In a  last-minute maneuver, Nigeria’s minister of communications and digital economy Prof Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami is trying to change the already passed Nigeria Startup Act, just days before President Buhari’s tenure ends.

Five days before President Muhammadu Buhari hands over power to a new administration, Nigeria’s minister of communications and digital economy Prof Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami is trying to institute a new board to drive the Nigerian Startup Act (NSA). TechCabal exclusively learnt that despite questions about its legality, the minister is keen on this move.

In a memo seen by TechCabal, Prof Pantami asked President Buhari to not only absorb the 27-member Nigerian Startup Implementation Committee into the Nigeria Startup Act council meetings but also give these members a four year tenure — something that council members on the NSA council don’t have.

A source close to the matter told TechCabal, “The 27-member Startup Implementation Committee was set up to come up with a framework for implementation of the startup act. Their role is an adhoc committee. They are a think-tank on how the act will be implemented. They are not to be confused with the members of the Nigeria Startup Act council.”

The source explained that the minister also wanted the chairman of the committee to sit in the council, thereby creating a new role that wasn’t in the startup act when it was signed into law.

The long road to Nigeria’s Startup Bill

The Nigeria Startup Bill (NSB), was signed into law by Buhari on October 19, 2022. One of the major objectives of the bill is to bridge the engagement gap between startups and regulators and ensure that impediments to Nigeria’s tech ecosystem are removed. Section 3 of the Act already states that the  National Council for Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship – interpreted as “the Council” would drive the regulations regarding startups. Section 4 states the membership of the council, conferring the president as the Chairperson while Section 5 explains that other members of the council who are not ex-officio members, will only hold office — a term of two years and may be eligible for re-appointment for another term of two years and no more.

The disconnect

The memo, which was revealed during a council meeting, stated, “Having established some of the challenges that the Secretariat identified in the course of the implementation of the Act, the Secretariat wishes to seek the kind indulgence of this distinguished Council to ratify the following approvals obtained from Mr. President, pursuant to Section 44 of the NSA. 

“Development of the NSA Implementation framework; Constitution and formation of the 27-member Nigeria Startup Act Implementation Committee (NSAIC); Four year tenure for the members of the NSA Implementation Committee; Quarterly evaluation of the NSAIC members by the Chair of the Committee; Attendance of the NSAIC Chair to the National Council for Digital innovation and Entrepreneurship; Development of the Start-up Engagement and Support Portal; Formation of the Consultative Forum.”

However, the source said for the implementation committee to be a part of the already established council by law they need approval from the council and not necessarily the Senate. 

The source also said that allowing the chairman of the implementation committee to attend council meetings is unclear because there is already a chairperson set by law already in section 4 of the NSA act. “In what capacity would the  Chairperson of the implementation committee attend NSA council meetings?,” the source asked. 

The source explained that the Minister wants to tinker with the council by subtly seeking the President’s approval to put the committee inside the council. 

A possible amendment before May 29th?

The source explained that this ratification can only be accepted by the council. He explained that the only way Pantami’s plans can work is if a quorum is formed in the council. 

For a quorum to work, a minimum of eight people must be present alongside the chairman and two members of the private sector. The source said since the members of the council were not all there yesterday, the meeting couldn’t hold. “The meeting should have started by 4:30pm. By 6:30pm when some members left, the meeting hadn’t started but they were still waiting for the minister to come. This means they still wanted to have the meeting,” the source explained.

A startup lawyer, Oyindolapo Olusesi doesn’t believe Pantami would be able to change the already signed law in five days. 

“To ‘change’ a law, which is technically “to amend”, you need the legislative arm to carry out its constitutional duty of law making and revise some of the provisions of the existing law. When the amendments are passed by the law makers, and assented by the President, only then can the amendment become a law. 

“In this instance, it is rather impracticable for there to be any amendments in a few days, even if the process were expedited. I mean, anything can happen in our political clime, but that, itself, would be a stretch,” Olusesi explained.

The source stressed that a council agent should be monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the NSA act.

Joseph Olaoluwa Senior Reporter, TechCabal

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