" ITREALMS: Can Lawan, Gbajabiamila kill cockroaches - ITREALMS

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Can Lawan, Gbajabiamila kill cockroaches - ITREALMS

Telecoms Clinic@ITREALMS ... making leadership SENSE with digital news!

The ongoing efforts at enthroning the controversial National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) amendment bill, 2022, is likened to infestation by cockroaches. REMMY NWEKE asked if the National Assembly leadership between Senator Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan and Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila can save Nigerians from this unwanted affliction with their gavels.
Telecoms Clinic@ITERALMS

Preamble:

Scientifically, cockroaches are considered dangerous as an allergen source and asthma trigger, as well as suspected carriers of certain bacteria that could cause illnesses if left on food. And according to the World Health Organization (WHO), cockroaches are “unhygienic scavengers in human settlements.”

So, is the so-called National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) bill 2022, which in fact began its journey as far back as first quarter of 2021, when the plan was reportedly advanced. By the first quarter of 2022, there was a public hearing on this same bill under the guise of the Stakeholders’ Engagement overtly hosted by NITDA on Thursday, 10th March, 2022, which has since become a cockroach in the cupboard of the National Assembly led by the duo of Senator Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan as the president of Senate and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

For those oblivious of the foregoing, the fact that a review of the NITDA (repeal and re-enactment) bill 2021/22, shows a homogeneous defects capable of causing unhygenic ailments to the body of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) in the country, while exogenously pointing at the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy (MoCDE) as the bane of this emerging cancer.

Globally of note, ICT is regulated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a specialised agency of the United Nations, which is what the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is to the ICT sector in the country.

Unhygenic ailments:
A cursory look at the bill indicated that for instance, on the objectives of the bill as captured in Section 1, which read: "The purpose of this Act is to create an effective, impartial, and independent regulatory framework for the development of the Nigerian information technology sector and digital economy." Noteworthy is that the above clause was not contained in NITDA 2007 provisions before now, thus it lays the foundation of converting NITDA from an IT Development Agency to a regulatory outfit.

Also, the inclusion of the concept of ‘Digital Economy’ as part of its regulatory purview expands its frontiers to matters within the exclusive regulatory mandate of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), for instance, which is capable of impacting on the Commission’s functions in Section 4 of the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003; that empowers the Commission to regulate communications services that drive the digital economy.

And given that the bill so far has not adequately defined "Digital Economy" as contained in Clause 33. But even as it attempted to do so in Section 1 (a) by stating: "promote and implement policies and strategies on national information technology and digital economy, as may be issued by the Government; ..." as part of its policy implementation and strategies tend to expand its frontiers to matters within the exclusive regulatory mandate of the NCC.

Also noteworthy is that Section 1 (b) which reads: “promoting and supporting initiatives that provide access to digital services in an efficient, inclusive, secure, and affordable manner;” thus attempts to usurp the current access to digital services which is based principally on mobile internet, that is, within the regulatory purview of the telecoms regulator, NCC, hence, this provision is in direct conflict with Section 3 of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003.

What’s digital services:

For avoidance of doubt, experts have defined digital services as services that could be delivered through an information infrastructure, such as the internet. They include the delivery of digital information; that is data or content, and transactional services, for example, online forms, benefits applications across a variety of platforms, devices and delivery mechanisms, such as via websites, mobile applications, and social media.

In other words. all services are now digital including voice, Short Messaging Service (SMS), data video, Value Added Service (VAS) and other service transmitted via the telecom networks are done via digital signals and thus qualify as digital services. The same applies to the systems and platforms used to process and transport these signals, also referred to as digital systems and platforms. It is not possible to disaggregate.

Another foreign element in the current NITDA bill is Section 1 (c) which states "encouraging local and foreign investments in information technology and digital economy through regulatory interventions" which is a mirrored copy of Section 4 (1) (a) of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 that mandates the NCC to facilitate investment in communications services and a major part of the digital economy is within that parameter. Therefore, this section will create a regulatory overlap for matters that relate to communications services.

Yet, another foreign element was discovered in Section 1 (d) inter alia "promoting the deployment and use of indigenously produced goods, services and platforms for the development of the digital economy" which industry observers noted that the generic use of ‘services’ and ‘platforms’ will bring current licensees of the NCC under the regulatory purview of NITDA.

Laughable definition of foreign digital platforms:

Equally of note is that the Bill as presented in Clause 33 defines “Platform” to refer to “Foreign digital platform targeting the Nigerian market”. This much has been described as laughable definition which is clearly alluding to the internet and the platform providers being enabled by internet services provided by the licensees of the NCC, and thereby insisted that this will overlap with NCC function to encourage manufacturing of communications devices and systems in the country.

Another misdemeanour of NITDA bill 2022 was discovered in Section 1 (e): "promoting the use of innovative digital services, systems, practices and emerging technology in Nigeria" This, industry analysts said is a generic use of ‘digital services’ and ‘emerging technologies’ that is capable of bringing current licensees of NCC under the regulatory purview of NITDA.

The wrap-around:

Maintaining that the broad meaning of the two concepts will be a wrap-around on current service areas of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and the services riding on their platforms as Value Added Services (VAS), equally licensed by NCC. An evidence there is a cockroach in this cupboard of NITDA bill before the National Assembly.

Section 1 (f) stated "promoting indigenous research and development in information technology and digital economy;" and from layman view the inclusion of the concept of ‘Digital Economy’ as part of its research and development expands its frontiers to matters within the exclusive regulatory mandate of NCC. Can the National Assembly under the leadership of Senator Lawan and Hon. Gbajabiamila see how the cockroaches are crawling.

Then, Section 1 (g) of NITDA bill 2022 states "protecting the rights and interest of all consumers, investors in the Nigerian information technology and digital economy" which industry analysts see as a reflection of the provisions of Section 4 (1) (b) of NCC Act 2003 that mandated the Commission to protect and promote the interests of consumers against unfair practices “including but not limited to matters relating to tariffs and charges for and the availability and quality of communications services, equipment and facilities.”

Have you seen the cockroaches?

They posited that this section will create another regulatory overlap for matters that relate to consumers of communications services. This further creates areas of injurious overlap with NCC functions as it concerns Consumer Affairs and Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement. Can someone at NASS confirm then that he or she has not seen the cockroaches in NASS cupboard over this 2022 NITDA controversial bill.

Assuming you have not seen above foreign bodies as outlined, wait until you see Section 9 (d) of NITDA bill 2022, which says, to "develop a framework for the use of digital signatures, digital contracts and other forms of digital transactions or interactions that may require authentication."

Above generic use of ‘digital transactions and interactions’ will bring current licensees of the NCC under the regulatory purview of NITDA. Most digital transactions and interactions are driven by internet platforms that are majorly based on services provided by the ISPs and MNOs; that are current licensees of Communications Commission. Are you still searching for the cockroaches?

Dear Ahmad and Femi, the above also overlaps with the functions of New Media and Information Security (NMIS) Department of the Commission as it concerns licensees and other entities that connect to the communications networks of licensees.

Then, this happens in Section 9(e): "issue regulations, guidelines, frameworks, directives, and standards to facilitate the establishment and maintenance of appropriate infrastructure, and information technology system, to support the development of digital service application in Nigeria" which has become obvious cross-over to the regulatory functions of NCC.

Who needs a soothsayer?

Mere thought of above provision does not require a soothsayer to predict the contentiousness of this NITDA's bill that clamours for amendment, because its clear the infrastructure that drives the ‘digital services’ is on matters related to physical and non-physical elements that facilitate internet services in Nigeria, which are unequivocally within the purview of NCC currently.

Even as NITDA's Section 9(e) conflicts with the provisions of Section 157 of NCA 2003 that defines “Communications sector” or "market" as “an economic sector or market for a network service, or an applications service, or for goods or services used in conjunction with a network service or an applications service, or for access to facilities used in conjunction with either a network service or an applications service.”

Mr. President, Honourable Speaker, members of the National Assembly, and distinguished Nigerian stakeholders, do you still need to think twice on this NITDA infested bill for it to get its place in the trashcan? Any further delays will amount to wasting the resources we were told was meagre in 2019 and even more miserable in last quarter of 2022 with Nigeria's total public debt profile at N44,064,310.79 as at September 2022; cutting across N17,148,537.88 for the total external debts while total domestic debt stood at N21,551,924.51.

However, as said by the World Health Organization (WHO), cockroaches are known or suspected carriers of the microorganisms that could cause coughing, diarrhea, fever, muscle, joint pain, nausea, sneezing, vomiting, wheezing to name a few. And very lethal among these is that cockroaches are insects with six long legs, two long antennae, and two pairs of wings. Depending though on the type, an adult cockroach measures about 1/2 to 1 inch long.

Conclusion:

Before penning down on this piece, just liken those six long legs of cockroach to this NITDA awful bill as having tentacles to the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP), NCC, Galaxy Backbone Limited, Nigerian Postal Services (NIPOST), National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), FinTech industry and telecoms services’ consumers, to name a few.

Those pushing for this obnoxious bill have not told Nigerians what they did with NITDA Fund that accrued since 2015 till date, bearing in mind that all corporate organisations with revenue in excess of N100 million contributes 1% of their Profit Before Tax (PBT) to this fund annually as enshrined in the NITDA Act of 2007. How far?

Like everyone is expected to react when cockroaches invade their cupboards and by extension, the sitting arena at home, likewise this NITDA bill of 2022 should be seen. It deserves nothing other than trashing it for good of ICT development and Nigeria before the infamy will inflict undue afflictions to ubiquitous infrastructure of this century.

This push definitely cannot come from NITDA as an institution but from those who wanted to pocket the ICT through the backdoor of regulation, including NCC among others.

This situation should also get all men and women of goodwill concerned that like the stamp duty scam, this bill will be the greatest of the cage, if not tamed before it passes for an Act, considering the insidious agenda it harbours.

Once bitten with the insidious stamp duty, which is subject for another day, twice this industry must be shy by waking up.

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Imagine when half of the telecommunications 214,350,098 subscribers as at October 2022, stand-up against this NITDA bill bearing in mind the bill’s implications, definitely something will give way. The earlier the message is made clear to the proponents of diabolical bill as such, the less distraction it becomes and better for this ICT industry and telecoms sector as the powerhouse.

One hopes the duo of Lawan and Gbajabiamila still have their gavels intact? A gavel is a small hammer with which an auctioneer, a judge, or the chair of a meeting hits a surface to call for attention or order, nowadays in parliament. If yes, can you kill this cockroach for us all?


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