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Cybersecurity levy: Balancing digital defence and economic realities

As negotiations between the government and labour unions over a new national minimum wage are ongoing, with labour groups adamantly pushing for an unprecedented minimum…

As negotiations between the government and labour unions over a new national minimum wage are ongoing, with labour groups adamantly pushing for an unprecedented minimum wage hike to N615,000, the Nigerian government introduced a 0.5% cybersecurity levy on all online transactions. Unsurprisingly, this policy move raised concerns and drew sharp criticism for its perceived insensitivity and being inexplicably off-sync from the present realities of the average Nigerian trying so hard to make ends meet.

In a country where access to financial services is already a challenge for many, adding another levy could further hinder financial inclusion and exacerbate inequalities. Undoubtedly, fortifying the nation’s digital defenses against growing cyber threats is a crucial imperative; however, it should not be to the detriment of the people it is intended to secure. Nigeria has the power to safeguard a secure digital future and limit the impact on its most vulnerable populations.

Some critical questions the citizens raised were: is this cybersecurity levy the most critical matter facing Nigeria now, or aren’t there other burning issues such as poverty reduction and economic empowerment that are more pressing? How fair is it to impose this on the ordinary Nigerian when many of them struggle just to feed themselves and their families? Why is the government in a hurry to implement this levy without proper public sensitization? Is it a genuine concern to protect the population or simply an opportunity for the government to expand its revenue base? Given the ongoing uncertainty around the minimum wage increase, one can hardly be blamed for questioning the government’s motives behind this policy.

Personally, what was most baffling to me was the absence of a holistic public awareness campaign about why it was so desperately needed and where and how revenues would be utilized, as well as the percentage. Though some might be aware, the majority of those affected are completely in the dark. Therefore, it’s essential that the government engages with its citizens to address their concerns and ensure that any measures taken to enhance cybersecurity are fair, effective, and transparent; especially for policies like this, which can have major financial implications for the common man.

Several countries around the world have demonstrated effective cybersecurity strategies that can be implemented without unduly burdening citizens. Countries like the United States, Australia, and continents like the European Union, among others, have created a substantial budget line from their national budgets towards cybersecurity initiatives, seeking an equitable distribution of costs among taxpayers.

For example, the United States has devoted billions of dollars annually from its federal budget to civilian cybersecurity initiatives. In the fiscal year 2024, approximately $11.8 billion was allocated for civilian agency cybersecurity spending. Australia’s 2020 Cyber Security Strategy was allocated AUD 1.67 billion over 10 years in cybersecurity. Notably, all those costs were covered by the general taxpayer base and not by the citizens as a separate fee or levy.

The European Union implemented a collaborative approach where the Cybersecurity Competence Centre and the Network are funded through contributions from the national budgets of its member states. This approach ensures that no single nation incurs the entire cost of cybersecurity, making it possible to share resources and expertise.

Even nations with significantly fewer resources, like Kenya, have identified sustainable methods to fund cybersecurity programmes. For instance, the National Cybersecurity Strategy in Kenya is funded through public-private partnerships and international aid. Therefore, from the foregoing analysis, it is possible that developing a financial model to fund cybersecurity without burdening citizens is achievable.

Rather than imposing an additional levy on already-strained citizens, the Nigerian government should explore alternative funding mechanisms. This could involve reallocating funds from non-essential expenditures, seeking international aid or grants, or fostering public-private partnerships with stakeholders who have a vested interest in a secure digital landscape.

It is important that the government finds a balance between addressing the pressing socioeconomic needs of its citizens and investing in security measures to protect the nation’s digital space. Informed, prosperous, and enabled citizens are the bedrock of an effective democracy, as well as a core element of a successful cybersecurity blueprint.

Cybersecurity measures are essential, but they must be balanced with economic policies that prioritize the well-being of the populace. The government must ensure that any additional financial burdens are introduced only after establishing a minimum wage that mirrors the economic climate and provides a decent living for the average Nigerian.

Only then will this country be able to have a favourable environment for the successful implementation of the cybersecurity levy as well as meaningfully chart a course toward a future in which digital security and economic growth can coexist—an environment where everyone feels safer and wealthier.

Ultimately, the success of any cybersecurity initiative depends on the government’s ability to effectively communicate its vision, build consensus among stakeholders, and address the immediate concerns and fears of the people it serves. There is nothing democratic about a one-sided approach focused on the disenfranchisement of millions of people, and by neglecting the opinion of their citizens, governments do more harm than good


Dr Nuhu Sanda wrote from Kano and can be reached via [email protected].


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