Owing to the ever-evolving nature of technology and emerging global trends, the Director-General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) Mallam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, proposed a new bill for the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in March 2021, which will realign Nigeria’s digital economy, to the internationally attainable digital economy policy strategy and fourth industrial revolution.
Purpose of the Bill
According to Section 1 of the Bill, the aim is to provide an effective, impartial, and independent regulatory framework for the development of Nigeria’s information technology sector and digital economy.
The specific aims of the Bill include amongst others; the promotion and implementation of the government’s national information technology and digital economy policies and plans; encouraging and supporting projects that make digital services more accessible, inclusive, secure, and inexpensive; promote the deployment and use of indigenously created goods, services, and platforms for the development of the digital economy; promote and protect national interests, as well as the rights of citizens and foreigners to ensure safety and security, when using information technology and digital services, etc.
New Improvements by the Bill
The first noticeable improvement in the Bill is seen in the preamble which reads as follows: ‘A bill for an act to repeal the national information technology development agency act, no 28 2007 and enact the National Information Technology Development Agency Act to provide for the administration, implementation, regulation of information technology systems and practices as well as digital economy in Nigeria and for related matters’ as against the 2007 act, which only provided for the establishment of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and related matters.
Secondly, the Bill has added more functions to the agency as seen in Section 5, which extends the functions of the agency, to include promoting the establishment and maintenance of requisite infrastructure and information technology systems, to support the development of digital services application in Nigeria. Additionally, Section 5(7) of the Bill provides for incentives to bolster the use of information technology, such as the establishment of information technology parks, promotion of innovation, startup initiatives, digital entrepreneurship, digital commerce, digital government services, privacy and trust.
Thirdly, the Bill has introduced a change in the composition of the National Information Technology Development Agency Board. In the Bill, the board will be headed by a part-time Chairman, as opposed to a Chairman as found in the current NITDA Act, 2007. The Bill also removed the membership of experts from the 6 geo-political zones, and replaced it with 4 persons of integrity from 4 geopolitical zones, excluding that of the Director-General and Chairman.
Fourthly, Section 13 of the Bill maintains the establishment of the National Information Technology Fund. However, it goes ahead to provide a purpose for the fund – the advancement of the country’s digital economy objectives and related purposes. Companies whose annual turnovers are N100,000,000 and above are mandated to pay 1 per cent of their profits before tax into the fund.
Fifth, Section 20 of the Bill empowers the Agency by regulation, to issue licenses for operators in the information technology sector and digital economy sector. Such regulation shall provide for licensing and authorization criteria, including renewal, suspension, and revocation conditions to promote free-market operation and competition amongst others. The following licenses are available under the bill; product license, service license, platform provider license.
A LOOK AT SIMILAR AGENCIES IN OTHER JURISDICTIONS
GHANA: Just like Nigeria, Ghana has the National Information Technology Agency, Ghana. It is a public service institution that is the ICT policy implementing arm of the Ministry of Communications. Its mandate includes identifying, promoting, and developing innovative technologies, standards, guidelines, and practices among government agencies and local governments, as well as ensuring the sustainable growth of ICT via research & development planning. It also includes technology acquisition strategies to facilitate Ghana’s prospect of becoming a technology-driven, knowledge and value-based economy as espoused in the E-Ghana project which ideally seeks to assist the Government to generate growth and employment, by leveraging ICT and public-private partnerships.
INDIA: The National Informatics Centre (NIC), under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, is a technology partner of the Government of India. Its mandate includes the design and development of IT Systems for the Government, provision of ICT infrastructure to the government, and advising on the use of Emerging Technologies.
A cursory look at the mandates above shows that across the developing world, countries have agencies like NITDA in place to better position themselves for a technologically advanced future.
ROLE OF LAWYERS IN INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
As technology has grown in leaps and bounds over the last few decades, the need for lawyers to help unravel the legal knots of stakeholders in the information technology sector has also grown.
A clear definition of the role of a lawyer in information technology is difficult to come by as the IT sector is always in a state of change. Perhaps, a better way to understand the role of lawyers in information technology, is to describe the various activities that lawyers can carry out within the sector. These include:
- Transactional and advisory work for tech companies or companies looking into technological solutions.
- Ensuring that technological solutions, products, and services are compliant with the extant laws and regulations applicable in a given jurisdiction.
- Ensuring compliance with obligations contained in various contracts and agreements.
- Liaising with government regulators to obtain operational licenses.
- Identifying possible legal risks and managing them.
- Drafting technology agreements to ensure that their client’s legal interests are protected.