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Massive rejections have faced the recent move by the National Assembly to hurriedly pass the proposed NITDA Amendment Bill 2021into law.
Recall that while many Nigerians are concerned with activities to roundup the year, a public notice by the Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives in ICT and Cyber Security emerged on December 22, 2022, inviting stakeholders and members of the general public to the one-day public hearing (the next day on 23rd December) to discuss the NITDA Amendment Bill 2021 was signed by the Clerk to the Senate Committee on ICT and Cyber Security, Ayoh Ogon and the Clerk, House Committee on ICT, Mrs. Abosi Onyesikadi Lolo.
Specifically, the public hearing is on “A bill for an Act to Repeal the National Information Technology Development Agency Act No. 28, 2007 and enact the NITDA Act to provide for the Administration, Implementation and Regulation of Information Technology Systems and Practices, as well as Digital Economy in Nigeria and for Related Matters, 2022.”
No doubt, the notice was considered not only short for key stakeholders including representatives of Ministries Departments and Agencies, Civil Society Organisatons (CSOs), business community and the general public to make meaningful preparation to make inputs on the proposed Bill, but an official ambush as the timing was also considered inappropriate.
Besides, upon the publication of the 24 hours public notice on December 22, 2022, stakeholders from MDAs of the Federal and State governments, the entire business community, especially players in the ICT/telecoms industry, as well as the general public have expressed ‘grave concerns’ on the rationale for the short public notice for an important assignment centring on a bill, whose provisions have become a subject of controversies arising from overlapping provisions in the Bill with functions of other existing government agencies.
In all ramifications, stakeholders kicked against the 24 hours public notice given by the National Assembly to host the republic hearing on the Bill, being championed by NITDA, the agency established in 2007 to see to the Information Technology Policies formulation and implementation across the country.
It is important to recall that during a March 2022 webinar, the President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Olumide Apata, who was represented by ICT Committee Chairman of NBA- Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) Chairman, Rotimi Ogunyemi, raised three fundamental concerns on the proposed Bill, central of which was how the NITDA Bill intends to navigate its way within the broad context of other regulatory functions of other regulatory agencies to eschew functions overlap; and the impact of the harsh penalties for violation of certain sections of the Bill on the ICT business environment
On the other hand, CPN in a statement, signed by its Registrar/Secretary to Council, Muhammad Bello Aliyu, had said it observed that the NITDA Bill 2021 “arrogates powers of several other regulatory agencies to NITDA, which is an infringement on the statutory powers of other agencies of government like CPN, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Galaxy backbone, Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), the National Universities Commission (NUC), among others.”
CPN recalled that industry stakeholders, who attended an earlier meeting held by NITDA in February, 2022, were unanimous in their opinions that several sections in the proposed NITDA Bill was a usurpation of the statutory powers of other agencies of government that had been in existence before NITDA, and which have been performing their statutory roles.
According to the group, “For instance, Section 6, 13, 20, 21, and 22, which talked about NITDA’s power, licensing and authorisations, offences and penalties, among others, raised some pertinent issues.
“Section 6 arrogated new powers to NITDA, which included the ability to fix licensing and authorisation charges, collect fees and penalties and issue contravention notices and non-compliance with the Act,” the body stated.
At that seating, all the agencies present during the February 2022 stakeholders’ engagement convened by NITDA, were unanimous in their opinion that the offending sections of the proposed NITDA Bill, giving NITDA powers to perform other agencies’ functions, should be expunged.
At the end of the stakeholders’ seating, it was agreed that NITDA should stick to its role as an IT development agency and stop seeking regulatory roles since there is so much that is yet to be done under information technology development in the country than veering into regulatory roles.
Industry observers maintained that the amendment as currently sort after would among other things, create confusion with the activities of other agencies especially the lead telecoms regulatory agency, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).