Nigeria’s National Assembly urged to pass Digital Right and Freedom Bill

Medical doctors under the auspices of the Medical and Dental Consultants’ Association of Nigeria, MDCAN, have urged the National Assembly to throw out what it described as ‘obnoxious Bill’ seeking for the amendment of the University Teaching Hospitals, warning that an attempt to pass the Bill will amount to a recipe for disaster in the running of Federal Hospitals in the country.

Paradigm Initiative, PIN, a social enterprise that builds ICT-enabled support systems has called on the national assembly to pass the Digital Right and Freedom Bill to guarantee the rights of Nigerian citizens in the digital age and to promote trust.

The call was made during the press conference organized by PIN to engage stakeholders in the technology world and media representatives on the need for the federal government to engage in a broader consultation to achieve an inclusive, democratic and rights-respecting approach to content and platform regulations.

This consultation according to PIN must be at a level-playing field for all concerned stakeholders including the private sector, government, human rights organization and digital rights organizations.

The digital rights advocacy program is focused on the development of public policy for internet freedom in Africa, with offices in Abuja, Nigeria (covering the Anglophone West Africa region); Yaoundé, Cameroon (Central Africa); Nairobi, Kenya (East Africa), Lusaka, Zambia (Southern Africa), Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and Dakar, Senegal.

Speaking on the issue, Programs, Partnership and Engagement officer, PIN, Adeboye Adegoke said that civil society and citizens must continue to hold the government accountable and equally work together with government for better outputs.

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While urging the media to remain dogged to report violations and amplify the voices of citizens who daily use digital platforms to hold the government accountable, he said, freedom of expression is a universal human right, a right fundamental to a democratic society which is why it is enshrined in section 39 of the Constitution and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

“Freedom of expression is important for inclusive participation in society. It also allows citizens to seek out and circulate information, ideas, comments and opinions and hold those in authority to account. This right extends to the press, providing a platform for multiple voices to be heard.

“The principle of freedom of expression and human rights must apply not only to traditional media but also to the Internet and all types of emerging media platforms, which will contribute to development, democracy and dialogue.

“We acknowledge that it is not an unfettered right and there are legal safeguards to protect those who may be vulnerable and prevent the abuse of these rights. However, around the world, there are governments and those wielding power who find many ways to obstruct it.

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“The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court reinforced the importance of this right with their recent judgment on the Twitter ban, where it held that access to Twitter, being one of the social media platforms of choice to receive, disseminate and impart information, is one such derivative right that is complementary to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression pursuant to the provisions of Article 9 (1) & (2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Consequently, to derogate from such a right requires lawful justification.

“Although the court made its position clear, the civic space, especially online, has been shrinking for some time. We saw the passing of the Cybercrimes Act, the rejection of the digital rights and freedoms bill, the initiation of the hate speech and social media bills and now the draft Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Service Platforms/Internet Intermediaries and Conditions for Operating in Nigeria”, he said.

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