By Toyin Akinniyi

Digital Rights in Nigeria: Emerging Issues and Opportunities

Why Data and Digital Rights

Data and Digital Rights are human rights just like the right to access information, the right to association, the right to privacy, and the right to free speech. And all of these should be preserved both online or offline.

With human interactions and transactions increasingly moving to the digital space, it is imperative to apply principles of openness, accountability, and participation to the governance of these digital platforms and to ensure that the rights of those using the different technologies and platforms are protected.

While we all agree that data and technology can benefit citizens and societies, regrettably, we've come to realise that people don’t have control of data about them and the data they produce. We need to urgently ensure that rights are protected when using technology, and that every individual is empowered to use his or her voice in the design and implementation of policies that govern the digital space. Likewise, those holding responsibility to design and implement the laws governing these technologies and platforms need to be accountable for their decisions. 

Take Nigeria, Africa’s most populous and richest country by GDP. Youth make up half of the country’s population of 200 million and are active players in this nation, which is rapidly digitalising with a fast-growing financial technology industry and increasing internet penetration – currently standing at 51%.

Nigeria’s data and digital rights ecosystem is evolving rapidly. Citizens need to keep pace with the emerging issues.  Some of the frontline issues all stakeholders must take note of are: citizens’ data protection, freedom of expression online, internet governance, regulation, and shutdown, as well as the issue of online privacy and surveillance technology. 

To fully appreciate and tackle these issues head on, all stakeholders in the data and digital rights ecosystem in Nigeria need to roll up their sleeves and be engaged.  For that to happen, both Government and citizens have a role to play.  Commitment to protecting the people’s rights to access data and information and to disseminate these without fear should fall under the purview of Government. Government also needs to ensure transparency in decision-making processes and create an enabling environment for civic participation in the governance of the data and digital space.  As for citizens, they need to be fully aware of their rights and obligations to effectively participate in the governance of this increasingly important space that affects us all.

Luminate’s interest in supporting Data and Digital Rights in Nigeria

As part of efforts to advance Luminate’s Data & Digital Rights impact area work in Africa and Nigeria specifically, we commissioned Stears Data to map Nigeria’s data and digital rights landscape. This mapping focused on the context-specific issues affecting citizens, civil society, private sector and government, and the prominent supporters of this work. 

The resultant report found that more judicial and regulatory oversight is needed to sufficiently protect personal data and free speech online, especially when government institutions are responsible for breaches. The report provided an analysis of the legislative framework and the activities of relevant stakeholders in research, advocacy, policymaking, regulation, litigation, and data use. It further outlined gaps within the data and digital rights ecosystem in Nigeria that include: digital rights literacy, locally-relevant research, advocacy, and building a community of those engaged in data and digital rights.

At Luminate, we continue to provide funding and support people to participate in the design and use of data and technology and ensure they are empowered to hold accountable those who control it.

We are now seeking opportunities to support work that will advance principles of participation, transparency, and accountability in Nigeria. Read more here about the open call, which closes on 3 September.