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Controversy surrounds Nigeria's new cybercrime law

Nigeria , 25 Feb 2016

Controversy surrounds Nigeria's new cybercrime law

A cross-section of stakeholders have spoken out against Nigeria's cybercrime law, dubbed the Cybercrime Act of 2015 which was brought to the fore by the Western African country's former president Goodluck Jonathan.

Those opposed to the legislation have made their views public at a session hosted by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) held at the 2016 edition of Social Media Week Lagos.

Prof Umar Garba Danbatta, Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC encouraged media practitioners in the country to familiarise themselves with the contents of the law because it affects their work.

While stating that the law does not encumber the freedom expression as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution, Prof Danbatta said it seeks to protect those whose freedom may be "damaged" by others.

According to the controversial law, any person who intentionally sends a message or other matter by means of computer systems or network, which he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another or causes such a message to be sent, has committed an offence under the law and will be liable to a fine of NGN7 million or 3-year imprisonment.

Danbatta argued that the law shared out responsibilities to the stakeholders in the ecosystem, including cybercafé operators, financial institutions and telecom service providers.

"For instance, Section 38(1) expects a service provider to keep all traffic data and subscriber information as may be prescribed by the relevant authority for the time being, responsible for the regulation of communication services in Nigeria, and for a period of two years," Danbatta said.

However, Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director of the Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN), accused the NCC of striving to regulate communications platforms - including OTTs - through the new law, which he said is not targeting perpetrators of online crimes, but journalists and bloggers.

According to Sesan, the general public in Nigeria does not have access to the new law and organisations like PIN have highlighted confusion over which version of the legislation has been passed into law and gazetted by the government. Confusion has made it difficult for new media practitioners in Nigeria to understand the law and abide by it, he said.

Omoyele Sowore, Founder of Sahara Reporters, a Nigeria-focused online news agency Sahara Reporters, said two bloggers and one journalist recently convicted of transgression of the law were not given fair trials, neither were they allowed to substantiate their reports before being slammed with jail sentences.

"One of the judges that sent a blogger to jail is already being investigated by the National Judiciary Commission (NJC) for collecting bribes and it is a familiar scene with the new law. The person that the blogger accused in the report did not even appear in court before to allow the blogger to show everyone the evidence he has in relation to the case," Sowore said.

According to him, there is the need to ensure that the press is free in Nigeria and corrupt politicians do not use the new law to gag the press.

"If someone is accused of something, the person making the accusation should come forward with the proof but without a fair trial, this new law will only be a weapon in the hands of those who can afford to buy judges to lock up news reporters which contravenes freedom of the press as it obtains across the world."

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