Nigeria is cited as the largest economy in Africa1, with an average GDP of N39,089,460.61 million ($100,611.07032) in nominal terms3. With a population of 208 million4, Nigeria has several natural resources including crude oil, natural gas, coal, iron and tin. Over the years, the country’s economy has been heavily dependent on revenue from crude oil, however, with the declining global oil prices in recent times and its ripple effect, compounded by rising poverty and insurgency, the country has focused on diversifying the economy with the spotlight on its non-oil sector, especially agriculture, financial services and telecommunications/ICT. The downturn in crude oil prices and oil production shortages significantly contributed to the country witnessing a recession in 20165, the first since 1991.
The impact of COVID-19 on the Nigerian economy has been vast and though most industries recorded immense losses, the ICT/Telecommunications industry is one of the few that have not only survived the effects of the pandemic, but saw rapid growth due to increase in demand7. Statistics from the Nigerian Communications Commissions (NCC) shows that the telecoms industry contributed 14.3% to the Nigerian GDP as at Q2 2020, up from 10.6% in Q4 2019. This growth is understandably so, as the industry has seen a spike in demand for internet and telecommunication services, pointing to the reliance of these telecommunication tools, to mitigate, to an extent, the consequences of COVID-19, especially as it is related to the business environment and social interactions. Apart from its importance to businesses and general social interactions during this period, digital technologies have generally been instrumental to the transfer of information, entertainment, financial services, advocacy, and other activities, in Nigeria.
2 Official exchange rate as at the 18th of December 2020 – 1 USD = 388.520
3 National Bureau of Statistics. “Nigerian Gross Domestic Report (Q3 2020)” Available at Download Report. [Last accessed 7th January 2020]
5 According to the Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics GDP Q4 2016 Report, there was a steady decline in the economy from Q1 2015 to Q4 2016.
6“First case of coronavirus disease confirmed in Nigeria”, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. February 28, 2020. https://bit.ly/3ndmjle
7 According to statistics from the Nigerian Communication Commission, active internet subscriptions increased from 128,723,188 in January 2020 to 136,114,413 in March 2020 to 147,148,307 by July 2020 when some states in the country began easing restriction measures. Statistics are available at shorturl.at/elCGP [Accessed 7 January 2020]
The reliance on these tools has demonstrated the importance of digital tools to Nigeria and to Nigerians. With an increasing list of possible interactions in the digital space, the importance of proper legislative governance cannot be over emphasized. The presence of Nigerians in the digital world means the exposure to new kinds of threats to their rights, the likes that would render pre-established laws insufficient. In order to protect the interests of Nigerian online, the legislative houses and relevant government agencies have been making measured efforts towards creating the appropriate legal atmosphere.
Along with the conversations on the protection of Nigerians rights online arises the importance of inclusion. With all the recognizable benefits of the digital economy, barriers to access means exclusion from these benefits. To a developing country like Nigeria, with up to 40% of the population living below the poverty line, the discussion around digital inclusion should be an important topic. All these and more make the conversations around digital rights and inclusion important to the democracy and the economic strength of Nigeria.
DIGITAL ECONOMY POLICY AND STRATEGY
In October 2019, the Nigerian government renamed its Communications Ministry as the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy in a move that suggested that the country has realised the importance of the digital economy to the overall well being of its economy. In June 2020, the country released a national digital economy policy and strategy to “transform Nigeria into a leading digital economy providing quality life and digital economies for all”. However, in what seems like conflicting signals, Nigeria has taken measures, within the same time, to restrict the digital space and it does not look like this has been mere coincidence. The country has been pushing for regulation on social media. As at the time of writing this report, there are two proposed regulations aimed at curbing “hate speech8” and fighting “fake news9” in Nigeria. These two bills, as observed by the Committee to Protect Journalists, serve to restrict civil liberties in Nigeria. The “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill,” for example, gives the government, through the Nigeria Police Force, the power to restrict access to internet services and determine the falsity or otherwise of information shared by Nigerian citizens on digital platforms.
8 The Hate Speech (Prohibition) Bill 2019 has passed the first reading
9 The Protection FROM INTERNET FALSEHOODS AND MANIPULATION AND OTHER RELATED MATTERS BILL 2019 has passed the second reading https://placbillstrack.org/view.php?getid=6649 .
Digital inclusion has become a digital rights issue. This position became amplified with the COVID-19 pandemic realities and the limitations imposed by the pandemic. The ability to learn, engage, work and do business relied on internet connectivity and ability to use digital devices and platforms. Those who could not afford Internet access or who could not use digital devices may have had their life come to a halt. At the beginning of the implementation of lockdown measures, leaders of Nigeria’s federating units, the Nigerian Governors Forum, began to implement an earlier agreement with communications stakeholders to reduce the cost of right of way (RoW)10. The cost of RoW has long been identified as one of the impediments to ensuring reliable broadband Internet connectivity in the most remote areas of Nigeria11. According to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Nigeria needs about 120,000 km of fiber cables to achieve its goal of ubiquitous broadband access but only about 38,000 km of cables have been laid12. Internet connectivity became a key infrastructural need to ensure students continue learning as all schools were closed as part of the lockdown measures, with impacts on the right of students to education.
The importance of digital inclusion cannot be over emphasized. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2020-203013 includes digital inclusion14 as part of the plan towards global prosperity, especially fostering inclusion in least developed countries. A report published by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics in May 2020 highlights that 40 percent of the total population, or almost 83 million people, live below the country’s poverty line of 137,430 naira ($381.75) per year15. Therefore, inclusion is important in order to achieve the economic potential of Nigeria. Digitally excluded Nigerians could lack the skills, confidence and motivation, along with having limited or no access to equipment and connectivity. This creates additional layers of social exclusion and exacerbates social and economic problems.
IMPACT OF COVID 19 REGULATIONS ON DIGITAL RIGHTS
To contain the spread of and cushion the effect of the COVID-19 virus, the federal government of Nigeria implemented a number of health, social, and economic measures including travel
13 The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development seeks to build on the Millennium Development Goals, a United Nations agenda geared to meet the needs of the world’s poorest by the year 2015. The 2020 agenda sets out to achieve sustainable development in its three dimensions – economic, social and environmental – in a balanced and integrated manner by the year 2030.
14 Target 9.c: Access to ICT – Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.
bans, movement restrictions and deployment of food supplies and financial assistance, among others. In essence, the declaration of measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus seem to have provided the ground to breach digital rights including rights to privacy and freedom from unlawful surveillance. Increased levels of surveillance, circumvention of freedom of speech and mismanagement of private information/data are some of the violations Nigerians have had to deal with during this period. For example, the Nigerian Minister of Communications and Digital Economy is reported to have cited data mining, based on SIM registration data, as a way to identify the financial status of Nigerians in order to provide adequate aid16. In another instance of the undisguised violation of privacy, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, Sadiya Farouq, at a press briefing at the State House, disclosed plans to provide financial aid to Nigerians using information directly sourced from Biometric Verification Number (BVN) linked to bank accounts and confidential data provided to mobile networks.
PRIVACY, DIGITAL IDs AND SURVEILLANCE
Section 37 of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution guarantees the privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications17. The right to privacy in Nigeria is underpinned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Although the provision in the constitution does not specifically mention “data”, it is arguable that information on homes, correspondences and telephone conversations are captured in the definition of personal data18.
Nigeria’s National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) declared plans to develop a digital ecosystem to create an enabling environment for the effective and efficient mass enrolment of Nigerians and legal residents in Nigeria into a centralized and secure national identity database where digital identities are issued to everyone in the form of the National Identification Number (NIN)19. This process has continued despite the lack of sufficient legal protection for personal data. Although a Nigerian Data Protection Regulation (NDPR) was issued by the National Information Technology Development Agency in 2019, it does not reflect a comprehensive data protection framework as it does not establish an independent data protection commission.
18 Olumide Babalola, Data Protection And Privacy Challenges In Nigeria (Legal Issues). March 9, 2020, available at https://www.mondaq.com/nigeria/data-protection/901494/data-protection-and-privacy-challenges-in-nigeria-legal-issues-
Even though the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance20 stipulates when limits apply to the right to privacy, the body of legislation in Nigeria21 contains a number of provisions on the state’s legal right to surveillance, and the Nigerian government has a history of extrajudicial surveillance on its citizens. An investigative report by Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto in Canada reported that Nigeria had acquired Signaling System 7 (SS7), a protocol suite developed for exchanging information and routing phone calls between different wireline telecommunications companies22. Unfortunately, this is not a one-off occurrence23 in Nigeria. Government-led extra judicial surveillance is a contravention of the state’s duty to preserve the intrinsic right to privacy, and the protection from arbitrary interference with its citizens’ privacy.
ENJOYMENT OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION ONLINE IN 2020
The right to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference is constitutionally backed by Section 39 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution24. The provision goes further to establish that every person is entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions25. In consideration of this, government-backed violations of the right to expression online is a dissension from its mandate to protect this right. A notable example of this violation is the imposition of sanctions by the National Broadcasting Commission on three Nigerian television stations, Channels TV, Arise TV and Africa Independent Television for transmitting footage obtained from “unverified and unauthenticated social media sources”26.
19 NIMC website https://www3.nimc.gov.ng/digital-identity-ecosystem/
20 International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance FINAL VERSION 10 JULY 2013 prescribe the principles of “Legality”, “Legitimate Aim”, “Necessity”, “Adequacy” and “Proportionality” for states seeking to carry out communication surveillance on their citizens, available at https://www.eff.org/files/necessaryandproportionatefinal.pdf [Accessed 9 December, 2020]
21 Section 45 of the 1999 Constitution, the Terrorism (Prevention) Act (Ammended 2013) and the CyberCrime (Prevention) Act, 2015
22 Full investigative report available at
https://citizenlab.ca/2020/12/running-in-circles-uncovering-the-clients-of-cyberespionage-firm-circles/ 23 Independent xyz reported that bugging blah blah blha
24 1999 constitution
There have also been multiple reports of arrests arising from the use of social media platforms. Babatunde Olusola, a university student, was arrested for allegedly operating a parody account in the name of Nigeria’s former President, Goodluck Jonathan, on Twitter27. Twitter rules state that users are allowed to create parody, newsfeed, commentary, and fan accounts on the social media platform, provided that the accounts follow certain requirements, including stating that the account is unaffiliated with the target of the parody28. Babatunde Olusola followed this rule by having ‘Not GEJ29’ on the bio of the twitter parody account, as a declaration of its non affiliation with the former president but he was still arrested. There were also multiple arrests30 of Nigerian citizens for protesting against police brutality as part of youth-led protests held in October 2020, tagged #EndSARS protests.
Backed by the right to expression online, Nigerians are using social media and online platforms to speak on pertinent issues in the country. The earlier referenced #EndSARS movement which recommenced in 2020 after an unconfirmed video of a SARS police officer shooting a young Nigerian went viral, received widespread support, financial and otherwise from Nigerians, Nigerians in diaspora and the international community. Digitally supported movements such as this are not unfamiliar in Nigeria. In 2012, along with physical protests, Nigerians took to social media to magnify their rejection of the removal of fuel subsidy by using the hashtag #OccupyNigeria31.
25 Section 39(2) of the Constitution. The exemption to this right is the right to own, establish or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station for any purpose whatsoever.
27 Story available at punch newspaper online
https://punchng.com/student-arrested-for-opening-jonathan-parody-account-denied-access-to-lawyers/ accessed last 7th of December 2020
28 Twitter rules on Parody accounts, availabel at
29 The initials of Former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
30 There were multiple reports of indiscriminate arrests of Nigerian citizens protesting against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. Report available at https://cutt.ly/SjkXezw [Last accessed 8 January 2021]
31 Occupy Nigeria Protest, available at https://cutt.ly/2jzrI76 [Last accessed 9th january 2021]
32 Chibok Schoolgirls Kidnapping, available at https://cutt.ly/pjzeISO [Last Accessed 9th January 2021]
The #BringBackOurGirls32 hashtag brought attention to the campaign for the return of 276 schoolgirls abducted from Chibok, a village in Borno State, Nigeria, by a group of militants known as Boko Haram on the 14th of April, 2014. The online campaign hashtag #NotTooYoungToRun was used by Nigerians to advocate for greater youth inclusion in legislative houses in Nigeria, a campaign that culminated in the passing of the Age Reduction Act, popularly known as the Not Too Young to Run Act. The use of social media as a tool for activism to highlight these and other issues social media in Nigeria can not be understated.
In an attempt to regulate the online environment in Nigeria, the legislative houses are attempting to pass the Protection from Internet Falsehood, Manipulations and other Offences Bill33, nicknamed the Social Media Bill34. The provisions of the bill seek to criminalise the transmission of ‘false statements’ as defined in the bill with the intention of curbing the spread of misinformation and fake news. Critics of the bill have pointed out that the provisions contained are an attempt to suppress free speech online and silence dissenting voices by the government35.
Conversely, the 2019 Digital Rights and Freedom Bill has, as part of its objectives, the protection of freedom of expression, assembly and association online. The bill was passed by both houses of the National Assembly in 2019, however, the President declined signing the bill on the grounds that it “covers too many technical subjects and fails to address any of them extensively36.” The bill has since been revised, but would have to go through the legislative processes all over again before it can get a chance to be signed into law. Signing this bill into law would be a positive step forward in protecting free expression online, giving citizens a more comprehensive legal framework for seeking redress in the event of violations.
THE EXTENT OF DIGITAL EXCLUSION AND ITS IMPACT ON HUMAN RIGHTS
The concept of social inclusion entails access to equal access to tools, resources by members of the society. On the other hand, social exclusion conceptualises the exclusion of members from access to these tools. In the 21st century, digital tools have become an integral part of human lives, from economic globalization to revolutionising social interactions.
33 Protection from Internet Falsehood, Manipulations and Other Offences Bill available at PDF.
34 The bill has passed second reading in the Senate but the report of a March 2020 Public Hearing has not been released
35 There is currently a petition to kill the bill
36President Buhari in his letters to the Senate on his decision to decline the Digital Rights and Freedom bill mentioned that the bill covers too many technical subjects and “fails to address any of them extensively. News available at https://cutt.ly/NjkThwv [Last accessed 8 January 2021]
As earlier stated, the telecommunications industry alone contributed up to 14.3% to Nigeria’s GDP in the first half of 2020. Certainly, with all of the benefits of the digital revolution, exclusion from access opposes the important theory of social inclusion. All of the positive contributions of the Internet manifest themselves after the technology is accessible and the population has learned how to use the technology at least on a very basic level37. Highlighting the importance of digital inclusion, Sustainable Development Goal 9 establishes as a target, increasing digital inclusivity in developing countries38. Nigeria is considered as a developing country, with up to 40% of the entire population living below the poverty level39.
Apart from access to economic benefits as provided by access and usage of digital tools, digital exclusion disconnects certain groups of people from enjoying some basic human rights such as the right to participate in government and free elections, right to education, the right to adequate living standards, and the right to social security in today’s context. For instance, the proposed digital ecosystem in Nigeria would mean the digitally illiterate/marginalised might not have the tools to vote, open bank accounts or receive certain information. Several factors are responsible for digital exclusion, including disability, literacy levels, poverty, culture and language. Digitally excluded people can lack skills, confidence and motivation, along with having limited or no access to equipment and connectivity. This can create additional layers of social exclusion and exacerbate social and economic problems40.
Internet penetration in Nigeria stood at 42% in January 2020. The National Digital Economy Policy Strategy 2020-203041 targets 70% broadband42 penetration in 4 years43. Some of the strategies for achieving this goal would include developing effective regulation of the ICT and digital sector in a way that enables development, improving digital literacy, deployment of fixed and mobile infrastructure to deepen the broadband penetration in the country and supporting government digital services. The success of this strategy will attract benefits such as greater digital inclusion. gT
37 The Digital Divide and Human Rights – What the EU should do at the World Summit on Information Society, (2005) Anne Peacock, a doctoral researcher in the Law Department of University of Essex, available at https://cutt.ly/9hTDNfi
38 Sustainable development Goal 9c – Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020, https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal9
39 Statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics, available at 2019 POVERTY AND INEQUALITY IN NIGERIA.cdr – National …nigerianstat.gov.ng › download [Accessed 9 December 2020] 40 About digital inclusion and exclusion, Citizens Online Webpage
https://www.citizensonline.org.uk/digital-inclusion/ [Accessed 9 December 2020] 41 The National Digital Economy Policy Strategy 2020-2030, developed by the Nigerian Communications Commision, available at pdf National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (1.09 MB) [Accessed 9 December 20
In the 21st century, digital tools have become an integral part of human lives, from commercial globalization to revolutionising social interactions. As earlier stated, the telecom/ICT industry alone contributed up to 14% to the Nigerian GDP. The industry attaining this level of influence with a penetration of only 42% is a strong indicator of its economic benefit to the Nigerian economy. As earlier posited, with all of the benefits of the digital revolution, exclusion from access opposes the important theory of social inclusion. Also, it has been acknowledged that ICTs offer a range of fundamental and methodological contributions that empower sustainable development and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals44. With the established link between the economy, social inclusion and ICT/digital tools, efforts towards digital inclusion, protection of rights online and investment in the ICT/telecom industry by the Nigerian government and stakeholders in the industry is of paramount importance.
Promoting the utilization of ICT/telecommunication tools will not be complete without re-emphasizing the State’s responsibility to preserve the rights of its citizens on these platforms. The place of enacting laws and subsidiary legislation that adequately protect the digitally connected and foster digital inclusion cannot be overemphasized. There is also a general sense of distrust in law enforcement agencies and in the judicial system in Nigeria by the public, especially the underprivileged. Along with this distrust is the level of illiteracy which inadvertently affects the understanding of rights, impeding the ability to assert these rights45. In fostering or increasing trust in judicial processes, Nigeria would benefit from awareness campaigns on human rights, offline and online, directed especially at those who may have been deliberately misinformed about their rights, or those who are uninformed about the same, and ensuring access to justice when violations occur.
44 How ICT Can Accelerate the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals by Darine Ameyed, November 8, 2018. Available at https://cutt.ly/ojczSZW . ]Last Accessed 10 January 2021]
45 There is a link between literacy and the assertion of human rights in Nigeria as posited by Apeh, Elaigwu Isaac (Ph.D) in his paper ‘Literacy Promotion for Human Rights Awareness and Protection – The case for Nigeria’, available at https://cutt.ly/fjcs8AS [Last accessed 9th January 2020]