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How Senate Committee on ICT Manipulated NITDA Report – Gbenga Sesan

Nigerian tech leader and Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative for Information Technology, Gbenga Sesan, has accused the Senate Committee on ICT and Cybersecurity of presenting a false report on the hearing conducted around the controversial NITDA Bill to the senate.

Paradigm Initiative for Information Technology was one of only 31 organisations representing tech and ICT stakeholders at the public hearing for the NITDA Bill on December 13, 2022. Gbenga himself represented his organisation as a stakeholder and as such was a first-hand participant at the event.

In the report as seen by this reporter, the Senate Committee on ICT, headed by Senator Yakubu Oseni, recommended the passage of the NITDA Bill into law, claiming that majority of the memos presented by stakeholders during its public hearing supported it.

The senate committee, in its report, stated that 17 stakeholders out of the 31 present supported the bill while 14 opposed it. But Gbenga Sesan says that’s very far from the truth.

Using an excerpt from the committee’s report which suggested that the committee inflated the numbers of those who supported the bill, Gbenga argued that the reverse was actually the case, as 17 stakeholders opposed the bill while 14 supported it.

“Looking at the list of 17 supporters in the Senate Committee on ICT and Cyber Security report, you will see that 3 organisations’ names are repeated. Deliberately? i and xvii are the same organisation. The same is true for iii and xv, and for vi and xvi.” Gbenga Sesan

A look at that section of the report suggests that Gbenga was right. (i) is Schoola IT Central while (xvii) is IT Central. This becomes more glaring when you consider that the full list of 31 stakeholders as shown below does not contain any separate organisation named IT Central.

Senate committee on ICT manipulated NITDA Bill report, dubiously trying to scale bill into law- Gbenga Sesan
List of NITDA Bill supporters in the Senate Committee on ICT report as seen

Per the list of supporters, (iii) is Sustainable Initiative for Nurturing Growth (SING) while (xv) is simply ‘SING Nigeria.’ Once again, ‘SING Nigeria’ is nowhere on the full list of stakeholders. Finally, (vi) is Network of Advocates for Digital Reporting (NADIR) while xvi) is exactly Network of Advocates for Digital Reporting, but this one doesn’t have NADIR in a bracket.

While it could have been argued that it was just an error of repetition, the manner in which the repetitions were made suggests someone was trying to be clever. For instance, the use of just SING rather than the full expression suggests whoever wrote it knew exactly what they were doing.

Moreover, three stakeholders listed in the general list of 31 stakeholders weren’t represented in either the supporters or opposers’ list. They include Knowledge HouseAmerican Business Council and Policy Implementation Assited Forum. While the report doesn’t explain why those three organisations were omitted entirely, Gbenga, in a tweet, claims that the three stakeholders actually opposed the bill. However, due to the mischievous intents of the drafters, they omitted the stakeholders just to balance up the numbers.

“I am an optimist so I would like to assume it was clerical error, but it looks like the poor job of an aide with marching orders. It is very sad to see a lazy and unintelligent manipulation of the legislative process,” Gbenga tells this reporter.

Senate committee on ICT manipulated NITDA report, dubiously trying to scale bill into law- Gbenga Sesan
Full list of stakeholders at the Senate Committee on ICT hearing as seen in the report

This reporter also reached out to one of the stakeholders who voted in support of the bill and whose vote appeared to have been duplicated. This stakeholder was Schoola, a Kaduna-based education technology company. One of its co-founders, Abdullahi confirmed that indeed the company voted in support of the bill.

He then explained that there’s a separate entity called IT central founded by Nasir Mustapha. This entity is an early-stage startup supporting hub that has become the parent organisation of many startups including Schoola’s.

While this might be so, the problem remains that IT Central isn’t listed among the 31 stakeholders invited for the public hearing. So how does the company get to vote in the first place?

Gbenga Sesan noted that some of the organisations listed in support of the bill barely exist, or have no relationship with the objectives of the Bill, or have connections between at least three of the listed NGOs and the Minister who is attempting to force the Bill on Nigerians.

Indeed, Abdullahi of Schoola admitted that NITDA was very pivotal in the startup’s growth and acceleration, having sponsored its founders across various stages of their growth. It therefore suggests that it was merely time to pay back this sacrifice, and it was in form of supporting the NITDA Bill as it was.

Furthermore, it would be difficult to explain how organisations like Youth Against Disaster Initiative (Abuja), Heroic Discovery and Community Development Centre (Abuja), Mother’s and Marginalised Advocacy Centre (Abuja), and Youth and Civil Society Coalition for Development (Dutse) were part of such a hearing.

What all these orgnisations have in common, apart from the fact that they all supported the NITDA Bill at the senate hearing, is that they are all NGO’s that would probably not bear the financial burdens as prescribed in the bill, nor would their operations fall within the purview of the NITDA. So how are they stakeholders?

NITDA Bill and continuous backlash

Since its proposal in 2021, the NITDA Bill has continued to be met with backlash from major players in the ICT sector. Small startups and big tech companies alike have decried it, describing the bill, which upgrades NITDA from a developmental agency to a regulatory one, as limiting and damaging.

Even though NITDA Director-General, Inuwa Kashifu-Abdullai claimed that an urgent review of the NITDA Act was needed to position Nigeria as Africa’s leading digital economy player, tech players insist that the law would spell doom for the ecosystem.

They said it would lead to multiple taxation as it would be assuming functions and levies already undertaken by other government regulators. And even though in Section 4.2 of its report the senate committee claims it has “amended the vexatious clauses of the bill in other to address the fears expressed by the opposing stakeholders,” Gbenga Sesan is of the strong opinion that those suggested were mere cosmetics and do not address the core issues raised by the stakeholder.

“The alleged corrections were not communicated and did not address all of the concerns, including the major concern of duplicating existing government regulatory oversight. The attempt to manipulate the process in order to hastily pass the bill in the Senate is also a major concern.” Gbenga Sesan

It is important to note that within the last 2 weeks, two other stakeholders involved in the public hearing, The Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) and the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) have called fo rthe scrapping of the bill. The ALTON has also applied to be excluded from the jurisdiction of the contentious bill.

NITDA Bill is already scaling legislative hurdles, why the rush?

While the tech and ICT players this NITDA law was supposed to cater to are thoroughly against its promulgation, Nigeria’s lawmakers appear to be hellbent on passing it into law. And very speedily too.

Senate committee on ICT manipulated NITDA Bill report, dubiously trying to scale bill into law- Gbenga Sesan
Recommendation of the Senate Committee on ICT as seen in the report

Presently, the bill has already been read for the third time and passed by the senate. This draws serious concerns about how the senate treats reports because any proper scrutiny of the report would have revealed the discrepancies.

Gbenga suggests the senators probably have their marching orders to expedite the passage of the bill which explains why the process is being hurried.

“They (senate) should have done a better job at simply reading the report. But when you have marching orders to get something done at any cost, errors like that get easily missed or ignored,” he told this reporter.

He, however, now puts the onus on the Femi Gbajabiamila-led House of Representatives to halt the speedy progress of that unpopular piece of legislation and prevent it from getting to the President for assent. According to him, even if the Senate claims ignorance of the error or deliberate deceit, the House can’t say that any more.

Asked what else can be done, especially since nobody is optimistic about the House of Reps stopping the bill, the Paradigm CEO said it would behoove on the 17 stakeholders who have been upstaged, as well as other major players in the tech space to

The alleged corrections were not communicated and did not address all of the concerns, including the major concern of duplicating existing government regulatory oversight. The attempt to manipulate the process in order to hastily pass the bill in the Senate is also a major concern.

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