Status of internet freedom in Nigeria
In recent years, Nigeria has experienced exponential growth in internet access, with just the last two years witnessing 7% growth to an overall penetration of 45.1% of the population. In this time, the internet has also shown just what it is capable of in terms of facilitating unfettered and vigorous citizen participation online, as seen in the 2015 general elections. Yet internet freedom is under threat all over the world, with governments seeking to control and monitor internet usage. This report examines the status of internet freedom in Nigeria, and explores just what is at risk and how the threats to internet freedom are manifesting in the country.
At present, internet access is being primarily driven by mobile phone penetration. However, the significant rise in access belies poverty and gender barriers that mean women are 40% less likely to have internet access, and the fact that for many, the internet is still seen as a luxury. Despite these challenges, the internet provides a unique and important medium of expression for women in particular, allowing groups to network and organise and giving voice to those that would otherwise remain silenced.
To illustrate the danger currently posed to internet freedom in Nigeria, the report outlines all of the potentially harmful National Assembly bills that are currently passing through the legislative process. The list of bills cover a number of topics, including terrorism, cybercrime, finance, computer security, and the telecom industry. Many feature language that is open to wide interpretation, or else places impractical burdens on internet users themselves. A number of reasons are offered as to why such poorly written bills keep resurfacing, including the ignorance of technology on the part of law-makers, and the global trend toward greater government surveillance.
The authors end on a positive note however, citing the case of the “Anti-Social Media Bill” which sought to heavily constrain freedom of expression online. Such was the reaction from the citizenry that the bill had to be dropped, while at the same time a ground-breaking Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, drafted by the NetRights coalition led by Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, passed through its first reading in the Nigerian House of Representatives. The authors conclude that the Nigerian government must strive to better understand the legal and socio-economic implications of their legislation, while businesses and citizens must engage further to ensure that internet freedoms are maintained for all.