NITDA Bill and Entrenchment of Cyber-Security
By Mukhtar Ya’u Madobi
TECHDIGEST – In a bid to ensure that sanity is maintained in Nigeria’s internet circuit, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), in June 2022, unveiled a Code of Practice for Online Platforms.
The move is aimed at regulating the online platforms’ mode of operations to checkmate the eruption of any sort of crisis in the nation’s ICT sector.
The Code of Practice was developed in collaboration with relevant stakeholders in the industry, including the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), as well as input from Interactive Computer Service Platforms (also known as Tech Giants) such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Google, and Tik Tok amongst others.
Surprisingly, before the usual blind critics could fault the NITDA’s code, social media giants in Europe agreed to take a tougher line against disinformation including deep fakes and fake accounts, under an updated EU code of practice or face hefty fines.
Meanwhile, by the Nigerian law, Section 6 of the NITDA Act 2007 mandated the agency to standardize, coordinate, and develop regulatory frameworks for all Information Technology (IT) practices in Nigeria.
It was, therefore, not surprise that, in accordance with its mandates, President Muhammadu Buhari directed NITDA to develop a Code of Practice for Online Platforms in collaboration with relevant Regulatory Agencies and Stakeholders.
As a respected regulatory body, NITDA played major roles in ensuring that one of the tech giants, Twitter, accepted all conditions laid out by Nigeria to check fake news and hate speech after the EndSARS violent protests.
While tapping from the benefits and dividends brought about by these Tech Giants platforms, stakeholders and regulators should not be unmindful of the negative effects associated with their unrestricted activities, especially in a multicultural society like Nigeria which is segmented along religious, ethnic and regional divides.
Promoting this ugly trend among the citizens is the lack of proper mechanism or legal framework by the government or any other institutions to oversee and regulate the conduct and affairs of these international Tech Giants.
It is for the above and other reasons that a public hearing was convened by the National Assembly (NASS) Joint Committee on ICT and Cyber Security on a Bill for an Act to Repeal the National Information Technology Development Agency Act 2007 and to Enact the National Information Technology Development Agency Act 2021.
For the record, NITDA is an agency established in 2007 with a clear objective of monitoring the Information Technology Policies formulation and implementation across the country.
With this enshrined mandate, the agency is expected to oversee the flow of information across media space for the purpose of ensuring public safety and security as well as national development.
However, the context of national security is wider in dimensions as to not only an act of safeguarding the lives and properties of individuals, but also included the adequate safety of other developmental sectors including the internet which are very critical and continue to remain the backbone of nation building.
Nowadays, championed by the advancement in technological innovations coupled with easy accessibility to network, a lot of internet-assisted crimes (aka cybercrimes) have continued to dragging national security across the nation’s including Nigeria to the mud. The heinous act has consistently been a threat due to its implications on the national economy.
For example, now that Nigeria is pushing towards a cashless economy in which monetary transactions are being carried out through the internet, the incidence of cybercrimes ought to increase if appropriate measures of curtailing the act are not put in place and implemented.
The Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) estimated that 600 billion US Dollars is lost to cybercrime each year, an increase from a 2014 study that put global losses at about 445 billion US dollars.
In 2018, commercial banks in Nigeria lost a cumulative N15 billion ($39 million) to electronic fraud and cybercrime. This was a 537 per cent increase on the N2.37 billion loss recorded in 2017. In the same period in 2018, over 25,043 bank customers and depositors lost N1.9 billion to cyber fraud, with fraud incidents rising by 55 per cent from the previous year’s 17,600.
Between July and September 2020, Nigerian banks, according to Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement Systems (NIBSS), lost N3.5 billion to fraud-related incidents, representing a 534-per cent increase from the same period in 2019, when it was N552 million.
Also, Nigeria’s Consumer Awareness and Financial Enlightenment Initiative (CAFEi) had projected a $6 trillion loss by 2030 to cybercrime within and outside Nigeria These crimes are committed mostly through phishing and identity theft.
Indeed, cybercrime has been projected to worsen as e-payment transactions gain more patronage. Almost on a daily basis, bank customers complain of hacked accounts, where criminals wipe out all their life savings.
It is evident that all these forms of crimes constitute serious danger to our economic security.
Not only that, the emergence of online social media platforms (such as Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, Reddit etc.) have made it feasible for information to be disseminated easily without impediments, a development which also when abused will surely compromise our cyber and national security.
Over the years, social media platforms in Nigeria have been misused as perfect avenues for disseminating dangerous information capable of compromising national security, which threatened the existence of the country as a corporate entity.
It is worrisome to learn that our public space is continuously being polluted on a daily basis with unwholesome contents capable of heating up the polity. These include but are not limited to hate speeches, fake news, misinformation and disinformation, and a host of others.
Agitators and other ethno-religious bigots have been utilizing social media handles for their vicious campaigns capable of inciting genocidal violence in Nigeria. It is on this note that in 2021, the Federal Government was left with no other choice than banning the operations of micro-blogging sites, i.e., Twitter due to their prominent role in transmitting ‘dangerous contents’ with potential to distort public peace and security of Nigeria.
Online platforms have also been serving as avenues for making awareness and contact mobilization for a function capable of threatening national security.
It can be remembered how the prominent role played by social media platforms had aggravated the October 2020 youth EndSARS protest in Nigeria where a lot of fake news and inciting comments circulated via Twitter and Facebook were able to project what started earlier as peaceful demonstration to an upheaval which led to killing of civilians, security forces and destruction of private and public properties.
It is still fresh in our minds, how Soliu Majekodunmi, an Ogun teenager who was arrested in January, 2022, on the account of slaughtering his girlfriend, Sofiyah, for suspected money ritual purposes made a daunting revelations that he was able to learn the practice through a Facebook post.
Also, various tactics and strategies on how to commit stealing, yahoo – yahoo, kidnapping, cultism, etc. are being presented in form of comedies across media platforms all in the name of entertainment while on the other hand ignoring the negative effects it might constitute on the minds and cognitive thinking of many people especially the younger ones who might consider it as normal doings and embrace it, an act that will further worsen our security in future.
It is against these backgrounds that the mandates of NITDA need to be redesigned and reoriented in order to contain these emerging national internet-assisted security threats through adequate monitoring of ICT and internet space. Thus, this is just one out of thousands justifications on why the NITDA Act 2007 ought to be repealed.
Specifically, the bill is titled “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.”
While justifying the need for the Bill, Director-General of NITDA, Malam Kashifu Abdullahi Inuwa, 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”.
In the new amended bill, Section 20(4) expands the scope of investigatory powers of the Agency to detect misuse or misapplication of technology or databases. Also, Section 20(5) empowers the agency to safeguard indigenous content and use unverified technology, which may constitute risk to the entire economy.
Looking at the above twins subsections, it is clear to decipher that the amended bill is aimed to promote and safeguard national interest, safety and security of citizens and foreigners in the use of information technology and digital services in every area of our national life, including but not limited to governance, commerce, education, vocation amongst others.
When pass into law, the amended bill in collaboration with the NITDA’s code of practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms/Internet Intermediaries will provide a guided policy for tracking online content for safeguarding our internet space thereby curbing cybercrimes and enhancing national security.
MUKHTAR is the author of a book on “National Security Strategies” and is a staff writer with the Emergency Digest. He wrote from Kano.