When president Muhammadu Buhari signs the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill into law, Nigeria will have its first piece of legislation designed to protect the expression of the constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of expression and association online.
That is, in one sentence, the essence of the well detailed and well defined articles and subsections in the bill which has passed through all the necessary stages of legislative consideration and scrutiny since it was first read in the House of Representatives in August 2016.
On the heels of a campaign in some circles at the time to regulate the online space from “hate speech” leading to a suggestion of what was later called an “anti-social media bill”, civil society groups recognised the dangers which would accrue from such measures within a democratic setting. A bill to regulate conversations online would necessarily involve the use of shut-downs and the exclusion of certain lines of conversation by the government according to its interests, both of which would go against the fundamental rights of expression as enshrined in the nation’s law.
In collaboration with Paradigm Initiative and following robust deliberations from the Internet Freedom Forum 2016, Chukwuemeka Ujam – a PhD holder in Security and Biometrics who turned forty-four this month – sponsored the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill on the House of Representatives, thus becoming the rallying point and assumed leadership on the policy conversations concerning the rights of citizens online. Mr Ujam, who represents Nkanu East/Nkanu West federal constituency from Enugu state, guided the technical and policy arguments in support of the legislation, leveraging on experience accumulated from nearly two decades of practice in electronics, information and communications as well as a grounded understanding of systems management. With the process initiated in 2016, Ujam returned to the Internet Freedom Forum in 2017 to continue the conversation with stakeholders on the value of the bill, where he furthered the idea that digital rights were only a necessary consequence for the democratic ideals desired by Nigerians with its expected developmental gains.
Hon. Chukwuemeka Ujam says he'll fight to ensure the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill is read atleast twice on the floor this year #IFF2016
— Tolu Adeleru Balogun (@tolulopeab) March 9, 2016
Covering crucial aspects from confidentiality to privacy protections, anonymity and whistleblowing, the Digital Rights and Freedom bill aims to provide good-willed Nigerians who are taking advantage of online platforms to contribute to national development a formidable insurance against discrimination, bullying, interference, victimization and unlawful surveillance. Conscious that the administrators of state could attempt to restrict criticism against it under unfavorable circumstances, the bill meets a demand for a legal base to give Nigerians a broader voice on the development of their country. Also important is the safeguard the bill provides against potential exploitation by internet service providers or data merchants in terms of unauthorized sale of disclosure of users’ private information saved on cloud storage devices.
Unless proven indispensable for a criminal investigation, every DM sent is secure, every Whatsapp chat is only for the parties involved (think the political meetings which now hold on the platform).
The values of the bill are as laudable as the efforts put into getting it to the stage it is at now, by the various organizations who have supported it and certainly by Mr Ujam who had the patriotism and sense of relevance to champion it. An achievement of such importance for a first term legislator from the minority party in parliament is certainly commendable, yet more by one young and proven in his expertise. It should be the way to go, and it can be hoped that more of the same happens in the future.