•Bill conflicts with regulatory powers of existing agencies — Lawyers
•Any bills imposing fresh taxes on telcos, evil — ATCON
•Bill will reverse Telecom GDP contribution — ALTON
By Prince Osuagwu, Hi-Tech Editor
An attempt by the National Assembly Joint Committee on ICT and Cyber Security to stage a public hearing last Friday on the controversial National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA Bill, 2021, giving less than a day notice to stakeholders has attracted flaks across the sector.
Although the planned public hearing was later put on hold as the Joint committee couldn’t even form a quorum, the criticism are yet to abate.
Several industry stakeholders have described the attempt as an ambush to hurriedly pass a bill which all practitioners have repeatedly asked the National Assembly to throw away due to its controversial nature.
Some wondered what could be the motive of the person pushing the bill so strongly, knowing it is obviously capable of railroading the gains so far made in the ICT sector.
The proposed NITDA Bill 2021, among other things, aims at changing NITDA from an IT Development Agency, to a regulator of the information technology industry ecosystem.
However, the leadership of the Association of Telecom Companies of Nigeria, ATCON, and its sister group, the Association of Licensed Telecom operators in Nigeria, ALTON could not take any of that. Both are umbrella bodies of ICT practitioners in Nigeria.
ALTON feels that passing the NITDA Bill will increase multiple regulations , complaining that telecom operators pay close to 30 different levies and taxes and may not afford additional levies which the bill will definitely impose on them.
Corroborating ALTON, ATCON said that any Bill imposing fresh taxes on telecoms licensees, is evil.
Meanwhile, in March this year, a webinar tagged ‘Stakeholder engagement for Legal Practitioners in Nigeria on the bill was organised. Almost all the Legal practitioners who were part of webinar also picked holes in the propositions of bill, saying it was not only confusing but also conflicting.
Almost all the participants who said they had taken time to go through the document said it was an attempt to unnecessarily duplicate the regulatory powers of some existing government agencies in the country.
The webinar was put together by the Information and Communication Technology, ICT Committee of the Nigeria Bar Association Section on Business Law, NBA-SBL, in collaboration with the NITDA and Farisad Investment Limited, FIL. It was hosted by the Chief executive Officer of FIL, Mr Sanusi Musa.
It followed an earlier stakeholder engagement meeting also organised by NITDA in Abuja February 28, 2022. Just like the webinar at the weekend, the February engagement was also to consider the bill.
Providing the overview of the essence of the new bill, Director, Legal Service Department at NITDA, Emmanuel Edet, said: “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”
Corroborating him, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami, who was represented by his Technical Adviser, Prof. Saliu Junaidu, said NITDA Act 2007 is one of the laws that required 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. Abdullahi said: “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”.
But all that did not cut a bug with the lawyers who said the bill was standing on a faulty foundation.
Taking the first shot was the then NBA President, Olumide Apata, who, after his brief remark, raised three fundamental concerns; how the Bill will align with the Startup Act, how the NITDA Bill intend to navigate its way within the broad context of regulatory functions of other agencies 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?.
Hardly had Apata who was represented by ICT Committee chairman, NBA-SBL, Rotimi Ogunyemi, dropped the microphone before other legal experts descended on the bill saying it almost generally conflicts with existing regulations 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 and Office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA, among others.
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