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Nigeria now has a data protection legislation after years of back and forth

Nigeria now has a data protection legislation after years of back and forth

Nigerian President Ahmed Bola Tinubu on Wednesday June 14 signed into law the country’s Data Protection Bill, weeks after it was okayed by the country’s National Assembly.

The move now brings to an end lingering efforts which started in 2018 to enact the legislation in a country on the full course of digital transformation. A digital rights lawyer and data protection advocate in Nigeria Solomon Okedara called it the birth of a new era for digital rights in the country.

“President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has signed the Nigeria Data Protection Bill 2023 into law. The Nigeria Data Protection Act, 2023, provides a legal framework for the protection of personal information and the practice of data protection in Nigeria,” the President’s press office announced in a tweet.

There had been hopes that former President Muhammadu Buhari was going to assent to the legislation before he leaves office, but that was not the case.

Kernel of the legislation

The new law spells out the creation, organization and functioning of the Nigeria Data Protection Commission (a new organ provided for by the legislation) and its governing council. It also sets the principles and lawful basis governing the processing of personal data, rights of a data subject, data security, and modalities for enforcement of the legislation.

One of the key points of the bill is outlining of clear steps that have to be taken in case of breach of a subject’s personal data stored or processed by a data processor. It also calls for data impact assessment in cases where the processing of personal data is likely to infringe on the rights and freedoms of the subject.

It lists the duties and responsibilities of the Nigeria Data Protection Commission (NDPC) as enforcer of the provisions of the legislation.

It is expected that the legislation will bring good tidings for Nigeria’s digital ID pursuits as it will offer sufficient protection of people’s data both in online and offline transactions.

Recently, the Coordinator of the Nigeria ID4D initiative Solomon Dole was quoted as saying that more funding for the country’s digital ID operations had been delayed because of lack of a personal data protection legislation.

New era for digital rights

The enactment of the bill has already drawn plaudits from various quarters.

Solomon Okedara, a digital rights lawyer and one of those who fronted a campaign for a data protection regulation in Nigeria, welcomed the President’s action, saying it marked a new dawn for digital rights in the country.

“The new law is not just projected to catalyze the digital economy of Africa’s most populous nation, but to offer comprehensive protection to the personal data of all persons,” said Okedara in response to a request for comment by Biometric Update.

Okedara, who is also consultant with the European Investment Bank which is supporting the digital ID project in Nigeria, retraced the long and rugged path walked by Nigeria which saw multiple efforts at coming up with an acceptable data protection legislation dashed.

He said the law will “catalyze the development of the nation’s digital Identity program which has enactment of a Data Protection Act as an important factor.”

He said it will also enhance the level of trust in Nigeria’s digital ID program.

“Till date, some Nigerians are still not enrolled for the National Identification Number (NIN) because of their distrust in the government’s protection of their personal data, particularly the absence of a comprehensive data protection legislation.” This scenario is likely to change, according to the lawyer.

He notes that while the law does not undo the damage of past breaches of personal data, “it provides a reliable legal framework that citizens can invoke to protect their personal data or seek redress in cases of violation of the right to personal data.”

“Just as trust is essential to the building of a successful Identity program, assurance of data privacy through the enactment of a comprehensive data protection legislation is also essential in building trust,” he concludes.

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