The Nigerian government has finally confirmed plans to regulate internet companies operating in the country. In a draft released on Monday by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), the agency will regulate companies like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Google, Twitter, and TikTok.
The draft, which is titled Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Service Platform/Internet Intermediaries claims to define guidelines for interacting in the digital ecosystem and protect the fundamental human rights of Nigerians and non-Nigerians living in the country.
Some of the points brought up in the draft for internet companies to comply with include:
- Establish a legal entity; in other words, register with the country’s Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
- Appoint a designated country representative to interface with Nigerian authorities.
- Abide by all regulatory demands after establishing a legal presence.
- Comply with all applicable tax obligations on its operations under Nigerian law.
- Provide a comprehensive compliance mechanism to avoid publication of prohibited content[s] and unethical behaviour on their platform.
- Provide information to authorities on harmful accounts, suspected botnets, troll groups, and other coordinated disinformation networks and delete any information that violates Nigerian law within an agreed time.
In a press statement, Hadiza Umar, NITDA’s Head of Corporate Affairs said, “The new global reality is that the activities conducted on these online platforms wield enormous influence over our society, social interaction, and economic choices. Hence, the Code of Practice is an intervention to recalibrate the relationship of online platforms with Nigerians in order to maximise mutual benefits for our nation.”
This is not the first time the Nigerian government has tried to rein in internet operations. In June 2021, it placed a six-month ban on the social media platform Twitter, after President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet was reported and deleted. According to NITDA, representatives of the Nigerian government held a meeting with the social media giant and agreed upon three conditions. They are:
- Set up a legal entity in Nigeria in Q1 of 2022.
- Paying taxes to the Nigerian government.
- Working with the Nigerian government to regulate content posted on the platform.
None of these conditions has been met. However, this hasn’t discouraged the Nigerian government from going after other platforms. NITDA asserts that the draft is open to review and comments from the public, and nothing has been finalised yet. The agency also says that it has collaborated with communications and broadcasting regulatory bodies in the countries.
Beyond social media platforms, the draft also targets any platform with over 100,000 users. These include blogs, websites, and newsletters. According to the draft, any platform with more than 100,000 users must
- Be incorporated in Nigeria.
- Have a physical contact address in Nigeria, details of which shall be available on their website or platform.
- Appoint a Liaison Officer who shall serve as a communication channel between the government and the platform.
- Provide the necessary human supervision to review and improve the use of automated tools to strengthen accuracy and fairness, and checkmate bias and discrimination to ensure freedom of expression and privacy of users.
- On-demand, furnish a user, or authorised government agency with information on a) reason behind popular online content demand and the factor or figure behind the influence, and, b) why users get specific information on their timelines.
- Provide users or authorised government agencies, upon request, with a report of due process on their activities, and/or open investigation to ensure individuals are not targeted. NITDA may require a platform whose users are less than 100, 000 to comply with the obligations of a Large Service Platform where it appears necessary to preserve the sovereignty, security, public order, foreign diplomatic relations, and integrity of Nigeria.
Any platform that doesn’t comply with this is liable to disciplinary measures, prosecution, and conviction for violation of the NITDA Act 2007. All platforms are also mandated to file an annual compliance report that includes the number of registered Nigerian users, the number of closed and deactivated accounts in Nigeria, and the number of active registered Nigerian users on its platforms.
In the 17 hours since the draft was released, there has been a lot of backlash from Nigerians on social media – many of whom believe the Code of Practice is a way for the government to suppress their voices via digital media. One of the most talked-about parts of the bill is that platforms will be compelled to reveal your identity to the government if you say anything they find offensive. This is disturbing for multiple reasons as social media has been instrumental in social organising by the Nigerian youth as seen during the EndSARS movement and it seems like the government is doing everything that it can to control that. Another popular theory on why this C-o-P comes now is that it’s election season and young people on social media have been consistently organising to take out the incumbent political party, APC.
Our eyes and ears are still open as the story develops.