Right of Reply: Okoh Aihe’s Error on the NITDA Bill

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By Mohammed Dahiru Lawal

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but the application of rational thinking, reasonable deductions and logical recommendations is what separates the quality and value of an expert perspective from what could be derived from motor park gossip. Okoh Aihe missed the point in his piece on the NITDA Bill.

In March 2021, the Director-General, National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA, Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, proposed the realignment of the Agency’s Act with “tenets and ideals of the fourth Industrial Revolution” and Nigeria’s Digital Economy Policy.

What followed the proposal on 30th August 2021 was an official announcement by NITDA Head of Corporate Affairs and External Relations, Hadiza Umar, calling on all stakeholders in the IT sector to participate in its 2007 Act re-enactment.

She said this had become necessary because the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy, NDEPS, replaced the Nigerian National IT Policy of 2000 that instituted the agency and its activities.

Sadly, what is a clear-cut inclusive agenda formulated by an agency mandated by law to superintend over the nation’s digital and technological evolution and advancement has been warped in a theatre of conspiracy theories championed by accomplished and respected communications experts who should know better.

One imagines what the piece by Aihe, who outrightly condemned a proposed bill that is yet to be deliberated upon by concerned stakeholders and the National Assembly, is trying to achieve.

More embarrassing is the fact that the entire piece of Aihe looks like a weaving of parables and fallacious concoctions meant to create a frame in the mind of unsuspecting readers. His argument was advanced on a template that is completely untrue, claiming that the bill was put forth by NITDA at the detriment of stakeholders.

With due respect to a senior colleague who may have even been a boss or mentor should our paths have crossed outside the virtual world, the entire submission— a hurriedly put up intro, a faulty premise and an irrational conclusion — doesn’t pass off the reality, insight and vision of the proposed bill.

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First off, the agency, in its official statement, emphasised that the bill was undergoing necessary review procedure such as engaging stakeholders before anticipated adoption by the National Assembly and eventual assent by the President.

“This current reality has necessitated the reimagination for the establishment of NITDA. It is a known fact that digital technologies have created new forms of economic activities that have been beneficial to the global economy,” Hadiza noted.

The bill is a work in progress since it is engaging key partners. Asking for it to be trashed without allowing them a chance to make their own contributions is not only insensitive but confirms there are people in some quarters trying to achieve something sinister through the likes of Aihe, who was Head of Public Relations at the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC.

World over, drafts are what they are— DRAFTS: a preliminary version of a piece of writing in order to expand upon, clarify, and modify initial plans and ideas and in the eyes of the law. It is the most important instrument in legal communication.

Rushing to attack an initiative, which is at the preliminary stage and has shown all evidence of going along with the due process, exposes the fact that vested interests are jumping the gun, a move that smacks of a lack of good sense of judgement and patriotism.

The end product of the bill will eventually be passed to the National Assembly for consideration after inputs from IT sector players and the general public. It is not a NITDA monopolised bill as the writer wants Nigerians to think!

Aihe tried to create a non-existent enmity between NITDA and other agencies under the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, when in fact the NCC Executive Vice Chairman/CEO, Professor Umar Garba Danbatta and his colleagues are correlating very well. Everyone saw both men, their colleagues and Minister Isa Ali Pantami at the Abuja office of PRNigeria to launch a book on digital technology.

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In fact, Pantami recognised Danbatta to speak on behalf of heads of agencies present. The synergy is devoid of friction. Why would Aihe offer himself as an agent of bad blood creation between people who have a good understanding? The writer should have exercised discretion considering the position he held at the NCC.

Even if we rely on the leaked amended bill for reference, Aihe failed to point out that Section 1 was very categorical about the purpose of the draft: “To create an effective, impartial, and independent regulatory framework for the development of the Nigerian information technology sector and digital economy, which shall include: (1) promote and implement policies and strategies on national information technology and digital economy, as created by the Government; (2) promote and support initiatives that provide access to digital services in an efficient, inclusive, secure, and affordable manner; (3) encourage local and foreign investments in information technology and digital economy through regulatory interventions; (4) promote the deployment and use of indigenously produced goods, services and platforms for the development of the digital economy;

The objective of the proposed bill continues thus: “(5) promote the use of innovative digital services, systems, practices and emerging technology in Nigeria; (6) promote indigenous research and development in information technology and digital economy; (7) protect the rights and interest of all consumers, investors in the Nigerian information technology and digital economy; (8) ensure digital inclusion for persons with special needs, minors and vulnerable persons; and (9) promote and safeguard national interests, safety and security of citizens and foreigners in the use of information technology and digital services.”

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Of the about 33 sections in the draft amendment, he chooses to dwell only on Section 5, probably for mischief which served as a convenient wrapper to advance his agenda of folly.

The writer failed to differentiate between fines and fees. A fine serves as deterrence to violations while a fee has always been a revenue model of its own right. What should probably be the issue is the limit, which I am certain stakeholders will iron out amongst themselves.

Aihe further tried to discredit the bill in order to achieve his agenda by name dropping some stakeholders that reportedly raised concerns.

We have seen a similar pattern manifest when and online medium claimed that the American Business Council, the chamber representing the interest of US companies and working with local businesses, condemned the bill when in fact they praised it. The Council published a rebuttal on page 21 of the Guardian of Friday, September 3, 2021. Sooner or later, other fallacies will be exposed.

Nigerians must understand there is a need for unreserved support in achieving the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy, NDEPS, especially in boosting the morale of concerned MDAs towards harmony and inter-agency collaboration.

Pantami is no doubt performing wonders in this regard and Danbatta is a highly respected achiever who is also supporting his other brother and colleague, Kashifu Inuwa, the NITDA boss. They should not allow people to come in between them.

Many agree that the bill, which established NITDA as the agency to oversee Nigeria’s technological transformation, is outdated. This past decade, Nigeria has arguably become Africa’s most attractive destination for venture capital.

It is home to Flutterwave, Jumia and a billion-dollar fintech company Interswitch. So if NITDA is coming up with a bill to engage stakeholders for a mutually-acceptable copy, what’s Aihe’s fuss? 

Lawal, development journalist, Coordinator of Network of Advocates for Digital Reporting, NADIR, writes from Kano.

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