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NITDA bill and entrenchment of cybersecurity

By Mukhtar Ya'u Madobi
03 January 2023   |   1:21 pm
In a bid to ensure that sanity is maintained in Nigeria’s internet circuit, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in June 2022 unveiled a Code of Practice for Online Platforms to checkmate the eruption of crisis in the nation’s ICT sector. The code was developed in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, including the Nigerian Communications…

Director-General/CEO of NITDA Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi

In a bid to ensure that sanity is maintained in Nigeria’s internet circuit, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in June 2022 unveiled a Code of Practice for Online Platforms to checkmate the eruption of crisis in the nation’s ICT sector.

The code was developed in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, including the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), with input from Interactive Computer Service Platforms (also known as Tech Giants) such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Google, Tik Tok, amongst others.

Before critics could fault NITDA’s code, social media giants in Europe agreed to take a tougher line against disinformation including deep fakes and fake accounts, under an updated EU code of practice. Section 6 of the NITDA Act 2007 authorizes the agency to standardize, coordinate and develop regulatory frameworks for all Information Technology (IT) practices.

It was therefore not surprising that President Muhammadu Buhari directed NITDA to develop a Code of Practice. Indeed, the regulatory body played a major role in ensuring that Twitter accepted the conditions laid out by Nigeria to check fake news and hate speech after the EndSARS violent protests.

While tapping from the benefits and dividends brought about by Tech Giants, stakeholders and regulators must be mindful of the effects associated with their unrestricted activities, especially in a multicultural society like Nigeria segmented along religious, ethnic and regional divides.

The negative impact can be linked to the lack of a proper mechanism or legal framework by the government/its institutions to oversee and regulate social media platforms. For this reason, a public hearing was convened by the National Assembly Joint Committee on ICT and Cyber Security on a Bill for an Act to Repeal the NITDA Act 2007 and to Enact the NITDA Act 2021.

Established in 2007, NITDA has a clear objective of monitoring IT policies and implementation. The agency oversees the flow of information across media space for the purpose of ensuring public safety and security as well as national development.

Nowadays, championed by the advancement in technological innovations coupled with easy accessibility to network, a lot of internet-assisted crimes (a.k.a. cybercrimes) drag national security to the mud. The heinous acts have consistently been a threat due to implications on the national economy.

Now that Nigeria is pushing towards a cashless economy in which monetary transactions are done through the internet, cybercrimes may increase if appropriate measures of curtailing the act are not put in place. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) estimated that $600 billion is lost to cybercrime each year, an increase from a 2014 study that put global losses at about $445 billion.

In 2018, commercial banks in Nigeria lost a cumulative N15 billion ($39 million) to electronic fraud and cybercrime. This was a 537 per cent increase on the N2.37 billion loss recorded in 2017. In the same period in 2018, over 25,043 bank customers and depositors lost N1.9 billion to cyber fraud, rising by 55 per cent from the previous year’s 17,600.

Between July and September 2020, Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement Systems (NIBSS) said N3.5 billion was lost to fraud, representing a 534 per cent increase during the same period in 2019, when it was N552 million. Also, Nigeria’s Consumer Awareness and Financial Enlightenment Initiative (CAFEi) projected a $6 trillion loss by 2030 to cybercrime within and outside Nigeria. These crimes are committed mostly through phishing and identity theft.

Cybercrime is projected to worsen as e-payment transactions gain more patronage. Almost on a daily basis, bank customers complain of hacked accounts. It is evident that these crimes constitute serious danger to our economy.

The emergence of online social media platforms made it feasible for information to be disseminated easily without impediments, a development capable of compromising our cyber and national security. Over the years, the platforms in Nigeria have been misused as perfect avenues for disseminating dangerous information.

It is worrisome to learn that our public space is continuously being polluted with unwholesome contents capable of heating up the polity. These include hate speeches, fake news, misinformation and disinformation and a host of others.

Agitators and other ethno-religious bigots have been utilizing social media handles for their vicious campaigns capable of inciting genocidal violence in Nigeria. It is on this note that in 2021, the Federal Government was left with no other choice than banning Twitter to curb dangerous contents with potential to distort peace.

It can be remembered how social media posts aggravated the October 2020 EndSARS protest in Nigeria. What started as a peaceful demonstration led to an upheaval which led to killing of civilians, security forces and destruction of private and public properties.

It is still fresh in our minds, how Soliu Majekodunmi, an Ogun teenager arrested in January, 2022, on the account of slaughtering his girlfriend for suspected money ritual made a daunting revelation that he learned the practice through a Facebook post.

Also, various tactics and strategies on stealing, ‘yahoo yahoo’, kidnapping, cultism etc. are being presented via comedies and skits in the name of entertainment while ignoring the negative effects on the minds and cognitive thinking of many people, especially the young ones.

It is against these backgrounds that the mandates of NITDA need to be redesigned and reoriented in order to contain these emerging national internet-assisted security threats through adequate monitoring of ICT and internet space.

The Director-General, Kashifu Inuwa said the scope of ICT has widened with a lot of convergence and expansion in technology platforms being used by businesses and governments for delivery services. “Considering that the NITDA Act is almost 16 years old, we consider it necessary to keep the Act up-to-date with the current reality in the Nigerian digital economy space”, Inuwa said.

In the new amended bill, Section 20(4) expands the scope of investigatory powers of the Agency to detect misuse or misapplication of technology or data bases. Also, Section 20(5) empowers the Agency to safeguard indigenous content and use of unverified technology which may constitute risk to the entire economy.

The amended bill is aimed to promote national interest, safety and security of citizens and foreigners in the use of information technology and digital services in every area of national life – governance, commerce, education, vocation, etc.

The bill seeks to “Repeal the National Information Technology Development Agency Act No. 28, 2007 and enact the NITDA Act to provide for the Administration, Implementation and Regulation of Information Technology Systems and Practices, as well as Digital Economy in Nigeria and for Related Matters, 2022”.

When passed into law, the amended bill and NITDA’s code of practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms/Internet Intermediaries will provide a guided policy for tracking online content to safeguard our internet space thereby curbing cybercrimes and enhancing national security.

Mukhtar, author of National Security Strategies, and Emergency Digest staff writer, wrote from Kano.