Digital Right is an integral Part of Economic Ecosystem – Gbenga Sesan

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….In this interview with BUKOLA OLANREWAJU, the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, Mr Gbenga Sesan discussed the importance of digital economy and the signing the digital right bill as an effort towards driving an effective economic  in a democratic setting.

What does digital rights means to a layman?

Digital rights is not a new concept because it’s also part of human rights that speaks on right to live, dignity and so on. But, because we’ve built our lives built around internet and digital platforms (digital experiences), human rights conversation has now adopted another components which is digital rights.

It has become more popular because we live in a continent where digitalization has provided citizens with the platforms to complain about what is not right, especially about what governments are not doing right.

Because of this, some influential people are beginning to get uncomfortable with the way citizens called them out on social media. As a result, lots of youths have been unduly harassed while others lives are in jeopardy.

Although democracy has provided citizens with the legal right to seek redress in court whenever their rights are being violated, we don’t see this happening in Nigeria. We’ve seen instances where police officers or SARS forced people to withdraw from their bank account after stopping them on the road because they saw them with laptop or other electronic gadgets.

This among other many things made digital right compulsory in our country.

This is our reality. Rights are important because it’s what separates us from animals.

 How does this right promote digital economy?

Oil is not the future because it is not sustainable. Now, we see countries that aren’t up to us building things around technology and succeeding.

Digital platforms are opportunities for us to build our economy.

Technology is an opportunity. Digital platforms are opportunities for us to build and improve the economy to create jobs. Most times, one doesn’t need to build blocks of offices.

A harsh environment that is not conducive will discourage young people from innovating due to fear of being arrested when seen with laptops and other technical gadgets.

A lot of these innovators who are meant to focus on innovations and learning are worried about their safety and extortions from public officers. Most of the times when rights are been  abuse, the activities is indirectly discouraging people from learning. For example, the young man who won the google contest has just submitted his project when the Cameroonian government decided to shut down the Internet. Imagine he hasn’t submitted.

The economy is made up of different sectors but all these are affected upon violations of digital rights.

Is the digital rights bill laying the foundation for a digital inclusive economy?

We see digital rights as an integral part of the entire ecosystem, not a standalone.

It is intertwined with social responsibilities, economic opportunities, development, cybersecurity and legal to make a whole.

No innovation can happen when people are scared.

Given your experience when the President refused the digital right bill, can you share your thought?

It was a major setback and I wrote an entire article in a print media on how it was a missed opportunity for Nigeria.

It was just about the economy but as a leader, no country in Africa would have been able to boost of having the digital rights signed into law first.

A lot of countries such as Ghana, Cameroun and Zambia are now considering and enforcing the digital rights law. We are called the giant of Africa but why do we missed the opportunity to prove that.

I was disappointed but not surprised. I wasn’t naive enough to think a bill like that will go through at once. Of course, it has to be negotiated and discussed. They need to see that it is in their interest first, there are lots of engagements on-going on the topic right now. We’ve made some adjustments to address some of the concerns without necessarily removing the provisions. The bill has been presented for the first time to the House of Representatives and it’s now been sponsored.

Digital Rights bill took some countries eleven years before it can be passed to law. So I’m very optimistic that it will work in Nigeria. This is three years and counting for Nigeria.

What are your biggest challenges with policy making in Nigeria?

Nigeria has laws that have become excuses for clampdowns. These are the bad laws.

The second challenge is that we don’t have as much engagement as we ought to have. People literally wait until something is too late before they speak up.

We made a lot of noise before the cybercrime bill was signed into law by the President. Now, it’s one section of the Act that security officers are using to arrest people around, even journalists are not spared.

As an organisation, we need to make people understand that there is need for engagement from the very beginning before it gets out of hands. Now we’ve heard about the NGO registration bill and the Police bill.

Most importantly, we all need to come together and speak as one voice to be heard.

#What is the update on the digital right bill?

It has gone through first reading at the 9th Assembly in July. Now, conversations to put the bill on fast track is ongoing.

ALSO RELATED: Expert kicks against FG’s move to formulate new policy for ICT sector

The public hearing is what truly matters and when the time comes, the whole Nigeria will know and they will be given opportunity to say their part. I mean, this is a law that protect you, as much as gives you leverage to seek redress in court when harassed by police officers and the likes.

What collaboration exists between your organization and the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy on the Digital Rights bill?

We work with everybody, even with the Ministry of Justice. We have written to them and they’ve assured us that they are working on it, so we are following up on that.

When the bill passed through the second reading, am sure the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy will also participate in the Public hearing. This is because; if the Minister supports this bill there will be more to it.

 Can the rights promote cyber security in Nigeria?

Security and Rights are twins. Many times they are being played against each others, which is wrong.

Human right is a security issue while security is a fundamental right. This I say, because we have all these challenges around cyber security. But to respect ones’ right as a country means that I can’t invade your privacy, territorial integrity online.

Beyond all that, the fundamental concept of digital right means that privacy is respected. This connotes that one country cannot attack the other.

In worse case scenarios, there are cyber warfare and companies like Microsoft and the rest are coming together to speak on the rules in cyber warfare.

The bedrock of the rule for cyber security is that there must be mutual respect. The baseline is that privacy is respected and in case of violations, one can seek redress. Anything around intrusion, surveillance and interception must be lawful and proportionate.

With the digital rights law being in place, does it mean that all data kept abroad are secure?

They are not always secured. There are two different things: data privacy which is where digital rights comes to play and there is data security which is solely a security and infrastructure issue.

It is one thing for me to have my data and you respect my right not to infiltrate or breech it. Security is knowing that anything shared is protected with privacy respected. Though related, privacy right exist but security must be enforced.

It being argued that there is need for a new ICT policy to be in place for Nigeria to be fully digital inclusive; what your take on this, and what should the new policy addressed?

Nigeria doesn’t need a new policy. The former Communications Technology Minister, Dr. Omobola Johnson drafted a policy with the broadband committee and ICT policy group then. I was one of the members then, the policy drafted for Nigeria was approved in principle by the Federal Executive Council while waiting for alignment as far as the frequency management is concerned. Of which, the requested frequency management alignment for radio, internet – telecoms has already been done.

What Nigeria just need to do is ensure that there is adequate synergy for everyone together while implementing. Creating policies here and there will only result to conflict of interests and perfect waste of time.

The problem here is that each new minister just wants to have its own policy. The former communications minister, Barrister Adebayo tried to create his own roadmap and now the present Minister is drafting his own ICT policy.

Mobile services connect over 167 million people in Nigeria, equivalent to 70% of the population while delivering widespread social and economic benefits. With fixed line penetration only at 0.2%, mobile is best placed to extend access to connectivity in the future.  Is this all about digital inclusion in Nigeria?

Politics has been played with number. It is bad when Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) counts SIM cards, this is because a person can own up to three SIM cards while in an ordinary Nigerian house, and there can be more than ten SIM cards with just three or four users.

Why are they not counting person since the multiple cards are registered with just a subscriber’s name. In a recent conversation, the Minister assured me that they are working to rectify this.

We analysed and addressed three key issues for the initial Broadband plan. One, broadband should be define by 1.5Mbps to encourage seamless Internet connection with no buffering. Two, we agreed that we will move from 6% to 30% in penetration before 2018. At the end of 2018, suddenly it was announced that we have 31% internet penetration. This is either a political move for 2019 election or just for somebody to keep in job.

We have huge opportunities in broadband like we had in 2002 with GSM, this encouraged lot of investments. Now, we are saying Nigerians have mobile phones with internet connections and we expect investment.

People invest where there are opportunities only. Our ICT statistics is saying all is good, how do we expect or intend to attract investors when there is no need according to our numbers.

Can you throw more light into the role of broadband in Nigeria digital inclusiveness?

We are a country that can never build enough schools. We have 1.8 million of students writing JAMB yearly whereas the available schools can only admit 800,000. This means that every year, one million students can never get admitted.

The only way to teach now is have online schools. One of Paradigms initiatives is putting content a device like router, and then drop it in schools. Content and tutorials can be downloaded from this. This can be done in a school that have up to 10, 000 students. If this is done in ten schools, we have 100,000 students benefitting from this. If done in 36 states, we’ve impacted 3.6 million students.

That is digital and that’s the future. This can never happen without a broadband.

What is Paradigm L.I.F.E initiatives and the achievements recorded so far?

This is also one of our initiatives to equip young people with necessary skills for the future. It means Life skills, ICT skills, financial readiness and entrepreneurship.

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