A Bill designed to increase the powers of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) has been generating controversies in the Nigerian ICT sector.
While some stakeholders have condemned the bill for attempting to arrogate the powers of other government agencies to NITDA, there have also been concerns that the bill, if passed into law, would lead to multiple regulations for telecom operators and other service providers in the ICT sector.
It is also feared that the bill would worsen the current multiple taxation regime in the telecommunications industry as it empowers NITDA to also impose levies and taxes on all service providers in the ICT ecosystem including startups.
These concerns notwithstanding, the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on ICT and Cyber Security on December 23, 2022, held a public hearing on the bill.
The Public hearing was, however, stalled due to the absence of key promoters of the bill, the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Ali Pantami, and the Director-General of NITDA, Kashifu Inuwa.
By Wednesday, January 4, the controversial bill had become a trend on Twitter with the hashtag RejectNITDAbill ranking high among trending topics in the country’s Twitter space.
Naiarametrics takes a look at some of the provisions of these bills that the stakeholders are raising eyebrows about:
1 Section 6 (1)
Sections 6 of the bill makes provisions for the powers of NITDA and sub-section 1 states that the Agency shall have power to:
“Implement all Government policies on information technology and digital economy”
This is seen as an attempt to usurp the powers of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC, which is mandated under the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA 2003) to prepare and implement programmes and plans that promote and ensure the development of the communications industry and provisions of communication services in Nigeria.
2. Section 6 (2)
Sub-section 2 of the same section 6 states that NITDA under the new bill shall have the power to:
“Test and approve the use of information technology infrastructure and services before adoption in Nigeria.”
This is replicating the power of the NCC to “carry out type approval tests on communication equipment and issue certificates based on technical specifications and standards prescribed from time to time by the Commission” as stipulated by the NCA 2003.
3. Section 15
While the NITDA Act of 2007 also makes provision for the establishment of the National Information Technology Development Fund, which is to be funded through a levy of 1% of the profit before tax of Nigerian companies with an annual turnover of N100, 000,000 and above, stakeholders are raising a red flag on the provision of Section 15 of the new bill which put the control fund under the control of the NITDA’s Director-General.
Section 15 of the bill states:
“The Director-General of the Agency shall keep proper records of the sources and use of the monies and assets of the Fund and shall render accounts to the Minister, at least once in a fiscal year.”
4. Section 20
Stakeholders are worried that this section of the bill will worsen the current issue of multipole regulations in the ICT sector and discourage investors as multiple government agencies will be regulating and issuing licences to the same set of companies. This section of the bill is empowering NITDA to issue licences to all companies in the ICT sector.
“The Agency shall by Regulation issue licenses and authorisations for operators in the information technology and digital economy sector, and such regulation shall provide for licensing and authorisation criteria including renewal, suspension, and revocation conditions to promote freemarket operation and competition, among others.”
5. Section 21
Section 21 of the Bill goes further to specify the categories of companies to be licensed by NITDA and it minced no words in declaring that this will cover all businesses operating in the ICT sector, including those that have been licensed by the NCC.
Section 21 of the bill states:
“The Agency shall classify its licenses and authorisations under any of the following: (1) Product License (2) Service Provider License (3) Platform Provider License.”
As the National Assembly put the public hearing on the bill on hold, it is hoped that the concerns of the stakeholders, which include members of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) and the Computer Professionals Registration Council of Nigeria (CPN), among others, will be put into consideration before the bill is passed into law.