Digital rights experts have urged African countries to emulate Nigeria by passing the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill into law in their respective nations.
It will be recalled that the bill was recently passed by the Nigerian National Assembly.
The experts made this call at the 6th Internet Freedom Forum, an international conference organised by Paradigm Initiative, held at the NAF Conference Centre, Abuja.
The experts, who lauded the Nigerian lawmakers, also described the passage of the bill into law as a step in the good direction in strengthening digital rights on the continent.
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.”
Also speaking, the Paradigm Initiative’s Digital Rights Program Manager, Adeboye Adegoke, said: “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 protecting citizens’ rights and also great for the economy as it would energise the tech industry.”
The Lead Commercial Attorney, Microsoft MEA Emerging Markets, John Edokpolor, also urged 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," Edokpolor said.
The Forum also discussed the “cat and mouse” relationship between the government and media in the digital age.
Speaking at the session dedicated to the theme, the Regional Director of Article 19 Eastern Africa, Henry Maina, said: “Nigeria remains one of the many African countries which still retain criminal libel laws, an unfortunate reality that simply erodes freedom.”
In his remark, the Special Assistant to the Nigerian Vice-President on Digital Media, Tolu Ogunlesi, 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,” he posited.
The publisher of Premium Times, Dapo Olorunyomi, also noted that the media was already accountable and it was the government that needs to improve transparency and its proactiveness in releasing information.
The Internet Freedom Forum (IFF) also had a session dedicated to discussing the impact of intentional internet disruptions on the economy. The session, which was coordinated by the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT) at Strathmore University, Kenya, analysed 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 people and economies.
Other speakers at the event include Gbenga Sesan, Tolu Adeleru-Balogun of Naija Info, Ana Brandusescu of Web Foundation, and Titi Akinsanmi of Google.
The Forum also had in attendance experts from about forty countries in Africa and beyond.