Suffocating digital rights, a threat to civic space, democracy – By: . .

The Nigerian state is increasingly trying to close civic space and deny citizens freedom of speech and expression through repressive bills such as the Protection Against Falsehood Bill and Manipulation on the Internet, 2019 (Social Media Bill) and Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill (Hate Speech Bill) and Twitter Ban.

These bills restrict citizens’ freedom of speech and expression online using certain provisions that the state says exist to protect national security. Although the Nigerian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, the state attempts to use repressive laws to censor its citizens, silence their voices and deny their rights to digital data and free speech.

The Nigerian state, in its efforts to gag and deny its citizens data and digital rights, has committed N15 billion in surveillance over the past five years from 2017, an action which, according to the government, is to fight domestic terrorism.

Although the government claims that its action is to keep citizens safe, recent revelations and government actions have shown that the main objective is to spy on citizens and deny them data and digital rights and restrict their freedom of expression.

For example, some journalists and activists are said to be spied on by the government, some of them having their phone numbers blocked, their emails hacked, their passports seized and, in some cases, their bank accounts restricted.

A telling case is the #EndSARS movement where the government restricted the bank account numbers of some organizers and placed them under surveillance. While some have fled the country following death threats.

The Nigerian state lacks the culture of allowing its citizens to enjoy freedom of expression, and this has been passed down from military rule to the current democratic dispensation. The introduction of the Official Secrets Act by the military, internalized by civil servants, now makes it difficult to enforce the Freedom of Information Act 2011, which shows the love of the Nigerian state for repression and lack of accountability.

With the increasingly repressive nature of the Nigerian state, putting citizens under surveillance, denying them data and digital rights, and freedom of expression, journalists, human rights activists, the Civil society and other stakeholders have begun to push for legislation and policy that ultimately secure citizens’ data and digital rights. A right they say is fundamental and a fundamental tenet of the democracy that the Nigerian state practices.

In an increasingly digitized world, access to the Internet and to digital tools is a fundamental right of citizens. But it is not just a question of rights, citizens must have the knowledge and confidence to use them in a safe, secure and beneficial way. It is therefore a fundamental right that must be defended and propagated by the State, its institutions, CSOs and the media, placing citizens at the heart of the demand.

Since data and digital rights are new and evolving in Nigeria, stakeholders are at the rudimentary stage of understanding the field. Nigeria has laws that guarantee freedom of expression and the right to privacy, contained in the constitution and other codified laws. And, despite the existence of these laws, there is no exact protection of citizens over their data and digital rights, while the state continues to use national security as a justification to abuse the digital rights of citizens. .

Nigerian examples have seen security personnel like the police and military rely on the Cybercrimes Act to prosecute journalists and citizens who criticize or disagree with the government. And in many cases, during trials, the police have accessed individual personal data without their consent, which shows the weakness of the country’s judicial system.

Although data and digital rights are increasingly becoming a pervasive violation of human rights in Nigeria, there is insufficient knowledge on how the data and digital rights of citizens should be protected. And, very concerning, many lawyers, judges, activists, CSOs, government officials and the media who should play a key role in defending campaigns and advocating against the abuse of data and digital rights have not little or no knowledge of the matter.

There is also a lack of education and public awareness on data and digital rights, even though it remains a fundamental tool for holding public and private institutions accountable.

One thing that has affected data and digital rights in Nigeria is the lack of effective coordination among actors to mobilize the resources and skills needed to put in place data and digital rights experts who will help less informed citizens. to have a good understanding of their data and their digital rights. .

what we must do

There needs to be deliberate stakeholder training among CSOs, the media, the judiciary, activists, lawmakers and the private sector, to fill a knowledge gap in data protection, enforcement and enforcement and digital rights in Nigeria.

CSOs and the media should strive to coordinate advocacy and campaigns that will put pressure on decision-makers to put in place specific laws and policies that will ensure that data and digital rights are recognized and protected in as fundamental rights. And in doing so, grassroots organizations, community change agents must be wide on board for lasting impacts.

Audu Liberty Oseni is the Coordinator of Media Advocacy and Women Awareness (MAWA-Foundation), Abuja

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