The recent draft (Repeal and Re-Enactment) Bill 2021 by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), aims at converting the agency from a development agency to a regulatory agency. This has stirred reactions from Members of the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Association of Telecom Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) and Paradigm Initiative.

NITDA seeks to use the bill to enact an Act that will make the agency have full rights in administration, implementation and regulation of Information Technology Systems and Practice in Nigeria. The concern of the Stakeholders is centered on overlapping regulatory functions between NITDA and the existing industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), if the bill is passed into law.

The bill was presented to members of the Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives on ICT and Cyber Security for public hearing, last week. It was not discussed because it was observed by some committee members improper to hold the public hearing, when the promoters of the bill were absent from the public hearing.

On March 10, 2022, NITDA had invited industry stakeholders to review the draft National Information Technology Development Agency (Reveal and Re-Enactment) Bill 2021 before it was presented to the National Assembly for consideration and enactment as law. Section 1 of the bill states its objectives, explaining that the purpose of the bill was to create an effective, impartial, and independent regulatory framework for the development of the Nigerian information technology sector and digital economy.

The review from industry players reveal that the section lays the foundation of converting NITDA from an IT Development Agency to a regulatory agency. The inclusion of the ‘Digital Economy’ concept in its objectives expands the agency’s frontiers to matters within the exclusive regulatory mandate of the NCC, and will impact on the functions of the commission in Section 4 of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003; that empowers the NCC to regulate communications services that facilitate the digital economy of the nation.

Section 9 of the bill empowers NITDA to develop a framework for regulating the use, development, standardisation, research, and application of information technology, emerging technology and digital services, activities, and systems in Nigeria, but the review puts it that Section 4 (1) (h) of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003, mandates the NCC to develop and monitor performance standards and indices relating to the quality of telephone and other communications services and facilities supplied to consumers in Nigeria having regard to the best international performance indicators. The review therefore explains that the section will create a regulatory overlap for matters that relate to setting standards for communications services in Nigeria.

The bill seeks to enable NITDA to issue permits and authorisation, including renewal, suspension, and revocation conditions to promote free market operation and competition, among others, but in the review, stakeholders explained that such provisions would create unnecessary duplication and an avenue for multiple regulation, as telecommunications operators will be required, under the provisions of the bill, to obtain separate permits or licences from NITDA, in addition to the operating licences issued by NCC. This will result in duplication of functions, over-regulations, and inter-agency conflicts, according to the review. The stakeholders are of the view that NITDA remains a development agency, while NCC remains the industry regulator as enshrined in the NITDA Act 2007 and NCC Act 2003 respectively.

The Chief Executive Officer of Paradigm Initiative, Mr. Gbenga Sesan, made known in a statement that the provisions in the draft bill have far reaching implications for the social media and technology organisations. He further said that Paradigm Initiative is working on a paper that will reveal their opinion on the situation, and it will be submitted to the National Assembly once it is completed.

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