Today, May 17, 2016, is World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD-2016) and in commemoration, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) has released a report on the state of internet freedom in Nigeria.

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), hosts of this year’s WTISD, the theme for WTISD 2016 is “ICT Entrepreneurship for Social Impact”. This theme follows Resolution 68 which was endorsed by the ITU Council in 2015.

With this report themed “State of the Nation – Status of Internet Freedom in Nigeria”, Paradigm Initiative will be joining the conversation on the state of information in the world. The report addresses the current conditions of information in Nigeria, paying particular focus on the impact of the government and other stakeholders in the information society in Nigeria up till 2016.

According to the report, internet access in Nigeria has grown exponentially, rising from 38% in 2013 to 45.1% in  2015. Having the largest population of Internet users in Africa, Nigeria has also seen a rise in broadband penetration, going from 6% in 2013 to 10% in 2015.  And inasmuch as this growth is a good thing, internet speed is low, averaging 2.8Mbps compared to the global average of 4.5Mbps. But that’s just the state of access.

The state of internet freedom in Nigeria doesn’t seem to be following the (positive) progression that internet access has been having. Granted, laws have to be made to allow for the reality that comes with the growth of internet access, but the laws proposed by the National Assembly have been more about stifling freedom of expression than protecting National interests or security.

The report listed Bills and Act that could hurt internet freedom, some of which were; Cybersecurity 2011, A Bill For An Act To Provide For The Promotion Of Internet Safety In Nigeria And Other Related Matters (HB 673), and the infamous Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions; and other matters connected therewith a.k.a the Anti-Social Media Bill.

Not to put the blame squarely on the National Assembly, the report also highlighted non-legislative threats to internet freedom in Nigeria including inactive Nigerian citizens, the laid-back role of internet businesses, increase in government allocation for surveillance equipment, and policy makers’ ignorance of internet technology.

The report concluded by calling for the Nigerian government to find the right balance between privacy of its citizens and security of the nation. It gave a few recommendations with the words, “Citizen and Internet business participation is needed to create a safe and free Internet, and government should not seek to intimidate individuals and organisations that bring these rights violations to the attention of all stakeholders.”

Cyberspace Freedom is a global issue and there have been reports lending credence to this fact in the past few months. In February, the NCC thought about regulating the use of internet services like Whatsapp, Brazil shut down Whatsapp (again) earlier this month (it’s back up now) and Uganda shut down social media for one day (again) last week. There needs to be an open discussion on how citizens’ rights regarding their use of the internet can be preserved.

This report by Paradigm Initiative is great step toward the right direction if we hope to see any change regarding the Nigerian cyberspace. If you want to be enlightened on the state of internet freedom in Nigeria, you can read the full report here.

Happy World Telecommunication and Information Society Day.

Tola Agunbiade Author

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