Some legal experts in the country are critical of the proposed National Information technology Development Agency (Repeal and Re-Enactment) Bill 2021 and have called on the drafters of the Bill to address areas of regulatory conflict with existing regulatory powers and functions of other agencies.
The legal experts, who believe that the Bill has provisions overlapping on the regulatory functions of other agencies, also observed that a number of the provisions in the Bill are ambiguous, unclear, nebulous, fluid and capable of exerting substantial regulatory conflict in the system.
Speaking at a webinar on ‘Stakeholders’ Engagement for Legal Practitioners in Nigeria on National Information Technology Development Agency Bill, 2021’ two days ago, the lawyers called for the outright expunging of the conflicting sections from the Bill, advising NITDA to collaborate with other agencies in some critical areas of regulations, rather than interloping into their regulatory arena.
For the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olumide Apata, three fundamental concerns must be looked into in the NITDA’s proposed Bill. The concerns, according to him were around how the Bill will align with the Startup Bill before the National Assembly, how the NITDA Bill intend to navigate its way within the broadband context of other regulatory functions to avoid overlapping of functions; and what will be the implications of the harsh penalties for violation of certain sections of the Bill on the ICT business environment.
Other legal experts spoke on other areas of conflict of the proposed NITDA Bill with existing legations of some other organisations including the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Computer Professional Registration Council of Nigeria (CPN), Federal Completion and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unity (NFIU), Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), among others.
Each of the Act establishing all these existing agencies was looked into vis-à-vis the new provisions in the NITDA Bill and it was unanimously expressed by the legal stakeholders that there were regulatory conflicts that may be detrimental to the peaceful regulatory atmosphere being experienced in the nation’s digital economy space.
The stakeholders further stated that NITDA is understood to be an ICT policy development and implementation agency and should not unnecessarily arrogate regulatory powers, which are already being exercised by other agencies, to itself, through the controversial Bill.
The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami had earlier justified the need for the review of the NITDA Act, stressing that NITDA Act 2007 is one of the laws that require a repeal and re-enactment in order to keep it in tune with the developmental regulation direction of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), 2020-2030.
Also justifying the need for the Bill, Director-General of NITDA, Kashifu Abdullahi, said the scope of ICT has widened over the years with a lot of convergence and expansion in technology platforms being used by businesses and governments for delivery services.
“Considering that NITDA Act is almost 16 years old, we consider it necessary to keep the Act up-to-date with the current reality in the Nigerian digital economy space,” he said.
Meanwhile, Director, Legal Service Department at NITDA, Emmanuel Edet, had earlier admitted that NITDA is aware that some of the areas the agency would like to be regulating fall into the existing regulatory functions of some agencies.
“What we are trying to do at NITDA is to ensure proper alignment with the management of the ever-expanding ICT ecosystem and maximally protect the users of digital services, thereby bridging the gap in the digital economy without necessarily straying into the regulatory power of other existing regulatory agencies,” Edet said.