Internet Freedom

“Suspension of Mohammed Wanigi a Flagrant Abuse of Power”- Paradigm Initiative, EiE

By | Advocacy, Internet Freedom, Press Release

Paradigm Initiative and Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria have condemned in strong terms the suspension of Baba Mohammed Wanigi, a school teacher with the Agaie Local Government in Niger State, in reaction to Wanigi’s alleged criticism of government officials including President Muhammad Buhari. The two civil society organisations made this known in a jointly signed press statement released today.

According to Tope Ogundipe, Paradigm Initiative Director of Programs, “The Local Education Authority of the Agaie Local Government Council, Niger state, Nigeria issued a suspension letter to one of its employees, Baba Mohammed Wanigi, a teacher in service of the Niger State government. According to the letter, the suspension was based on the teacher’s ‘active participation in politics and hate speech especially on the social media’. This is all because Mr Wanigi exercised his freedom of speech in criticising government and government officials on social media.”

“It is obvious that this act by the LEA is not only morally reprehensible but patently unconstitutional. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Section 39 provides that every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. This is a most basic right for citizens in a democracy,” Ogundipe said.

Every Nigerian is a key stakeholder in matters concerning Nigeria and no group or body may constitute itself as an authority to preclude its members from ‘Active participation in politics’. It makes no sense whatsoever, neither does it matter that a meeting was held with the 169 Head Teachers of Agaie Local Government Education Authority to decide against active participation in politics. The Local Government Education Authority does not have the authority to overrule the constitution or limit constitutionally-guaranteed rights.   

According to Adeboro Odunlami, a digital rights advocate with Paradigm Initiative, said, “The general definition of Hate Speech is any statement or speech that attacks a group or category of people and incites violence or prejudicial attack against them. A controversial statement is not hate speech. A dissenting opinion is not hate speech. An uncomfortable perspective is not hate speech. An unpopular stance is not hate speech. It is therefore wrong for the government to take disciplinary action against a person for no reason other than the expression of his opinion about the state of affairs and conduct of the administration.”

Also speaking on the matter, Adeolu Adekola, Program Manager of EiE Nigeria said, “As Nigeria moves towards the 2019 elections, we are concerned about politicians using this excuse and guise of hate speech to repress citizens and the opposition. Several attempts to control free speech especially on social media has been resisted and will continue to be challenged”.

“We recall the Frivolous Petition bill (Prohibition, etc) Bill 2015 sponsored by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah had a clause that sought to regulate the use of social media and short message service (SMS) in the country. This was resisted and in May 2016, the bill was withdrawn and thrown out. Also, section 24 of the Cybercrime Act, 2015 has loopholes that are being exploited to repress freedom of expression over the Nigerian cyberspace and civil liberties,” Adeolu said. EiE Nigeria, Paradigm Initiative and Media Rights Agenda (MRA) are in court to challenge section 24 of the act.  

We therefore call on the Local Government to retract the suspension letter and decision and reinstate unconditionally Baba Mohammed Wanigi back into service. We also demand that an apology should be made to him for the gross infringement of his fundamental right to freedom of expression.

‘Gbenga Sesan Bemoans Attacks on Internet Freedom in Africa

By | Advocacy, ICT Policy, Internet Freedom, Press Release

A digital rights expert and the executive director of Paradigm Initiative, Mr ‘Gbenga Sesan has bemoaned the spate of attacks on internet freedom in Africa. Sesan was speaking at RightsCon, an international conference on digital rights recently in Toronto, Canada.

Sesan, while speaking on efforts by Paradigm Initiative and its partners to protect digital rights and freedom on the continent, said “At Paradigm Initiative, we do this annual report focused on the state of digital rights in Africa. In 2017, we looked at twenty-one African countries and one of the trends we have seen is that things are getting worse. In terms of clamp down on the media, in terms of clamp down on citizens, in terms of using excuses like national security to shut down the internet, things continue to go downhill in many countries across Africa.”

“In Nigeria, there is a new proposal on hate speech bill, and the definition of hate speech is very interesting actually, an insult is considered hate speech. So we have a situation where citizens would not be able to express themselves freely online. Next month, we will release our report on Nigeria and I can tell you right now that things are not looking great for Nigeria in terms of respect for internet freedom.”

Paradigm Initiative recently conducted an online pool on freedom of expression online in Nigeria, and it was discovered that 40% of respondents feel unsafe expressing themselves online.

Sesan also used the opportunity to talk about Nigeria’s Digital Rights and Freedom Bill that was recently passed by the National Assembly. He said the bill would ensure that digital rights are taken seriously in Nigeria and that those who violate these rights are held accountable under the law.

“We are excited about the passage of the bill by the national assembly. We hope the national assembly would expedite actions on transmitting the bill to the presidency for the presidential assent. Our hope is that the bill is signed into law before activities for the next elections in 2019 take centre stage.

Paradigm Initiative held three sessions at the international conference and all were focused on entrenching understanding of issues affecting digital rights and freedom in Africa. Other members of Paradigm Initiative at the conference were the Tope Ogundipe, the Director of Programs, and Boye Adegoke, the Digital Rights  Program Manager for Anglophone Africa.

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Expert Urges Citizens to Defend Digital Rights

By | Internet Freedom, Press Release

A digital rights expert, Tope Ogundipe has urged citizens of various African countries to use their power in the defense of digital rights and other human rights on the continent. Ogundipe, who serves as the Director of Programs at Paradigm Initiative, was speaking recently at a digital rights workshop organized by Paradigm Initiative and held in Yaounde, Cameroon.

Ogundipe, who facilitated several sessions at the workshop, said “Citizens cannot afford not to get involved in the advocacy in defense of digital rights. Digital rights are as important as other human rights, as the digital space has become a most important center for economic activities, access to emergency services and platform for exercising freedom of speech and free press”

“Citizens’ rights to express themselves online and offline, gather and disseminate information and ideas are important to the fate of democracy in Africa. Not only that, absence of data privacy and protection,  illegal and blanket surveillance, internet shutdowns, and other rights violation all impact negatively on democracy and the economic development of a country. It is the centrality of digital rights that makes them the business of all citizens,” Ogundipe said.

Many African countries have recorded several cases of digital rights violations in the last few years. These include the 2017 internet shutdown in Cameroon, arrest, and persecution of bloggers and journalists in countries including Nigeria, Egypt, and Ethiopia. The absence of data privacy and protection law in the majority of the countries also make them an easy target of data breach and abuse.

The digital rights workshop is an initiative of Internews and Paradigm Initiative and received support from Cameroon-based Afro Leadership and Centre for Youth Education and Economic Development. The two inaugural workshops were held over a 4-day period between May 2 and May 6, 2018, and welcomed sixty participants from different regions of Cameroon. Resource persons at the workshop include Rigobert Kenmogne, Google Policy Fellow with Paradigm Initiative, Sodiq Alabi, the Communications Officer of Paradigm Initiative, Charlie Ngouno, the Founder of Afro Leadership, and ‘Gbenga Sesan, the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative.

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IFF2018: Experts Assess State of Internet Freedom in Africa

By | Internet Freedom, Press Release

For three days, digital rights experts and stakeholders assessed the state of internet freedom in Africa. This was the recently concluded 6th Internet Freedom Forum organized by Paradigm Initiative at NAF Conference Centre, Abuja, between April 24 and 26, 2018.

The experts, who came from countries across Africa and the world, gathered in Abuja to help shape the future of policy on the Internet in Africa.

According to Tope Ogundipe, the Director of Programs at Paradigm Initiative, “The Internet is rapidly changing every aspect of life in Africa – including education, work, business, entertainment, governance, and health, amongst others. Its growing importance has made it a contention ground for interests in government, the private sector, and civil society. The Forum, therefore, serves as a platform to actively and proactively engage with policies that affect freedom and rights online.”

Speaking at the event, Titi Akinsanmi, Head Public Policy, and Government Relations at Google stated, “The Internet has become an indispensable tool for development in all sectors of life. All hands must be on deck to enable more access to the Internet, and to eliminate abuses such as privacy violations”.

Also speaking at the event, Akua Gyekye, Public Policy Manager West Africa for Facebook, remarked, “As Nigeria approaches the 2019 elections, the Internet is a useful vehicle for civic education for citizens on the best practices for political participation. Facebook will work with stakeholders in Nigeria to ensure that our platform is not abused to impact negatively on the elections.”

Nnenna Wakama, Senior Manager, Africa, for the World Wide Web Foundation, highlighted the challenge of the rising cost of Internet data across the continent saying, “The conversation on Internet freedom must begin at looking at the prohibitive cost of data bundles which prevents millions of people from accessing the Internet in Africa”.

On the side session on Nigeria’s Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), Mr. Damen Ilevbaoje, Program Manager at Budgit Nigeria, stated, transparent and effective use of the Universal Service Provision Fund is a priority if Internet access is to reach underserved areas in Nigeria’s rural areas”

Speaking at the International event, the Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative, ‘Gbenga Sesan, noted, “The Internet is, without doubt, one of the most important technological innovations of the 20th century, and has radically transformed every aspect of our modern society. IFF 2018 is a continuation of the conversation we must continue to have with all stakeholders as we seek to build a healthy and free Internet space for Africa, and the world”.

‘Gbenga Sesan said further, “in continuation of this important conversation and to cater for an expanded audience, from 2019 the Internet Freedom Forum will now be known as the “Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum.”

Paradigm Initiative also announced the creation of a Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellowship, which is designed to give “media professionals, who are important stakeholders in this conversation, an opportunity to interact with professionals working on digital rights and inclusion across the continent”.

The Internet Freedom Forum welcomed over two hundred delegates from some thirty countries in Africa and beyond and received support from organizations including Microsoft, Ford Foundation, The Guardian, Mozilla, Google, Facebook, Premium Times and Civicus.

Experts Call for Replication of Digital Rights Bill in other African Countries

By | Advocacy, ICT Policy, Internet Freedom, Press Release

Digital rights experts have called for the replication of Nigeria’s Digital Rights and Freedom Bill by other African countries. The bill which was recently passed by the National Assembly was praised by experts as a step in the good direction in strengthening digital rights on the continent.

The experts made this call at the 6th Internet Freedom Forum, an international conference organized by Paradigm Initiative, which is currently taking place at NAF Conference Centre, Abuja.

Speaking at the event, Ephraim Kenyanito of Article 19 East Africa, said, “It would be great if the Nigerian president could immediately sign the bill into law. This would be seen as a challenge to other African countries. It would be great for Nigeria to set a good example in this area.”

According to Adeboye Adegoke, Paradigm Initiative’s Digital Rights Program Manager, “The Digital Rights and Freedom Bill was drafted by a coalition of civil society, private sector and government to protect the digital rights of Nigerians in the emerging digital age. The bill is great for the protecting citizens’ rights and also great for the economy as it would energize the tech industry.”

John Edokpolo, Microsoft Nigeria Head of Legal Affairs, called on the government to enact good laws in encouraging innovation and development in the tech industry. “If you want foreign direct investment in the technology industry, you need to have a good data privacy law, among other things. It helps when businesses can help government see the economic benefits of having positive legislation around digital rights. The job should not be left to the civil society alone.”

The Forum also provided an opportunity to discuss the adversarial relationship between government and media in the digital age. Speaking at the session dedicated to the theme, Henry Maina, Regional Director of Article 19 Eastern Africa, said: “Nigeria remains one of the many African countries which still retain criminal libel laws, an unfortunate reality that simply erodes freedom.”

Tolu Ogunlesi, Special Assistant to the Nigerian President on Digital Media, said, “an effective media ensures a free society and serves as a check on government. The media should, therefore, avoid engaging in only broadcasting what different actors are saying but go beyond the press statements to finding out the truth. The media must do more to combat fake news and ensure truthfulness in their reports. While I would not campaign for government regulation of media space, I would argue for the media to be more accountable and self-regulate.”

Dapo Olorunyomi, the publisher of Premium Times, said the media was already accountable and it was the government that needed to improve transparency and its proactiveness in releasing information.

The Internet Freedom Forum also had a session dedicated to discussing the impact of intentional internet disruptions on the economy. This session, coordinated by the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT) at Strathmore University Kenya, analyzed the economic impact of internet shutdown on the economies of the countries that have experienced. Speakers at the session bemoaned the ease with which African countries now resort to internet shutdown without any consideration for its impact on their peoples and economy.

The Forum, which runs between April 24 to April 26, brings together experts from across some forty countries in Africa and beyond.  speakers at the event together also included ‘Gbenga Sesan, Tolu Adeleru-Balogun of Naija Info, Ana Brandusescu of Web Foundation, and Titi Akinsanmi of Google.

Paradigm Initiative Condemns Internet Shutdown in Sierra Leone

By | Internet Freedom

Based on available evidence, Sierra Leone has, on the night of March 31, 2018,  joined the bad company of African countries resorting to Internet Blackout during elections.  When prior to the elections, the Sierra Leone Information Minister allegedly threatened to shut down the Internet during elections, the government swiftly denied any such plan. Unfortunately, the government has seemingly failed to keep to its word. According to reports from local sources, “The government blocked all internet carriers on elections night while vote counting was ongoing.” The shutdown reportedly lasted for about 9 hours, after an initial one-hour shutdown.

Speaking on the development, Babatunde Okunoye, Research Officer at Paradigm Initiative, “although there are reports that the ACE submarine cable, along the West African coast serving several countries, was cut during this time, we believe this alone does not account for the level of traffic disruption experienced in Sierra Leone, neither does it account for the absence of mobile telephone services. Clearly, something else, something more sinister, was at play in the country.”


Speaking on the development, Adeboye Adegoke, Program Manager for Paradigm Initiative’s Digital Rights work in Anglophone West Africa stated that “Digital Rights are crucial and cannot be overemphasized. Every Sierra Leone citizen is entitled to the freedom to access information online and express thoughts and opinions no matter how unpopular they are. Also, Internet shutdowns have grave economic implication as a lot of small and medium scale business depends on the Internet for their survival”.


Picture Credit: OpenObservatory

“There is no evidence to suggest that Internet Shutdowns are justifiable during elections. What is evident however is that Internet Shutdown makes it easy to compromise the outcome of elections by changing results during manual transmission. We urge the government in Sierra Leone to actively recognize the independence of the nation’s media and the rights of citizens to receive and share information using the digital platform,” Adeboye said.  

Also speaking on the incident, Farida Nabourema, a Human Rights Advocate who was present in Sierra Leone on election day, fumed at how African government tends to copy bad practices more than best practices from one another. “When they see that others can get away with suppressing rights in neighboring countries, they copy and paste it in their own country. Shutting down the internet and all phone carriers on elections night is a wrong move from the government of Sierra Leone especially after requesting that elections results be transferred manually”. How will electoral bodies report incidents?” Nabourema quizzed.

We understand that the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone guarantees several human rights, some of which are the freedom of expression, of conscience, of association, and of privacy. We, therefore, urge the Government of Sierra Leone to not only recognize these rights offline but also online”

We are not unaware of the magnitude of responsibility which the Sierra Leonean Government bears in ensuring the safety and security of its citizens and we also know that technology can be abused. However, depriving citizens of their fundamental rights or oppressing them is never a solution to such fears. We, therefore, urge the Sierra Leonean Government, once again, to truly be democratic in its administration and respect the Digital Rights of her citizens all the time.


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Cambridge Analytica: Bringing the Lessons Home

By | ICT Policy, Internet Freedom

By Adeboye Adegoke

It is no longer news that Cambridge Analytica’s transgression is not just about the Donald Trump’s 2016 elections campaign or the role of Russia in the United States’ election. Evidence has now shown that it had its footprints in the very toxic 2015 elections in Nigeria and the very highly contested Kenya elections in 2016. The implication of this must not be lost on us. This is not just about elections, this is not just about the failure of an intermediary to justify the trust of its customers in it but this is also about the significance of data in the 21st century. While there are barely any data protection frameworks across many countries in Africa, the thirst for data harvesting by the government is almost unquenchable. The risk that we face in Africa is not only about what or how private companies handle our data and who they connive with but also how government use data as a tool of control and manipulations of citizens. In Nigeria like many African countries, security agencies have unfettered access to citizens’ data irrespective of whom it was shared with (government or private companies), in a very opaque manner with no system of accountability or judicial oversight in place and the absence of the opportunity to seek redress is like adding insult to injury.

Attitude Must Change

The subject of data protection is never really taken seriously in Africa. The laissez-faire attitudes of not just data custodians but of data owners are very alarming. On a continent with unbridled data harvesting processes completed and ongoing, not many appreciate nor care about what’s been done with those data. A government agency in an African country once sold laptops used for some data harvesting exercise to private individuals without completely erasing the private data mined with the computer. Kenya and Nigeria, the two African countries that we are sure to have the footprint of Cambridge analytical has no data protection Laws. The process to have one has been ongoing for years in both countries. In Nigeria, draft data protection legislation has sat in the country’s National Assembly for 8 years and this is despite the fact that the bill was sponsored by the speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives and the number 4 citizen of the country. One would have thought with the profile, the bill should be making accelerated progress. The closest Nigeria is to a Data protection framework, is the Digital Rights and freedom Bill which has been passed by both houses of Nigeria’s National Assembly and awaiting Presidential assent.


Frameworks must be put in Place

In Africa, only about 14 countries have a data protection law according to a report on Data Protection published by Delloite. The report further shows that in the whole of Anglophone West Africa, only Ghana has Data protection frameworks. While Nigeria’s process is ongoing, Liberia has no frameworks at all. Sierra Leone and The Gambia has some level of constitutional coverage which isn’t sufficient given new realities. Central Africa is worse. From the Central Africa Republic to Congo DR and Congo Brazzaville, South Sudan and Cameroon, No frameworks exists! The EU General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) is widely regarded as the most comprehensive — data protection framework in the world. And Nigeria’s and Kenya’s Data Protection Bill were modelled on the GDPR. The two countries definitely need whatever it takes to complete the ongoing process. This may be a low hanging fruit within an African context while those countries that have not started the process now needs to do so immediately.

Intermediaries need to do better

In the meantime, and while we examine what lessons are there for us in the cambridge analytica whistle blower revelations, we must emphasize the paramount importance of company’s responsibility to protect the data held in trust for their customers. Citizens’ data are openly advertised for political or business patronage in many countries in Africa and not many are worried by this trend. What we are seeing now is how the fundamental choice in elections is shaped by forces outside our territory. How we think we are in charge of our actions but are being just a puppet to data manipulators who shapes our beliefs and choices in ways unknown to many. Many elections have held in Africa in the last 12 months from Rwanda, Kenya, Angola, Liberia and lately Sierra Leone. How much of this have their outcome been manipulated by technology or connivance with a technology company? Lately, blockchain technology was said to have been deployed in the recently held Sierra Leone elections. Although Sierra Leone authorities have denied this but we do know there is no smoke without fire. The question isn’t about whether it is appropriate to embrace the use of technology to make better choices but that of attitude and disposition to same and ensuring this is done right and is not manipulated to the unfair advantage of some. Technology must not be used to manipulate voters’ preference. The role of companies as intermediaries comes with huge responsibilities. African companies must develop and implement internal data protection guidelines and must not be subjected to the Government’s whims and caprices. In most African countries, security agencies have unfettered access to data being held by telcos and have connived with political leadership to infringe on privacy rights of many citizens.

Fire Brigade Approach will not solve the problem

In the wake of the recent revelations, Facebook has suspended the account of Cambridge Analytica and the other companies connected to the scandal, but this is only typical of a fire brigade approach to the issue. It is same way most countries around here react rather than proactively position to avoid breaches by failing to put frameworks in place.

It remained to be seen whether African Government will now take the subject of data privacy more seriously. Now that we know that the eMail account of Nigeria’s President was hacked and his health record retrieved in the wake of the election that brought him to power, he shouldn’t really be needing anyone to convince him on the importance of signing into Law the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill passed by the Nigerian parliament and he should bemounting needed pressure on Nigeria’s parliament to complete the legislative process for the Data protection Bill so he can assert that as well.


Adeboye Adegoke leads Paradigm Initiative Digital Rights Advocacy work in Anglophone West Africa. He can be found on Twitter at @adeboyeBGO . 

NTA Social Media Gag Order: Dictatorship in Democracy?  

By | #PINternetFreedom, ICT Policy, Internet Freedom

By Adeboye Adegoke and Adeboro Odunlami

On the 15th of January 2018, the management of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) which is the official government-owned television station, sent an internal circular to its staff expressly restraining them from relating with online publications which concern sensitive and topical national issues. According to the circular which emanated from the Office of the Executive Director (Administration & Training) the act was described as ‘embarrassing’ and ‘reckless and unethical’.

It is baffling that the NTA would issue this kind of instruction to its staff when Section 6(1) of the NTA Act specifically states that  ‘It shall be the duty of the Authority to provide as a public service in the interest of Nigeria, independent and impartial television broadcasting for general reception within Nigeria.’ (emphasis ours)

The NTA was set up to report and make available to the country, news as it is. It is understood that there is hate speech – that sometimes, information can be couched in a way as to incite violence against groups of people or the government. That, obviously, is forbidden and quite unethical.

It should, however, be pointed out that this is not what is being referred to by the NTA in its circular. The circular makes it abundantly clear that what it forbids is ‘sensitive and topical national issues’. It is highly ridiculous and ironic for a federal news agency to forbid the broadcast of national issues simply because they are ‘sensitive’ or ‘topical’. Where else are the citizens supposed to get non-partisan and unadulterated news on national events but from the National TV?

Perhaps the management of NTA has forgotten that it belongs, not to any political party or to please the government, but to cater to the people. And it is to these same people, the NTA has a responsibility. The truth is, if there are topical, sensitive and even controversial issues going on in Nigeria, they must be reported by NTA. It is not the job of NTA to ensure the ignorance of the Nigerian citizens by deciding what their hearts can take and protecting them from the reality of affairs in Nigeria simply because they are topical and sensitive. The best the NTA can do in reporting sensitive matters is to put in excellent effort in its delivery to contain the reaction of its consumers.

Section 6(2) of the NTA Act provides “The Authority shall ensure that the services which it provides, when considered as a whole, reflect the unity of  Nigeria as a Federation and at the same time give adequate expression to the culture, characteristics and affairs of each State, Zone or other part of the Federation.”

It may be the claim of the management of NTA that the circular was intended to ensure the ‘unity of Nigeria as a Federation’, but a further reading of the same provision would, however, reveal the spirit of this law. It says that ‘at the same time, give ‘adequate expression to… affairs of each State… or other part of the Federation.’

Additionally, the Management of NTA needs to be directed to Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which says, ‘Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference’ (the same is provided in Article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which has been adopted in Nigeria)

The circular by NTA is very offensive to different degrees of the freedom of expression and the right to information. This is condemnable to us, and to every Civil right-respecting individual. The management of NTA is called upon to review its instructions bearing in mind its statutory responsibilities to the Nigerian people.

We are not asking the  NTA to do anything outside what it was set up to do. Section 8(1)(c) of its enabling Act states that it is the duty of the Authority to ensure ‘that any news given in the programmes (in whatever form) is presented with accuracy, impartiality and objectivity’. NTA is not to cower or shy from the news but is to give news with accuracy, impartiality and objectivity.


Adeboye and Adeboro are digital rights advocates with Paradigm Initiative, the pan-African digital rights group. 

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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