The Nigerian National Assembly has adjourned hearing on a technology bill after members failed to form a quorum over the validity of the hearing and the substance of the bill. The public hearing will now hold in January 2023 allowing legislators and stakeholders time to properly study the bill.
The National Assembly Joint Committee on Information Communications Technology had organised a public hearing on a Bill for an Act to Repeal the National Information Technology Development Agency Act No. 28, 2007 and Enact the National Information Technology Development Agency Act.
But during the public hearing, some legislators had raised concerns over the timing of the hearing and the absence of key stakeholders, notably those spearheading the bill.
The Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, the Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Communications, Commission (NCC), Professor Umar Garba Danbatta, and the Director General of the NITDA, Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi whose agency is spearheading the bill, were absent forcing a member of the House of Representative to raise a point of order asking the hearing be postponed.
Hon Nkem Uzoma-Abonta of Ukwa East/West Federal Constituency of Abia State said the public hearing must not be perceived as secretive and also argued that majority of the Joint Committee members have not accessed the bill for proper scrutiny.
“This is a bill that will protect the integrity of Nigeria in the Internet space. But the drivers of the bill seem to be running on low gear. When the Senate President ably represented here spoke, he talked about people rumouring that we are holding a secret hearing. No, here there is nothing secretive about this, we are here in this hall,” said Akonte.
Adding: “However, the needed ingredients for us to proceed are not available. I am speaking from the side of the House. We have conferred among ourselves. We have 36 members of the committee and how many of us are here?
“Critically too, we don’t have the required documents here. I can’t find the Director-General of NITDA, the minister is not here. What needs to done should be seen to be properly done”.
His position was immediately supported by, Hon. Idem Unyim, representing Ukanafun/Oruk Anam Federal Constituency of Akwa-Ibom State. Unyime said he had no copy of the bill which needed to be properly scrutinized by lawmakers considering its importance.
The public hearing was declared open by President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, who was represented by the Deputy Whip, Senator Aliu Sabi Abdullahi. This was followed by a welcome address by the chairman, Senate Committee on ICT and Cyber Security, Senator Yakubu Oseni and his House counterpart, Hon. Lado Abubakar Suleja.
Senator Oseni described the bill as helping to “provide for the administration, implementation and regulation of information technology systems and practices as well as digital economy in Nigeria and for related matters.”
While a large number of stakeholders from the business community and civil society organisations (CSOs) were in attendance; but heads of major federal and state ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) in the sector were absent.
The NITDA Bill had earlier been considered by the House of Representatives and consecutively passed the first and second readings on the floor of the Senate on December 12 and 13 respectively. The public hearing held December 23 pitching members of the Joint Committee from the House of Representatives against those from the Senate.
Industry complains over the bill include allegations that its sponsors are intending to create a mega-regulator whose powers will supersedes those of other agencies including the NCC and National Identity Management Commission (NIMC).