Machine Intelligence and Human Rights in Nigeria: A Growing Concern



The world is currently experiencing an increase in technological innovations that cut across all areas of life. This shift and the need for ease in everyday life has led to the development of, and reliance on machine intelligence otherwise called Artificial Intelligence (AI) as opposed to natural intelligence.

As earlier stated, Artificial Intelligence is also known as machine intelligence. AI was initially used with reference to machines that are capable of mimicking cognitive skills. This definition has since evolved and AI is now used to describe machines capable of rational thinking. This gives credence to the fact that AI has no specific meaning or definition as it is ever-changing and evolving. It includes robots, optical character recognition, web search, understanding human speech (Siri), etc.


While the advancement of Artificial Intelligence has made life easier and has contributed to solving societal challenges (access to better health care, transportation, education), it, however, poses a threat to the existing legal order. This threat is due to the exploitative and intrusive nature of AI and its potential to infringe on human rights. Some of the areas in which AI influences the rights of Africans include;

i. Right to privacy

The right to privacy is recognized under International human rights law and is fundamental to human dignity. Surveillance systems and satellite imagery is a part of AI that infringes on a person’s right to privacy, due to their ability to not only monitor and track a person’s movement, but to also predict future movements. Also, AI systems are programmed to mine and analyze data including personal data. If not properly regulated, this personal information may be released, resulting in an infringement of a person’s right to privacy.

In addition, Surveillance and open source investigation through the use of Satellite has rendered personal data susceptible to inappropriate scrutiny Although it may be argued that the use of surveillance technology has helped improve security management, it can also be used as a tool for infringement.

ii. Right to Work

The advantage of an easier life offered by artificial intelligence also poses a threat to the human workforce. The role of AI in industries could result in massive job loss. The reason for this is not far-fetched because more reliance placed on artificial Intelligence results in a decrease in the need for natural intelligence. For example, a robot called Tally, which was developed in San Francisco was programmed to carry out fully autonomous shelf auditing and analytics solution. It has been estimated that the use of AI in Africa may result in the loss of 400-800 million jobs. With the fact that most African countries solely depend on labour intensive to provide employment opportunities for the populace, diverting into capital extensive through the use of AI will drastically make many out of jobs and hence increase the rate of poverty, caused by unemployment.

iii. The issue of liability for breach of rights

The issue of liability arises when the rights of humans are breached. Who is to be held accountable if an electric car knocks down a child? Is it the manufacturer, the programmer, or the purchaser? One thing we know for sure is that the machine itself cannot be held liable, as it is not a legal personality that can sue or be sued. This question of liability presents a problem and makes it difficult to pinpoint who exactly is to assume responsibility, when the right of an individual is breached by artificial intelligence. This would also cause a great problem in executing the principle extracted from the Latin maxim, ‘Ubi Jus Ibi Remedium’, which means, ‘where there is a legal wrong, there should also be a corresponding legal remedy.’

iv. Right to a fair trial in Court

Based on technological advancement, many courts involve the use of some AI systems in court processes, such as the use of robot assistance. However, the deployment or use of these robot assistants in a court setting such as the Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPASS) may sabotage a person’s right to a free trial. This is because such machines are likely to have a biased opinion as seen in the case of Steve v Loomis

The above-mentioned are obvious negative influences that Artificial Intelligence (AI) could mostly have on human rights in Africa. This is due to the inflexibility of its usage in most African countries, coupled with the rate of development.


Nigeria, as one of the developing countries in Africa despite the obvious support for AI in the system by most researchers and technical experts, still functions in natural intelligence. This is because the use of Artificial Intelligence is faced with significant challenges. Below are some of the obvious and possible challenges:

i. Data Protection/Security

Most AI development companies strongly hinge on their services on the availability of large amounts of data to train the algorithms. Although generating large volumes of data provides better business opportunities, on the one hand, it inevitably creates data protection, storage and security issues on the other. The more data is generated and the more users have access, the higher the chances of data leakage into the hands of someone who might intend to exploit data subjects for negative purposes. Data security and data storage issues have reached a global scale, as this data is generated from millions of users around the globe. This is why businesses need to ensure that the best data management environment for sensitive data and training algorithms for AI applications are being used. The Nigerian data protection regime is not as solid as expected, an additional responsibility resulting from AI would be overwhelming.

ii. AI human interface

Another possible challenge is the shortage of data science skills within humans to get maximum output from artificial intelligence, especially in Nigeria. There is an obvious shortage of advanced skills that will interface between Nigerians and AI technology. Based on technological skills, most AI systems can be validly operated in the country. To this end, the country is limited to some technical equipment.

iii. Absence of an effective legal framework regulation AI

The absence of a legal framework for AI regulation in Nigeria would be another serious hurdle. Legal issues would be left in abyss and uncertainties, to be distilled on the assumptions of existing legal principles that do not contemplate Artificial intelligence in Nigeria. For example, issues such as the rights of robots, industrial relations with respect to harms caused by or on AI and issues such as intellectual property would all be based on assumptions of the possible position of the court, at the instance of any dispute and not on certainty on the ground of an existing legal framework.

iv. Complex algorithms

The technical side of AI involves some huge data and complex algorithms; sometimes making users not to grasp AI concepts. A lot of researchers in Nigeria are completely unaware of these algorithms and technology and hence, find it difficult to understand the functioning of AI technology.

v. Decline of investment/Capital Intensive

In Nigeria, not all business owners or managers are willing to invest in AI. The funds required to set up and implement Artificial Intelligence is very high and extreme thus, not a lot of business owners or organizations in Nigeria can invest in it. Based on the final capacity of the economy, it is grossly impractical to maintain AI technologies, particularly in view of the among of money needed in maintaining it.

vi.. Software malfunction

It is no gainsaying that no technology is perfect. An event of software or hardware crash could be highly frustrating to researchers, especially in Nigeria where storage and retrieval systems are poor. By implication, software tasks performed by humans can be difficult to trace. A problem of this kind can be frustrating and discouraging. Hence, a great challenge to AI in the country.

vii. Cultural, ethnical and religious barriers

Cultural affiliation, religion and, ethnical bigotry are the three most common barriers to development in Nigeria; hence AI technology is not spared. Language might not be a much challenge to artificial intelligence progress in Nigeria, but persons of the same tribal affiliation are usually biased in working cooperatively with other tribes, especially in knowledge acquisition. Similarly, there is so much religious intolerance that can seriously militate against AI technology in Nigeria which would in turn result to the adoption of AI in a region, faster than the other.


The importance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) cannot be overemphasized, particularly based on its high demands and its functions in human society. However, it is undeniable that in most African countries, the functionality of these intelligent machines against the use of natural intelligence has influenced human rights like the aforementioned right to work, right to privacy, right to freedom from discrimination, etc. Hence, it is important that these be examined properly and given some readjustment. Considering the economic, social and financial state of Nigeria, a case study of a developing African country, the possible challenges to the efficient functioning of AI must be taken into consideration.

Newsletter Updates

Enter your email address below and subscribe to our newsletter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *