The Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) has expressed its displeasure with the controversial bill sponsored by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). According to its national president, Tony Emoekpere, the bill, if passed into law, would wreak long-term damage to Nigeria’s digital economy.
The umbrella body for telcos in Nigeria noted that the bill seeks to transform the NITDA into a full-fledged regulator in the digital economy, a role that the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) already performs.
Beyond the fear of duplicating regulatory functions, ATCON also believes the bill will make the country less desirable to foreign investment. The national president thus affirmed the body’s unwillingness to support the bill because of the possibility of “reduced capital importation into the industry, loss of confidence by both local and international investors.”
Similarly, the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), has expressed its fears over the implications of the bill to the Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives on ICT and Cybersecurity. According to the association which is seeking to be excluded from the bill:
“If the Bill is passed as presently constituted, there is the risk that the Agency, acting properly under the Bill may issue regulations, guidelines, and standards with regard to the use of information technology and digital services, which will conflict with the functions of the NCC. It will also result in double and possibly conflicting regulations for telecommunications companies in Nigeria
A close reading of the troublesome bill
Seeking to repeal the existing 2007 Act which birthed it, the proponents of the NITDA Bill claimed that it would reflect Nigeria’s increased presence in the global tech scene. Admittedly, the West African nation has recorded massive technological advancement recently.
Aside from accommodating many startups that offer innovative products and services, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Nigerian Startup Act into law. While many industry analysts saw this as a great step in the right direction, the NITDA hasn’t been getting the same love. Stakeholders nationwide have called for the bill to be revised and for President Buhari to be wary of approving the contentious piece of legislation.
Section 6 – which states the NITDA’s proposed powers – is perhaps the most problematic portion. The section accords NITDA the capacity to “implement all Government policies on information technology and digital economy”, fix licensing and authorization charges, collect fees and penalties as may be necessary for the exercise of its functions, sanction erring individuals or bodies, invade company premises, and lots more.
The bill also provides for launching a National Information Technology Development Fund which the NITDA claims will be “used for the advancement of Nigeria’s digital economy objectives and related purposes.” How will the fund receive credit inflows? Section 13 (2a) expects companies and enterprises with an annual profit of $100,000,000 to pay a 1% levy before tax. Grants, gifts, and endowments are among other proposed revenue streams.
What’s more, the bill states that all finances in the NITDA’s fund will be exempt from income tax.
The long-term implications
As Nigeria’s technological space continues to enjoy rapid growth, many expect policymakers and other stakeholders to contribute to an enabling environment. The NITDA bill, in its current form, can potentially undo the achievements of Nigeria’s digital sector.
Allowing an agency originally tasked with guiding the country toward digital transformation to become a regulator of regulators is unwise. Aside from this, the slew of taxes and sanctions for contravening the new regulations doesn’t exactly scream “business friendly”.
These and the other provisions in the bill could portray Nigeria in a negative light. No longer a favourable investment spot, the ATCON chairman warns that capital inflow will reduce. Unless the bill is revised with all of the tricky sections expunged, the future is grim.
For a country struggling with persistent inflation, a high unemployment rate, and unrest in many regions, efforts should be made to bolster Nigeria’s economic growth, not stifle it.
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