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Between NITDA bill and NCC mandate

By Abbas Badmus
06 January 2023   |   6:36 am
The National Assembly Joint Committee on ICT and Cyber Security recently put on hold a public hearing on the National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA, Bill 2021, when it couldn’t form a quorum. Several industry stakeholders and critical onlookers have described the development as an attempt to frustrate the bill. The postponement was followed by…

Director-General/CEO of NITDA Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi

The National Assembly Joint Committee on ICT and Cyber Security recently put on hold a public hearing on the National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA, Bill 2021, when it couldn’t form a quorum. Several industry stakeholders and critical onlookers have described the development as an attempt to frustrate the bill.

The postponement was followed by a series of orchestrated, biased and uninformed criticisms of the bill and Professor Isa Ali Pantami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy. Most of the postulations hinged on the misconstrued assumption that the proposed bill would override the independence of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

After studying the draft NITDA Bill 2021 and NCC Act 2003, 2007, I make bold to state that there is absolutely no basis for such reasoning, except the intention of the critics is to pursue a sinister agenda. While the armchair critics tried to hide facts in plain sight, the recurring question they failed to address convincingly is: where is the clash of mandate between NITDA and NCC?

The authority of NCC is derived from the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 (NCA 2003) signed into law on July 8, 2003 by President Olusegun Obasanjo after passage by the National Assembly. The NCA 2003 applies to the provision and use of all telecommunications services and networks in the country.

The laws that guide and enable the operations of the commission include: NCC decree 75 of November 1992, the National Telecoms Policy (NTP) 2000 (a new one under review), Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1990, and Nigerian Communications Act 2003.

The major mandates of NCA 2003 are: facilitate telecom investment and entry into the market; protect the rights/interests of service providers and consumers; manage and monitor telecommunications resources; ensure efficient and qualitative services; advise the Minister on the formulation of policies and other matters.

In a nutshell, one can understand that the key function of NCC is to regulate and oversee the telecom industry in Nigeria.

However, the operations of NITDA, also commissioned by the Obasanjo administration, started in 2001, six years before the 2007 Act came into existence. The agency is authorised to establish standards, guidelines and frameworks for the development, standardisation, and regulation of IT in Nigeria.

NITDA has the responsibility to implement the National IT policy, develop and regulate the sector, collaborate with the private sector and international organisations to actualise the IT vision, create awareness and ensure access to promote IT across all sectors, and ensure Simple, Moral, Accountable, Responsive and Transparent (SMART) governance.

In addition, NITDA is empowered to support local production of IT components to generate foreign earnings, create jobs, serve as a clearing house for IT procurement and services in the public sector, and empower Nigerians to participate in software and IT system development.

NITDA has since pioneered developmental projects for capacity building, provided legal framework for IT, bridge digital divides, boost digital literacy, job creation and national security.

Why NITDA Bill 2021?

On the 23rd of October 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the re-designation of the Federal Ministry of Communications as the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy to create a policy organ that would oversee the development of the digital economy in the country.

The ministry then formulated the Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), which focuses on the development of the digital aspects of the economy, thereby creating the need for a review of the regulatory framework.

The National Policy on Information Technology was approved in 2001 with the vision of making Nigeria an IT-capable country by 2005. But we have gone past that. The NDEPS has a new vision of making Nigeria a leading global digital economy. Therefore, NITDA needs a new mandate to refocus for competitiveness in the global $12trillion digital economy.

This mandate would be in line with the current realities in the cyber and technology space. NDEPS requires a more robust approach to regulations, standards setting, and guidelines development with focus on digital and emerging technologies, and NITDA is best suited to implement these.

It is against this backdrop that the agency seeks to repeal and re-enact its law to improve regulation, encourage Nigerians to reap the benefits of the digital economy while promoting indigenous solutions for economic benefits.

NDEPS plans to develop the digital economy through eight pillars: Developmental regulation, Digital literacy and skills, Solid infrastructure, Service infrastructure, Digital service development and promotion, Soft Infrastructure, Digital society and emerging technologies, Indigenous content development and adoption.

With the NITDA Act being one of the key instruments for implementation, the 2021 bill will consolidate its powers over emerging technologies and digital economy development, provide administrative enforcement powers, reduce the number of its board members, and develop additional ICT regulations.

The bill does not conflict nor usurp the roles of any agency. For instance, while NCC’s powers largely concentrate on the telecommunication sector, NITDA’s duties focus on Information Technology.

Federal legislators owe Nigeria a patriotic duty to support the bill which would help the nation tap into the global multi trillion dollar ICT and digital economy. The enormous gains would be felt not only in the tech ecosystem but by Nigerians who leverage on technology to eke a living via mobile and other digital devices.

Abbas Badmus, a staff writer with TechDigest, writes from Abuja.