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#PINternetFreedom

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

Screenshot (61)

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.

Paradigm Initiative Asks MTN to Restore Full Internet Service in Cameroon

By | #PINternetFreedom, Press Release
 
For the past few days, MTN Cameroon subscribers have seen frequent disruptions of the internet connection provided by MTN. These disruptions occur when subscribers are already making use of the internet. The disruptions affect data subscription, as users are unable to make use of what they have paid for. In addition, some Mobile Money subscribers linked to MTN have also reportedly lost access to their personal accounts without any notification from the operator.
 
Paradigm Initiative is deeply concerned about this development as it affects the ability of Cameroonians to make meaningful use of the internet for their business and personal tasks. According to MTN Cameroon, these disruptions are “technical” in nature. However, in the past, the operator had blamed disruptions on “technical problems” when in fact the government ordered the Internet shutdowns, especially in the two English-speaking regions of the country. Even if this particular round of disruptions are really caused by technical issues, we aver that MTN has a duty to ensure the availability of good internet service in Cameroon. The Cameroonian people have suffered enough internet disruptions to last a lifetime and they must not be made to go through the ordeal again. MTN must find a permanent solution to its perennial “technical problems” once and for all.
 
 
Paradigm Initiative demande à MTN de restaurer un service Internet complet au Cameroun
 
 
Au cours des derniers jours, les abonnés de MTN Cameroon ont vu des interruptions fréquentes de la connexion Internet fournie par MTN. Ces perturbations se produisent lorsque les abonnés utilisent déjà Internet. Les interruptions affectent l’abonnement aux données, car les utilisateurs ne peuvent pas utiliser ce pour quoi ils ont payé. En outre, certains abonnés à Mobile Money liés à MTN auraient également perdu l’accès à leurs comptes personnels sans aucune notification de la part de l’opérateur.
 
Paradigm Initiative est profondément concerné par ce développement car il affecte la capacité des Camerounais à faire un usage significatif d’Internet pour leurs tâches professionnelles et personnelles. Selon MTN Cameroun, ces perturbations sont de nature “technique”. Cependant, dans le passé, l’opérateur avait blâmé les perturbations sur des ‘’problèmes techniques’’ alors qu’en fait le gouvernement avait ordonné les fermetures d’Internet, en particulier dans les deux régions anglophones du pays. Même si cette série particulière de perturbations est due à des problèmes techniques, nous estimons que MTN a le devoir d’assurer la disponibilité d’un bon service internet au Cameroun. Le peuple camerounais a subi assez de perturbations sur Internet pour durer toute sa vie et il ne doit pas être obligé de traverser à nouveau l’épreuve. MTN doit trouver une solution permanente à ses ‘’problèmes techniques’’ pérennes, une fois pour toutes.
 

Paradigm Initiative Files FoI Request on Alleged Blocking of Online News Sites by NCC

By | #PINternetFreedom, ICT Policy

Lagos, Nigeria

Paradigm Initiative has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Nigerian Communications Commission asking the Commission to release information on alleged blocking of online news sites. The request was filed by the digital rights advocacy organisation today at the Abuja headquarters of the Commission, giving the Commission seven (7) days as stipulated by the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2011, to release information on the alleged attempts to block domain names of online newspapers.

It would be recalled that the Nigerian Tribune exclusively reported on Sunday, October 5, 2017 “that the government, through the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), has engaged the services of a firm in Lagos to block the domain names of “several identified websites threatening national security.”

The newspaper further alleged that Commission wrote a memo to the firm, directing it “to immediately take steps to restrict access within the Nigerian cyberspace in respect of 21 (twenty one) additional websites by blocking the domain names. (The list of websites is attached).”NCC on Take down order-1

According to Adeboye Adegoke, Paradigm Initiative’s Program Manager, “the phrase “additional websites” in the memo indicates that there are other websites already marked for illegal censorship through an equally illegal blockage of their domain names. If this is true, then this would be a clear indication of this government’s anti-free speech agenda”

“It has been six days since Tribune published its story and NCC has not come out to deny the story. This is why we have filed this FoI request. NCC cannot wish this report away; the commission has to come out and address Nigerians on the issue”

In the FoI request, Paradigm Initiative asks NCC to provide it with answers to the following questions: Is the Nigeria 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?

According to Tope Ogundipe, Paradigm Initiative’s Director of Programs, “it goes without saying that blocking the domain names of newspapers 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.”

Paradigm Initiative Statement on the Alleged Nigerian Government’s Attempts to Clampdown on Online Newspapers

By | #PINternetFreedom, ICT Policy, Press Release

Paradigm Initiative has expressed serious concern over alleged Federal Government’s secret attempts to block the domain names of several identified websites accused of threatening national security in Nigeria. These attempts are an unacceptable violation of constitutionally and globally guaranteed rights of expression and information.

According to a report published in the Nigerian Tribune, the Federal Government is alleged to be currently carrying out this operation through the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), ostensibly hiding behind Section 146 of the NCC Act 2003. The section, which provides generally on the duties of a network licensee to assist the Commission in preserving national security and preventing the commission of a crime, must not be used by the Federal Government to intimidate online news providers and infringe on their rights.

According to Paradigm Initiative’s Program Manager Magoyi (ICT Policy), Adeboye Adegoke, “Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria expressly provides that every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides similarly that everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”

While commenting on the development, Paradigm Initiative’s Director of Programs, Tope Ogundipe says that “whatever process is underway by the influence of the NCC and the NSA would result in a violation of the Constitution and should, therefore, be halted. The Federal Government should desist from covert acts as such and should instead release a list of such sites purportedly threatening national security and follow the due course of the law in handling this matter transparently.”

Mrs Ogundipe further states that in an already declining society which pays minimal regard to the freedom of expression and press freedom, a dangerous precedent would be set if the NCC goes ahead with this plan to restrict access to certain websites in the Nigerian Cyberspace.

While speaking further on the development, Program Manager, Magoyi (ICT Policy), Adeboye Adegoke said that, “The right to receive information and the right to give information is expressly codified in legal instruments recognized in Nigeria and so it would be sheer defiance by the NCC to attempt to make a derogation in such a manner”

Paradigm Initiative has noted the denial of this censorship plan by the Minister of Communications, Alhaji Adebayo Shittu, stating that he was not aware of any plan by the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) to gag online newspapers. The Honourable Minister should go a step further to investigate this claim and make a commitment to press freedom and unhindered internet freedom. On its part, Paradigm Initiative will continue to monitor the development and will deploy every legitimate advocacy tools to get to the root of it in ensuring that fundamentally guaranteed rights of citizens are safeguarded.

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If you would like more information about this topic or further project description on Paradigm Initiative’s Magoyi (Advocacy) work, please send an email to Adeboye Adegoke via hello@paradigmhq.org

Online courses as a means of developing digital expertise in Africa

By | #PINternetFreedom, DigitalJobs, ICT Policy, ICTs, L.I.F.E.

By Babatunde Okunoye 

 

“The World is flat” is the title of the bestselling book by Thomas Friedman, the influential American author and Journalist, where he argued that several developments in the 21st century such as outsourcing, the personal computer, the Internet, the standardization of commercial technology globally and international trade have led to a shift in economic competitiveness across the world. This shift has created a level playing ground and new opportunities for millions of people in developing countries who hitherto were economically and socially disenfranchised. Empowered by these new opportunities, many of the world’s poorest nations have over the space of a decade developed highly skilled workers who have not only put pressure on workers in developed nations but are also displacing them in some instances. Several corporations in the European Union and the United States now outsource services such as call centre operation and computer coding to markets in Asia.

One of these levellers of development, the Internet, has transformed the way educational content is delivered worldwide. The rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) allows millions of people to attain professional and university level training affordably and at their own pace. This has undoubtedly revolutionized education in the past decade. MOOCs platforms such as Edx and Coursera, backed by leading international universities, provide easy access to training in highly sought skills such as Data Science and computer programming.

Africa’s severe developmental challenges have often meant that development workers and partners working on Digital inclusion on the continent have often focused more on providing the basics such as greater Internet access and computer appreciation to the mass of underserved youth on the continent. However, in the past five years, several tech clusters have emerged across Africa, a testament to the maturing expertise of a young people in Africa in the higher end tech skills. As the success stories of these tech start-ups spread, including how they have successfully secured international investment funding, they can inspire a whole new generation of Africans to change the digital landscape in Africa.

Thousands of youths across Africa, using these success stories, can thus envision a viable future in technology. And given the challenges inherent in many education systems in Africa, MOOCs provide an avenue where Africa’s budding technologists can learn with the best students and teachers in the world, demolishing the developmental barriers common to the continent. Raising awareness of the many opportunities that abound in MOOCs is key to this objective. In this regard, Paradigm Initiative has been in the forefront of spreading awareness of the big opportunities available in MOOCs and other digital tools. Through our digital inclusion program called ‘LIFE’, an acronym for ‘Life Skills. ICTs. Financial Readiness. Entrepreneurship’, we are working across underserved communities and schools in Nigeria to improve the livelihoods of youths through ICTs.

For youth in Africa to derive the best benefits from the opportunities inherent in MOOCs however, African governments must resist the temptation to shut down the Internet as they have repeatedly done in the past 2 years. Our Digital Rights in Africa Report 2016 documented 11 cases of Internet shutdowns in Africa in 2016. In 2017, there have been 7 cases of Internet shutdowns in Africa – In Cameroon, Ethiopia, Senegal, Morocco, Mali, South Sudan and Togo. The Internet shutdown in Togohappened on Tuesday, September 5, 2017, in response to political protests in the country. As demonstrated by the story of Nji Collins Gbah, the 17-year-old Google coding champion from Cameroon who might have missed the opportunity to enter the competition had the Internet shutdown of January 17, 2017, in Cameroon arrived a day earlier (January 16, the deadline for the competition), numerous opportunities for self-development for youth are lost through Internet disruptions. For Africa to reach its full potential, developmental tools like the Internet must be kept on and its use encouraged, particularly by young people.

Attacks on Free Speech as Political Terrorism

By | #PINternetFreedom, ICT Policy, Internet Freedom

By Adeboye Adegoke

“Everybody likes to get as much power as circumstances allow, and nobody will vote for a self-denying ordinance.” Lord Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, English Catholic historian, politician, and writer.
One would have thought that the above quote attributed to Lord Acton, which has been captured in another sense as “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” was only relevant to the military and despotic systems of Government, but recent happenings in Nigeria and other supposedly democratic climes have proven that those words are as relevant today as they were in the worst days of military and dictatorial government across the globe.

When the Cybercrimes Act 2015 was signed into Law by the erstwhile President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan at the twilight of his administration in 2015, there was a sigh of relief that Nigeria has finally been able to develop its own regulatory framework to tackle the menace of cybercrime. The enthusiasm could not be faulted given the bad reputation the country has had to grapple with as result of the activities of the famous cybercriminals popularly known as “Yahoo boys” and lately “Yahoo Plus”. That enthusiasm was however cut short when it became clear that this law has beyond anything else unleashed another form of terror on Nigerians even while the country grapples with conventional terrorism by Boko Haram. This terror, however, is about the suppression of core values of any democratic system, which includes freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is an important tenet of any democracy and the apparent suppression of voices of dissent or whistleblowers is nothing short of terrorism in another mode.

An attack on Free Speech is a form of terror and we must curse the darkness while we can. While the Nigerian Police refuted the claims by Chidi Odinkalu and others describing the shooting at a Catholic Church in Ozubulu in Anambra State on August 6, 2017, as an act of terror, the Police by inference unwittingly admitted that the trend of arrest of citizens over whistle blowing activity is an act of terror. Abayomi Shogunle , Head of Nigeria Police Rapid response unit argued on his twitter handle which he typically uses to address issues/complaints about the Nigerian Police, that an act of terror must be politically motivated. Given this line of thought, it is clear that even the Police in Nigeria agree that the political class have now resorted to terrorizing Nigerians for expressing opinions online. Several citizens are currently going through politically motivated prosecutions in the court. Two of those cases are highlighted here being the most recent experiences and considering the status of the actors involved in them.

It is no longer news that the Governor of Kogi state with the help of the Department of State Security services is currently prosecuting a civil servant. His offence, according to news reports, was posting the image of the Abuja residence of the Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, using a drone camera. According to the Guardian Newspaper, He was said to have posted the pictures with a caption: “This building is owned by an individual in Kogi where hunger is the people’s first name” to highlight the affluence of the Governor while Government workers groan and struggle to survive over unpaid salaries and citizens live in abject poverty. The action, the prosecuting counsel who is also a senior legal officer with the State Ministry of Justice said, put “Governor Yahaya Bello and family into threat and harm to their property” and thereby urged the court to take cognizance of the offence of cyber stalking (relying on section 24 of the Cybercrimes Act 2015) against the accused. The action of the Kogi State Government to say the least is the most barbaric form of high-handedness by anyone in power and a total abuse of privilege by using the State Security Service funded by tax payers for an egoistic pursuit. Well, it must be noted that he has a co-traveller in Nigeria’s Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki.

In an Interview with Punch Newspaper, A 37-year-old primary school teacher in Kwara State, Biodun Baba, who was arraigned before a magistrates’ court in Ilorin for allegedly insulting Senate President Bukola Saraki on Facebook, recounts his ordeal after he reacted to a Facebook post of factional Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party in the state, Akogun Iyiola Oyedepo on the  discharge and acquittal of the Senate President by the Code of Conduct Tribunal. He commented in the comment section as follows “Somebody believes that he is above everybody, he is not above the judgment of God. If Saraki has been discharged by the CCT, has he been discharged by God?” Two officials of the DSS came and dragged him to their office in Ilorin. They gave him a form to write an undertaking that he will never abuse the Senate President again. It didn’t stop there; he was taken to court but was lucky to be defended by a group of lawyers who worked pro-bono to defend him in Court.

The cases involving Bukola Saraki and Governor Yahaya Bello are only 2 of many of such occurrences in Nigeria lately. Paradigm Initiative documented at least 8 of such cases in 2016 alone its Digital Rights in Africa annual report for 2016 and there has been at least 10 of such cases in 2017. If nothing else, the two cases above represent the most recent form of barbaric attacks on free speech by the Nigeria Political class but nothing of a departure from the pattern of previous documented cases.

Drafters of the Cybercrime Act 2015, their intention notwithstanding, have successfully played into the hands of agents of domination, intolerance and leaders who will rather oppress than protect the citizens that elected them. This has been a pattern in the last 2 years and it will as a matter of fact increase as the 2019 election draws closer. I hate to opine that a law which was supposed to help curb the scourge of cybercrime in Nigeria has hardly done so but has been the tool of oppression in the hand of the powerful. Unfortunately, this has been the case and there is no end in sight for the abuse and oppression being perpetrated by the political class and the powerful in connivance with security agencies.

This article should not be seen as an attempt to demonize certain political actors but to challenge the system and frameworks that encourage and allows the oppression of fellow citizens to be possible. In the words of the French republican poet and politician, Alphonse Marie Louis de Prat de Lamartine, “It is not only the slave or serf who is ameliorated in becoming free… the master himself did not gain less in every point of view,… for absolute power corrupts the best natures (Translated from his original work in French)”. Therefore we shouldn’t be looking at demonizing the actors but at correcting the system and frameworks that make abuse possible.

Last year, Paradigm Initiative together with Media Rights Agenda and Enough is Enough went to court to challenge the constitutionality of section 24 of the Cybercrimes Act 2015, a lawsuit which has now reached the appeal stage at the Federal Appeal Court. As concerned citizens and civil society, we can only hope and urge the court to expedite the hearing and give judgment in the interest of democracy and the rule of law.  Also, a member of the National Assembly Senator Buhari Abdulfatai representing Oyo state at the Nigerian Senate has sponsored a Bill to repeal and re-enact the Cybercrime Act 2015. The Bill, SB 450: Cyber Crime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act 2015 (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill, 2017 has only been read once on the floor of the Senate and the content is yet to be made public by the National Assembly (This represents another lacuna in the law making process in Nigeria whereby Bills being discussed by the National Assembly are not accessible to citizens). The public hearing for this Bill whenever it happens presents an opportunity to address the sections of this Bill currently being exploited by political gladiators to oppress opposing voices.

 

Adeboye Adegoke (@adeboyeBGO) is a Digital Rights Advocate and works with Paradigm Initiative.

A Look at Whistleblower Protection Policies in Nigeria

By | #PINternetFreedom, ICT Policy, Internet Freedom

By Adeboro Odunlami

The Whistleblowing Programme by the Ministry of Finance commenced in December 2016 by an announcement made by Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, the Minister of Finance. The Ministry, in setting this Programme in motion, merely made an announcement and released a FAQ document which purported to answer reactive questions. The FAQ document has since then been the only available document which purports to answer glaring questions as to the protection of the private data of whistleblowers under this Programme. Although the senate at its plenary session on 8th June 2017 passed the Witness Protection Programme (Establishment, etc.) Bill, the Bill is technically not yet law.

In reviewing the bit of information which has been put out on the subject matter, it is obvious that the Ministry has not averted its mind to:

a. The difference between public sector and private sector whistleblowing: The protection of whistleblowers in banks and other private/quasi-private institutions should be differentiated from the Ministry of Finance’s. This is because while the former may deal primarily with curbing loss of employment and workplace victimization, the latter must, in addition, deal with protection of life, property and freedom from government intimidation.

b. The need to guarantee the privacy of data: Although the fundamental right of private and family life is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the policy or legislation which would regulate the Whistleblowing Programme must also guarantee that the Ministry will put in best practices to protect the data of every whistleblower.

c. The need for prevention before breach: Looking through the FAQ, it is almost as though the extent of protection offered to whistleblowers is directly proportional to and effective upon a breach of their data. Apart from the fact that no intentional structure has been put in place to keep their identities safe, the personal data of the whistleblower first has to be breached and he has to suffer adverse treatment in retaliation before the Ministry would ‘protect’ his privacy (more or less, by investigating his claim of breach and taking further appropriate actions)

It is therefore proposed, given the foregoing, that the Ministry of Finance prepares a scheme or policy to supplement the Bill that recently passed the Third Reading in the Senate. This Policy should serve to bind the Ministry in the regulation of its laudable Whistleblowing Programme. In preparing the Policy, the Ministry is advised to strongly consider and engage the use of technology in protecting the privacy of its whistleblowers.

A Whistleblowing Committee with legal practitioners, technology experts, and Members of the Nigeria Police Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department; among others, should be established. The policy should also not just guarantee the safety of the whistleblowers but must prescribe a structure to back up the guarantee. As earlier said, a structure built on technology is the best bet for a safer system of protection. For instance, the Policy should provide for protective measures to be employed in data transfer, should consider the possibility of and prevent interception and hacking of the Ministry’s computer systems, should consider anonymization of data and the desirability of a third party repository for the data. Finally, there must be provisions for what would constitute a breach of such private data and the remedies available to a whistleblower in the event of such breach (whether or not he has suffered any loss or retaliation).

In conclusion, the Whistleblowing Programme is laudable as it will go a long way not only in fishing out corrupt citizens, but also to serve as a deterrent to the continuity of the menace called corruption. It must, however, be understood that whistleblowing is a risky activity which may involve, among other threats, a threat to both the whistleblower and his family. It would, therefore, be prudent on the part of the Ministry of Finance to put extra effort into ensuring that the trust reposed in it is firmly kept.

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This is a summary of a report on the whistle blowing protection policies of Nigeria authored by Adeboro Odunlami

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