Home Economy Absence of principal officers of Communications Ministry, NCC, NITDA, stalls National Assembly ICT Public hearing

Absence of principal officers of Communications Ministry, NCC, NITDA, stalls National Assembly ICT Public hearing

by Business News Report

Uncertainty about a  bill to repeal the National Information Technology Development Agency Act reared its head yesterday at the hurriedly arranged Joint Public hearing by the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on ICT and Cyber Security as it was stalled and put off. The Public Hearing was for a Bill for an Act to Repeal the National National Information Technology Development Agency Act No.28, 2002 and enact the National Information Technology Development Agency Act 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, 2022. In his welcome remarks, Chairman of the Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives on ICT and Cyber Security, Senator Yakubu Oseni, APC, Kogi Central said that the bill was also 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. 

The Public hearing was  stalled and put off  due to the absence of the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy,  Isa Ali Pantami; the Executive Vice-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (EVC/CEO) of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC,  Professor Umar Garba Danbatta; the Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Kashifu Inuwa, among other Stakeholders. The invited Stakeholders were Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the Federal and State Governments, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), and the entire business,  community among others. Stakeholders and members of the  public who were invited by the Joint Senate and House of Representatives committees attended the event except the heads of critical MDAs in the Communication Sector. 

The truncation came even after other formalities such as the declaration of the hearing was carried out by the President of the Senate, Senator Ahmed Lawan, just as the  House of Representatives Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Lado Abubakar Suleja gave the vote of thanks. Soon after the vote of thanks and the Public hearing was to commence,  a member of the House Committee, Hon Nkem Uzoma-Abonta raised a point of order.  Abonta who is the member representing Ukwa East/West Federal Constituency of Abia State called for the public hearing to be postponed to January. He noted that only a handful of members of the House Committee on ICT and Cyber Security were in attendance. According to him,  even those available for the meeting did not  have a copy of the bill, while the Mjnister for Communications and Digital Economy,  Isa Ali Pantami and the Director-General of NITDA, Katie Inuwa Abdullahi were absent at the hearing. The Lawmaker who stressed that things should be done properly with the Minister and the NITDA boss coming physically to speak on the bill spearheaded by them, even as members should be sent copies of the bill ahead of time. He said that the National Assembly should not be in a hurry to host a public hearing on a sensitive bill as members especially the Christians, were already in a holiday mood but were only sticking around as the 2023 budget will be passed on 28th December. 

Abonta said: “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. 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 the member representing Ukanafun/Oruk Anam Federal Constituency of Akwa-Ibom State, Hon. Idem Unyime, who states that he wasn’t sent a copy of the bill which needed to be properly scrutinised and understood by lawmakers due to its importance. In his response, Senator Yakubu Oseni  said that members of the House were sent copies of the bill and the notice for the public hearing was properly sent out to members in both Chambers. 

Senator Oseni said: “I want to put it on record that if there is anomalies or any documents that you didn’t see, that should be a fault from your side as House of Representatives members.  As far as we on the other side are concerned everything is intact. The bill has been circulated, the necessary documents have been circulated online, that’s on one hand. On the other hand, even if the NITDA Director-General is here, he won’t be the one to speak, he has a representative, the legal person will speak on behalf of NITDA. I have not seen anywhere that representatives are not allowed to speak. I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t go on with this public hearing. In our end in the Senate we are ready”. His explanation didn’t stop the murmuring and division among lawmakers present, as another member from the House, Hon Isiaka Ibrahim moved a motion that public hearing be adjourned based on the issues raised by his colleagues. Bowing to pressure, Senator Oseni announced that the public hearing has been adjourned sine die. Indications that the public hearing wouldn’t have gone on as usual first came when the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate and representative of the Senate President, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, cautioned those he accused of  describing the Public hearing as a secret meeting. Abdullahi stated that the National Assembly had no ulterior motive and had followed due process in calling for the public hearing on the NITDA Bill, saying that as a National Assembly, it will not be intimated and for falsehood to be disseminated will not be acceptable, adding that legal act6 may be taken against such persons.

Recall that Stakeholders in the ICT had raised an alarm over the hurried move by the Joint Senate and House Committee on Information Communications Technology, ICT, to pass a controversial bill to govern the Nigerian Information Technology Development Agency. Stakeholders had expressed suspicion that the Committee wanted to pass the bill without substantial public participation. It was also alleged that the submissions of the industry stakeholders made during its first public hearing were jettisoned. Chief Whip, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, APC, Niger North in a text said, “National Information Technology Development Agency Act (Repeal and Re-Enactment) Bill, 2022 (SB. 1082) after the Senate referred the proposal to the committee on ICT and Cyber Security.  The referral is in tandem with our procedure and also because of the increasing significance of Information Technology, which calls for strengthened administrative structures and policy directions. The pace of information technology development is now very frenetic and likely to continue because of humanity’s penchant for innovations that have become helpful to ease of living. Not a few gains are being made in the process as procedures have become easier, faster and even more financially rewarding. The overwhelming implication of this has been progress needing the involvement of all nations concerned about being up to date. While we have not relented as a nation in initiating innovations to the best of our abilities, we have also not been lacking in welcoming initiatives from other climes and evaluating how well they can be integrated into our system. Regardless, we are constantly challenged to be creative and ingenious to be partakers in the developments, as against sheer consumers of innovations. Our ability to do however rests on the regulatory framework guiding this process, and it is the reason we have the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), and the purpose we are gathered here to examine its repeal and re-enactment Bill.”

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