HomeData Privacy Law DigestI Remain Committed to Championing Data Privacy Rights - Chiderah Ike-Okonkwo

I Remain Committed to Championing Data Privacy Rights – Chiderah Ike-Okonkwo

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Chiderah Ike-Okonkwo is unarguably one of the most profound voices in the Data Protection and Privacy ecosystem in Nigeria. Having stumbled upon data protection in her quest for an LLM, Chiderah immediately saw the potentials in the ecosystem at the time when the Europeans were still grappling with the disruption introduced by the GDPR. Her interest grew and as she returned to Nigeria after her Master’s degree, she became one of the Pioneer staff of the Nigeria Data Protection Commission. Chidera’s passion and commitment has remained consistent as she continues to champion the innovative arm of the Commission.

In this chat, Chiderah spoke about her journey into data privacy and protection, the impact and what the future holds for privacy in Nigeria.

DNL L&S: Can you walk us through your journey from being a legal practitioner to becoming a data protection and privacy specialist? What motivated this transition?

Chiderah: My journey from litigation to specializing in data protection and privacy has been quite the adventure. Right after being called to the bar, I went into litigation, but quickly realized it wasn’t my calling. While pursuing my master’s degree around 2018, I stumbled upon the world of data protection and privacy, and it piqued my interest. My master’s degree in cross-cultural business practices and compliance unexpectedly aligned with the enforcement of GDPR in the EU, and I knew that I had found my calling.

Despite returning to Nigeria and initially sticking to litigation due to limited job opportunities in my desired field, fate had other plans. I finally got a chance to work in my desired field at the time when the Nigeria Data Protection Bureau was being set-up. I was one of the few people at the time who had the requisite knowledge and experience for the job. And so it happened that I joined the elite and pioneer staff of the data protection and privacy regulator in Nigeria.

My time in litigation, while not my ultimate destination, proved invaluable in shaping my legal career, and I’m grateful for the experience it provided.

DNL L&S: How has the experience been? Was it worth the switch and would you take this opportunity if you were to make a decision all over again?

Chiderah: The experience has been incredibly rewarding. The transition to specializing in data protection and privacy has opened up a world of opportunities I never could have imagined. Looking back, I can confidently say it was absolutely worth making the switch. The best part of this journey has been realizing the extent of my potential, which I couldn’t have foreseen when I first embarked on this path. If given the chance to make the decision again, I would undoubtedly seize the opportunity without hesitation.

DNL L&S: Could you discuss your role as the Head, Innovation Unit NDPC. What are your primary responsibilities in this position?

Chiderah: As the head of the Innovations Unit at the NDPC, my primary responsibilities revolve around identifying new opportunities for growth and development. This entails staying abreast of emerging trends and technologies in the field of data protection and privacy. I work on developing innovative strategies that align with the goals and mandate of the NDPC.

A key aspect of my role is fostering a culture of creativity within the organization. This involves encouraging team members to think outside the box, experiment with new ideas, and embrace a mindset of continuous improvement.

Collaboration is also a crucial part of my job. I work closely with various stakeholders, both internal and external, to implement new ideas and technologies that drive the success of the NDPC. This collaboration ensures that our initiatives are well-supported and aligned with the broader objectives of the organization.

Overall, my role is focused on driving innovation and leveraging new opportunities to advance the mission of the NDPC in safeguarding data protection and privacy rights.

DNL L&S: You’ve served on committees and spoken at various events on data protection and privacy. Can you share some insights from these experiences, particularly concerning the challenges and opportunities in Nigeria’s data protection ecosystem?

Chiderah: Participating in committees and speaking engagements on data protection and privacy has provided valuable insights into Nigeria’s evolving ecosystem in this field. One significant learning is the importance of stakeholder management, particularly in a nascent ecosystem like Nigeria’s. Identifying and engaging all relevant stakeholders is crucial for governance, awareness creation, capacity development, funding, and sustainability efforts.

Navigating these dynamics presents both challenges and opportunities. Challenges include enforcing compliance, ensuring comprehensive stakeholder representation and overcoming resistance to change. However, each challenge also presents an opportunity for growth and improvement.

My most insightful experience thus far has been serving as a pioneer in Nigeria’s data protection and privacy landscape. This role has allowed me to witness firsthand the progress and potential of this emerging field, while also highlighting the work that still needs to be done to ensure robust protection of data rights in Nigeria.

DNL L&S: In your capacity development and compliance advisory roles, what are some common challenges you’ve observed among data controllers and processors, especially in SMEs and startups?

Chiderah: In my capacity development and compliance advisory roles, I’ve observed several common challenges among data controllers and processors, particularly in SMEs and startups. Chief among these challenges is the lack of awareness and understanding about data protection and privacy regulations. Many businesses, especially smaller ones, are unaware of the legal requirements and best practices for handling personal data.

Additionally, there’s often a shortage of theoretical and practical knowledge about implementing data protection measures effectively. This lack of expertise can make it difficult for SMEs and startups to navigate the complex landscape of data privacy regulations.

While cost constraints and the financial burden of compliance are significant challenges, I’ve found that resistance to change is even more prevalent. This resistance can stem from a variety of factors, including skepticism about the importance of data protection, reluctance to invest resources in compliance measures, and fear of disrupting established business practices.

Overall, addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach that includes raising awareness, providing education and training, offering practical guidance on compliance, and emphasizing the benefits of data protection for businesses and their customers.

DNL L&S: Nigeria’s data protection and privacy landscape is still evolving. How do you see it progressing in the next few years, and what role do you envision playing in shaping this development?

Chiderah: Considering the recent legislative developments such as the passage of the Nigeria Data Protection Bill and the establishment of the Nigeria Data Protection Commission (NDPC), the progression of Nigeria’s data protection and privacy landscape in the next few years is poised to be significant.

One key aspect of this progression will be the implementation of the law, which will involve the development of sector-specific regulations and the enforcement of compliance measures. As awareness of data protection rights and responsibilities continues to grow through campaigns and education efforts, stakeholders will become more accountable for their actions, and ignorance will no longer be a valid defense.

Capacity development initiatives, like the National Certification Process, will play a crucial role in enhancing the expertise of professionals in the field. Trained and certified data protection officers will become more prevalent, facilitating the effective implementation of the NDPA within organizations acting as data controllers and processors.

The expansion of the Data Protection Compliance Organization (DPCO) model will also contribute to job creation and the development of a skilled workforce within the ecosystem. Overall, the outlook for the next few years is promising, with advancements in legislation, awareness, capacity development, and enforcement shaping a more robust data protection and privacy landscape in Nigeria.

As for my role, I will continue to play an active part in shaping this development through my involvement in advocacy, capacity building, compliance advisory and stakeholder management. By leveraging my expertise and experience, my goal is to promote a culture of voluntary compliance with data protection and privacy regulations through effective communication.

DNL L&S: How do you balance the need for robust data protection measures with fostering innovation and digital transformation in Nigeria?

Chiderah: Balancing the need for robust data protection measures with fostering innovation and digital transformation in Nigeria requires a strategic approach that recognizes the symbiotic relationship between the two.

Digital transformation is indeed driven by innovative technologies such as cloud computing, data analytics, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to automate processes and drive efficiency. However, as organizations embrace these technologies to evolve and remain competitive, it’s crucial to prioritize data protection and privacy considerations every step of the way.

Innovation should not come at the expense of data security and privacy. Rather, robust data protection measures should be integrated into the fabric of digital transformation initiatives from the outset. This involves implementing privacy by design, conducting thorough data protection impact assessments, and incorporating privacy-enhancing technologies to mitigate potential vulnerabilities.

Furthermore, organizations need to prioritize compliance with relevant data protection laws and regulations not just as an ethical responsibility but also a legal requirement.

Ultimately, It’s about striking a balance between driving innovation and embracing technological advancements while upholding ethical and legal obligations to protect individuals’ data.

DNL L&S: Beyond your professional endeavors, what hobbies or interests do you pursue that contribute to your personal growth and fulfillment?

Chiderah: One of my favorite hobbies is sleeping; whether it’s a Power Nap or a full eight hours of beauty sleep, I cherish these moments of relaxation to recharge both my body and my mind. This is what allows me to have a sound body and mind to pursue my professional endeavors.

DNL L&S: Can you share a particularly memorable moment or experience from your journey in advocating for data protection and privacy in Nigeria that has deeply resonated with you on a personal level?

Chiderah: One particularly memorable moment from my journey in advocating for data protection and privacy in Nigeria that deeply resonated with me on a personal level occurred during a workshop I facilitated for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Lagos.

As I shared insights and best practices on data protection regulations and compliance strategies, I noticed a palpable shift in the room. Initially, many attendees seemed overwhelmed by the complexity of the topic and unsure of how to implement data protection measures within their businesses.

However, as the workshop progressed, I witnessed a transformation unfold. Participants began engaging more actively, asking insightful questions, and expressing genuine interest in understanding how data protection could benefit their organizations.

One moment that stood out to me was when a small business owner approached me during a break and shared their experience of a recent data breach that had significantly impacted their operations and reputation. They confided in me about the challenges they faced in navigating the aftermath of the breach and expressed gratitude for the practical guidance and support provided during the workshop.

This encounter served as a poignant reminder of the real-world implications of data protection and privacy, and the profound impact it can have on businesses, individuals, and communities. It reinforced the importance of advocacy and education in empowering organizations to safeguard sensitive information and mitigate risks effectively.

This experience left a lasting impression on me, fueling my commitment to continue advocating for data protection and privacy in Nigeria and empowering businesses to prioritize the protection of personal data. It underscored the transformative power of knowledge and the potential for positive change when individuals and organizations come together to champion data privacy rights.

DNL L&S: How do you maintain a work-life balance amidst the demands of your career and what strategies do you employ to ensure your well-being remains a priority?

Chiderah: Maintaining a work-life balance amidst the demands of my career is a priority for me, and I employ several strategies to ensure my well-being remains a priority.

However, there are times when I experience fluctuations in my work-life balance and I have to remind myself that achieving a perfect balance is not realistic.

During periods when my work-life balance feels skewed, I make a conscious effort to reassess my priorities and seek support.

As a family-oriented person, I draw a lot of support from family and loved ones in my life. I prioritize spending quality time with them, whether it’s through shared activities, conversations, or simply being present and engaged.

I also carve out time for myself to recharge and rejuvenate. This includes engaging in activities that I enjoy, such as playing games, watching a movie, exercising, reading, praying, and reflecting. These moments of solitude allow me to unwind, clear my mind, and regain perspective.

Setting boundaries is another crucial aspect of maintaining work-life balance. I thrive on scheduling, delegating and taking breaks. This is how I preserve my sanity and prevent burnout while remaining effective at my job.

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