Five Mistakes in the Government’s Attempt to Regulate the Tech Space in Nigeria

Abdulhakeem Ibraheem Abdulkareem

Regulating digital technologies and the tech industry in Nigeria has been worrisome and filled with ups and downs. Unfortunately, in Nigerian parlance, the word regulation is synonymous with ‘stifling’ rather than ‘enabling’, due to the government’s history of poor management. Here are five mistakes the government has made in making policy in the technology industry in the last few years.

Language

The language used to convey policy direction is not always positive or progressive. Take, for example, if you hear the term General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), your first thought is typically how your data is protected, used, and managed. In contrast, if you hear the term National Data Protection Regulation (NDPR), a similar document with similar intent, what comes to mind is non-compliance, what to do so as not to get caught or how to avoid government trouble. This history of colonial and military high-handedness is still visible in our policy communication. Unfortunately, the media and other stakeholders also make similar mistakes.

Content

Similar to language, the content of some initial attempts at a policy is not watertight. Therefore, creating fear and agitation among interested parties. Instead of focusing on the big picture (creating prosperity), the government focuses on some low-hanging fruits (like taking ownership or having control).

For instance, the recent draft document on the ‘Code of Practice for Interactive Computer Platforms/Internet intermediaries’, otherwise known as NITDA’s attempt to regulate Social Media, has generated so much controversy about the intent of the government. The pages of the book are almost entirely devoted to words and information about how the government wants to control the system (raising tension and suspicion that it is an attempt to silence the people). There is not much information available about how the government intends to raise revenue, tax platforms and influencers making millions through the platform. Such circumstances are indicative of misdirection or misplaced priorities on the part of the government.

Timing

There has been a lot of debate about the benefits of the Twitter ban. Whether it was right to ban it or not, the timing was very wrong. After the President’s tweet was flagged and deleted, the government banned Twitter. No amount of media correctness can change the perception that the government is insecure and power-hungry.

If the government truly is interested in effectively regulating the platform and gaining financial returns, it won’t wait until that incident or ban Twitter after the incident. This is similar to the experience with the ban on cryptocurrency. Timing is very critical in making a decision. It can either harm or strengthen the decision.

Loss of trust

The government has lost its credibility due to wrong decisions over the years. Therefore, any plan of action is viewed with suspicion. The tech space has been seriously hammered by the government. There have been withdrawals of licenses from some Fintechs, account closures, and many other decisions that have created fear and suspicion among stakeholders. Therefore, any arbitrary attempt, positive or otherwise, is viewed with suspicion.

Complexity: Too many layers of authority

The government has made its responsibilities so complex that it can sometimes confuse. More agencies are being created and sometimes their chain of command or management is distorted. For example, after NITDA published the National Data Protection Regulation (NDPR), a National Data Protection Bureau (NDPB) was established. The NDPB was initially under NITDA, but there are currently efforts to make it an independent agency or an agency within the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. To some people, NITDA is still the agency responsible for data protection in the country. This unbalanced chain of command and complex layer of authority creates confusion and sometimes makes people tired and disinterested as the government is seen as disorganised.

Digital and new technologies are emerging and disruptive. Government must be smart, brisk and ambitious to effectively manage the sector. Ego will do nothing more than worsen the situation for the government. Despite the incredibly huge resources expended by this administration in the tech space, these policy mistakes have marred their efforts.

Abdulhakeem Ibraheem Abdulkareem is a public policy expert advocating for the use of digital technologies for social development

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