The Position of Nigeria’s Cyber Laws on Cyberbullying, Cyberstalking, Cybersquatting and Other Related Offences

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By Samson Dada Esq.

INTRODUCTION

Today, a momentous number of people across the globe have become cyber-creatures. A lot of Nigerians, across all age categories, also share this same fate as we all spend a significant amount of time online. Hence, it is no longer news that as the cyberspace world expands, so does cybercrime in Nigeria and across the globe.

In Nigeria, the major legislation that creates a comprehensive legal, regulatory and institutional framework regulating cybercrimes is the ‘Cybercrimes (Prohibition and Prevention) Act, 2015’. Some of the major cyber menaces that this Act unequivocally prohibits, asides the other numerous cybercrimes and illicit online actives, are cyberbullying, cyberstalking and cybersquatting. This is due to its seemingly increasing and uncontrollable phenomenon.

Cyberbullying is simply an act of harming or harassing a person using information technology thereby using insulting remarks and threatening messages sent by e-mail or spreading rumors about the person either by e-mails or social networking site. It also includes posting embarrassing photos and videos to hurt the any person or making derogatory remarks against the person’s gender, race, religion, or nationality. Also, Cyberstalking refers to an act where a person uses the internet and other technologies to harass or stalk another person online, by using electronic communication devices like mobile phones, instant messaging or messages posted to a website or a discussion group for reason of anger, revenge or control. It can also be simply said to be the use of electronic communications to harass or frighten someone and is often methodical, deliberate, and persistent. Moreover, the word ‘cyberbullying’ is often used interchangeably with ‘cyber stalking’. On the other hand, Cybersquatting refers to a situation where an individual registers a domain name in bad faith with the intention to profit from the goodwill of someone else’s brand, trademark or company name.

This article shall expressly analyze the provisions of Nigeria’s Cyber Laws that prohibits these offences and other related offences such as racist, xenophobic and defamatory materials published on the internet. This article shall also state the punishments for each of the above crimes and the different actions and remedies available to the respective victims of these offences.

THE POSITION OF THE CYBERCRIME ACT ON CYBERBULLYING AND CYBERSTALKING

The Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act 2015 uses the word “cyber stalking” which it defines as any course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. By the provisions of the Act, the transmission of any communication through the means of a computer to bully, threaten or harass another person where such communication places another person in fear of death, violence or bodily harm amounts to cyber stalking.

The Act inter alia criminalizes and provides for a punishment of not more than N7,000,000.00 fine or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment to any person who knowingly or intentionally sends a message by means of computer which is grossly offensive, pornographic or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character having knowing same to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another.[1]

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The Act further proscribes a punishment of a term of 10 years and/or a minimum of N25,000,000.00 fine for anyone who further bully, threaten or harass another person, where such communication places another person in fear of death, violence or bodily harm by intentionally transmitting through a computer system any information containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to harm the person, or any demand or request for a ransom for the release of any kidnapped person, to extort the person, firm, association or corporation.[2]

In addition, the Act expressly provides in for an imprisonment for a term of 5 years and or a minimum fine of N15,000,000.00 for anyone who intentionally transmit any information through a computer that contains any threat to harm the property or reputation of the addressee or of another or the reputation of a deceased person or any threat to accuse the addressee or any other person of a crime, to extort from any person, firm association or corporation any money or other things of value.[3]

Furthermore, a court sentencing or otherwise dealing with a person convicted of any of the offences above may also make an order, which may, for the purpose of protecting the victim or victims of the offence, or any other person mentioned in the order, from further conduct which amounts to harassment or will cause fear of violence, death or bodily harm and prohibit the defendant from doing anything described/specified in the order. Where the person does anything which he is prohibited from doing by the order he shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N10,000,000.00 fine or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment.[4]

It is important to note that cyber bullying can be as simple as continuing to send e-mail or text harassing someone who has said they want no further contact with the sender. It may also include public actions such as repeated threats, sexual remarks, pejorative labels i.e. hate speech or defamatory false accusations, ganging up on a victim by making the person the subject of ridicule in online forums, hacking into or vandalizing sites about a person, posting false statements as fact aimed at discrediting or humiliating a targeted person, posting rumors about a person on the internet with the intention of bringing about hatred in others’ minds or convincing others to dislike or participate in online denigration of a target or personally identifying victims of crime and publishing materials severely defaming or humiliating them.

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THE POSITION OF THE CYBERCRIME ACT ON CYBERSQUATTING

Domain disputes are specifically about who owns a web address. For example, the person in charge of a website may not be the person who owns it. Furthermore, because domains are inexpensive, some people purchase multiple domains in the hopes of making a large profit.

The Act expressly states inter alia that any person who, intentionally takes or makes use of a name, business name trademark, domain name or other word or phrase registered, owned or in use by any individual, body corporate or belonging to either the Federal, State or Local Governments in Nigeria, on the internet or any other computer network, without  authority or right, and for the purpose of interfering with their use by the owner,  registrant or legitimate prior user, commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not more than 2 years or a fine of not more than N5,000,000.00 or to both fine and imprisonment.[5]

To make a complaint one does not necessarily have to be in possession of a trademark as any person has registered the business name has the locus standi to classify as a claimant while seeking available remedies such as relinquishing such registered name, trademark, domain name or other word or phrase.

In addition, cybersquatting also includes typosquatting i.e where the individual registers a domain name similar to the domain name of another company with typographical errors. What typosquatters try to achieve is that when someone puts in the domain name of the original brand owner with a spelling error, the typosquatter gets a benefit because the person is sent to their own website. [6]

THE POSITION OF THE CYBERCRIME ACT ON RACIST, XENOPHOBIC AND DEFAMATORY MATERIAL PUBLISHED ON THE INTERNET AND OTHER RELATED OFFENCES

The Act also further criminalizes the act of distributing or publishing any racist or xenophobic material to the public through a computer system or network or threatens through a computer system or network persons for the reason that they belong to a group distinguished by race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, as well as religion.[7] The Act however prescribes a punishment of not more than 5 years or to a fine of not more than N10,000,000.00 or both such fine and imprisonment for this offence when convicted.[8]

Also, when anyone use the internet to spread false information, this may amount to some form of ‘cyber-defamation’. Defamation laws generally protect individuals from false public remarks that can harm a company’s or an individual’s reputation. Hence, when people use the internet to express statements that contravene civil laws, this is considered and can be tackled with the respective cyber laws as an online connected libel or slander. 

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It is very important at this point to carefully note that equal punishment as prescribed by the Act shall be served on any person who attempts to commit, or aids, abets, conspires, counsels, or procures another person to commit any offences under the Cybercrimes Act.[9]

Other similar related cybercrimes against people prohibited by the Act include e-mail phishing, dissemination of child pornography, various sorts of spoofing, credit card fraud, human trafficking, identity theft, Interception of electronic messages email or electronic money transfer, tampering with critical infrastructure, willful misdirection of electronic messages, cyber terrorism etc.

CONCLUSION 

As much as freedom of expression on the cyberspace is a fundamental and constitutional right that is further protected by the cyberlaws, nonetheless internet users should be heedful as regards boundaries of free expression or activities on the cyberspace, especially laws prohibiting obscenity.

Victims of cybersquatting or anyone who has a dispute over a cyber contract or domain use may choose to engage the services of a cyber lawyer to help them resolve the issue either by consulting Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) or Nigeria Internet Registration Association (NIRA) or navigate related litigation under the cybercrime Act or bring an action in tort defamation or passing off. However, it is advisable to hire a lawyer to write a cease and desist letter to the party taking advantage of the complaint’s brand or trademark before taking formal proceedings so that the party is giving the opportunity to resolve in case it was a mere coincidence. Victims of cyberstalking and cyberbullying should also endeavor to make timeous report to a lawyer, the police or any other lawful authority and seek for remedy and compensation where need be.

Samson Dada Esq. Writes from Lagos. He can be reached at olasunkanmidada19@gmail.com

Footnotes

[1] Section 24(1)(a) & (b) Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act 2015

[2] Section 24(2)(a) & (b)(i) Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act 2015

[3] Section 24(2)(c)(ii) Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act 2015

[4] Section 24(3) & (4) Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act 2015

[5] Section 25(1) Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act 2015

[6] https://lawpadi.com/cybersquatting-in-nigeria/

[7] Section 26(1)(a),(b) & (c) Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act 2015

[8] Section 26(1)(d) Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act 2015

[9] Section 27 Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act 2015

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