Members of the NASS Joint Committee on ICT and Cybersecurity at the Meeting Friday, December 23

Senator, Reps clash over controversial NITDA Bill

*The National Assembly lawmakers, in Abuja, are at variance over the postponement of public hearing on the controversial bill to repeal the National Information Technology Development Agency Act till January 2023

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

The controversy surrounding the bill to repeal the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) Act continued at a hurriedly arranged joint public hearing by the Nigerian Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Cybersecurity held Friday, December 23, 2022, in the Senate, National Assembly (NASS), Abuja, FCT.

It was learnt that other formalities, such as the declaration of hearing as open by Senator Ahmed Lawan, Senate President,  the welcome address by Senator Yakubu Oseni, Chairman Senate Committee on ICT and Cybersecurity, and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Hon. Lado Abubakar Suleja, had gone normally.

However, immediately the public hearing was called to order by Senator Oseni, a member of the House Committee, Hon Nkem Uzoma-Abonta, raised a point of order.

Abonta, a member representing Ukwa East/West Federal Constituency of Abia State, called for the public hearing to be postponed to January 2023.

The legislator noted that only a handful of members of the House Committee on ICT and Cybersecurity were in attendance at the session Friday.

Abonta also argued that even those available for the meeting did not have copies of the said bill, while Prof. Isa Ali Pantami, Honourable Minister for Communications and Digital Economy, and Malam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, Director-General of NITDA, were absent at the hearing.

The Federal lawmaker stressed that things should done properly, with the Minister and the NITDA Director-General coming physically to speak on the bill spearheaded by them.

Besides, NASS members on the Joint Committee on ICT and Cybersecurity should be sent copies of the bill ahead of time.

Objective of NITDA Bill in Legislature

Abonta further stated 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 December 28 this year.

“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,” he said.

The lawmaker noted: “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.”

Akonta said: “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.”

Hon. Idem Unyime, a member representing Ukanafun/Oruk Anam Federal Constituency of Akwa-Ibom State, immediately supported the legislator’s position, as the latter, who stated that he was not sent a copy of the bill in advance noted it needed to be properly scrutinised and understood by lawmakers due to its importance.

Senator Yakubu Oseni, Senate Committee Chairman, in his response 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 of the National Assembly.

Oseni said: “I want to put it on record that if there are 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.”

The Senate Committee Chairman also said: “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.”

Oseni’s explanation, however, did not stop the murmuring and obvious division among lawmakers present.

Hon. Isiaka Ibrahim, a member of the House 9f Representatives, later moved a motion that public hearing be adjourned based on the issues raised by his colleagues.

Bowing to pressure, Senator Oseni then, announced that the public hearing had been adjourned sine die.

The drama before adjournment of Committee’s meeting

Indications that the public hearing would not have gone on as usual first came when Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate and representative of the Senate President, cautioned those he accused of describing Friday’s public hearing as “a secret meeting”, a source said.

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.

Industry stakeholders’ suspicion

It is recalled stakeholders in the ICT sector in Nigeria had raised an alarm over the hurried move by the Joint Senate and House on ICT and Cybersecurity to pass a controversial bill to govern the NITDA.

It was gathered the concerned stakeholders had expressed suspicion, that the Committee wanted to pass the bill without substantial public participation.

They also alleged that the submissions, which the industry stakeholders made during its first public hearing on the bill were jettisoned.

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