Stakeholders that gathered to discuss the pending proposed NITDA Repeal and Re-enact Bill 2021 and its imperative to the digital economy drive of the federal government, unanimously called on the National Assembly to discard the Bill and maintain the 2007 NITDA Act, as the new Bill, if passed as it is, will only create chaos in ICT regulation, and retard growth in the sector, and the nation as a whole.
Riding on the theme “NITDA Act: Towards the Sustainability of Nigeria’s Digital Economy Drive,” the stakeholders noted the adverse implications of the Bill, which will cloud over the positive intent of the Bill.
The event which took place in Lagos on Thursday, was meant to review the pending Bill and give direction to issues that had become controversial.
It will be recalled that in August 2021, the National Information Technology Development Agency Bill (the “NITDA Bill”), which proposes to repeal and amend the extant NITDA Act, was released.
Tracing the growth of communications technology in Nigeria, CEO of Jidaw Systems, Engr. Jide Awe noted that the amendment Bill was aimed at ensuring that the gains of technology is preserved through job creation, accelerated economic growth, and improved quality of life for citizens. He pointed out that the digital economy has grown, and growth factors require attention.
Awe cautioned that the sustainability of Nigeria’s Digital Economy Drive is crucial as it is a key driver of innovation and sustainable development, therefore developments, regulatory interests, sustainability issues, and challenges must be considered in the debate on what to do with the proposed Bill.
“NITDA Bill expectations are critical to the sustainability of Nigeria’s digital economy drive. Disruption and innovation demand different approaches,” he propositioned while admitting that the Bill needs to be stopped and restructured.
In her submission, Executive Assistant, Paradign Initiative Nigeria (PIN), a Civil Society organisation, Peculiar Showale, said: “A sector-by-sector review of the proposed (Repeal & Re-Enactment) Bill 2022 by the Joint Senate and House Committee on Information Communications Technology (ICT) makes the bill appear to be an attempt to unnecessarily duplicate the regulatory powers of some existing government agencies in the country. PIN has asked the court to determine whether the agency had the power to issue some of the controversial regulations.
While the NITDA Bill seeks to promote and regulate the development of the Nigerian Technology sector, its implementation could potentially create regulatory and compliance hurdles for businesses in the digital economy space, potentially discouraging new entrants and leading to a slowdown in the industry’s growth.”
While noting that some of the provisions of the NITDA Bill have not been clearly defined, leaving room for misinterpretation and inconsistency in the application of the regulations, Showale said this could cause confusion and uncertainty for businesses operating in the digital economy sector.
She further posited that there should not be law that inhibits people from expressing themselves, which NITDA Bill tends to do.
Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), who was represented by the Executive Secretary, Mr. Gbolahan Awonuga disclosed that ALTON has already submitted its response to the Bill, insisting that NITDA is a developmental agency and should focus on innovative inventions like drones, ATMs , among other ICT innovations by young Nigerians. “This should be their responsibility. ALTON won’t allow a sentimental Bill to destroy the achievements of the industry over the past decades. ALTON will go to court if passed as it is. Unless the Bill is amended, it will not see the light of day.”
Making their views known in a Panel Discussion, the stakeholders were unanimous in their call for NITDA to review the Bill and re-present it, expunging conflicting regulatory duties the Bill grants the Agency.
In his position, CEO of ICT Derivatives Limited, Mr. Ayoola Babatunde Oke charged NITDA to withdraw the Bill and re-examine it, replacing “regulation” as postulated in the Bill with “development”, arguing that there are already regulators in the areas NITDA wants to regulate. “NITDA should develop business processes which Nigeria should benefit from just like Brazil, Russia, India and China.”
He queried the purpose of the Bill noting that a Bill can only be introduced when there is a need for a new law or need for a review of an existing law.
“The first thing I paid attention to in the draft bill was the functions of NITDA to see if the functions had changed and indeed it has completely been altered to the point that the first 7 functions of NITDA under the new bill did not exist in the current law.
In the new bill there is now a heavy present of regulatory functions and powers and this raises the question if NITDA want to continue as a Developmental Agency or a Regulatory Agency or both.”
While admitting that policies and laws should change considering changes in technologies, Partner at PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Kenneth Erikume said: “There should always be gaps in regulation because technology evolves. But should NITDA be the one to decide that?”
Legal Practitioner and Partner at Crimson Partners, Mr. Ben Nwaroh, said the Bill should be withdrawn and shoudn’t be called a “repeal and enactment Bill”. He further pointed out that about 80% of the content of the Bill was copied from an existing Act in the same industry. “We need to withdraw the Bill, it is already polluted. It won’t achieve the result we desire. It can be revisited, because this is a case study of how not to present and pass a Bill.”
President, Association of Telecommunication Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Tony Emoekpere, represented by the Executive Secretary of the Association, Ajibola Olude had earlier noted that the some of the negative fallouts of the passage of the Bill as it is presented will be the impact it will have on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as it will encourage multiple taxation which the industry is trying to fight against.. He noted that the passage will also erode the achievements recorded in the past 20 years in the telecom sector.
Making his contributions, Managing Partner, Classicus Law Practice, Olusola Akinyemi opined that the incoming 10th National Assembly should take into account other industry stakeholders’ contributions before taking a decision on the Bill. He wondered why the Bill had no feel of infuts from network operators, startups, and other stakeholders.
The convener, who is the Editor, Business Metrics Nigeria and Lead Executive, PIAFo, Omobayo Azeez had in his opening speech explained that “PIAFo is a midpoint dialogue platform for concerned parties to put aside their differences and side, instead, with the overall interest of the digital economy landscape in order to build on the gains so far recorded in the sector.”
Azeez observed that in the last quarter of 2022, the sector contributed 16.22% to the country’s GDP, rising from 15.35% in the third quarter of the year. In the preceding second quarter, total ICT contribution to GDP was higher at 18.94%.
Similarly, Nigeria’s digital economy is estimated to have attracted over $4.4 billion in investments in the last four years. As impressive as these figures may sound, he said the sector has not yet reached its full potential and if well-protected from policy missteps, its future contributions will be higher.
“This is why this forum becomes imperative – to ensure the sustainability of the ICT sector and sustain Nigeria’s digital economy growth through effective dialogue among stakeholders.”
The NITDA Repeal and Re-enact Bill 2021, which was introduced as Executive Bill to replace the NITDA Act 2007, is currently on the floor of the National Assembly awaiting further hearings.
NITDA was absent at the forum.
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