockade is not justified to pursue aims listed under article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, namely, to protect the rights or reputations of others, or to protect national security or of public order, or of public health or morals. On this point, Paradigm Initiative would like to draw the attention of the Government of Somaliland to the fact that several African countries have demonstrated that it is possible to hold peaceful elections without blocking citizens’ access to the internet access. For instance, such elections have been held in Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana, among others.

Thirdly, even if the justification for the blockade was valid on the ground of protecting public order, blocking of access across the country constitutes an unnecessary or disproportionate means to achieve the purported aim and is therefore illegal. It is pleasing to note that a local human rights organization, the Somaliland Human Rights Centre sought to challenge the decision to block social media access in the Supreme Court of Somaliland. Sadly, the Supreme Court of Somaliland threw out the petition. Paradigm Initiative stands in solidarity with the Somaliland Human Rights Centre and the people of Somaliland.

Paradigm Initiative, therefore, implores the Government of Somaliland to guarantee citizens rights to freedom of expression online by reversing the order to block access to social media sites.

 

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