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Senator, reps flex muscles over ICT bill

There was a power play at the National Assembly yesterday between members of the Senate and House of Representatives Joint Committee on ICT and Cybersecurity…

There was a power play at the National Assembly yesterday between members of the Senate and House of Representatives Joint Committee on ICT and Cybersecurity over a bill to repeal and re-enact the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).   

The bill seeks, among others, to empower NITDA to fix licensing and authorisation charges, collect fees and penalties and issue contravention notices and non-compliance with the act.   

The proposed legislation also seeks to establish the National Information Technology Development Fund which shall be funded by a levy of one per cent of the Profit Before Tax (PBT) of companies and enterprises with annual turnover of N100m and above.   

Stakeholders raised concerns about some provisions of the bill, which they said overlapped or usurped statutory powers and authorities of other agencies of government.  

The committee on Friday organised a public hearing on the bill to take inputs from stakeholders in the industry.   

But the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantamim, and the Director General (DG) of NITDA, Kashifu Abdullah, were absent at the hearing, a development that prompted some committee members to call for adjournment.   

Reps Isiaka Ibrahim (Ogun),  Uzoma Nkem Abonta (Abia) and Unyime Idem (Akwa Ibom) raised objections to the continuation of the hearing, citing the absence of the minister and the NITDA DG, non-availability of materials on the bill and the fact that the event was coming at a time the National Assembly members were in “holiday mood”. 

They expressed disappointment that there was no apology received either from the minister or the NITDA boss, even as none of their representatives was also at the hearing. 

Their submissions did not sit well with the Co-chairman of the committee, Senator Yakubu Oseni (APC, Kogi), who insisted that the proceedings should go ahead.  

Oseni said copies of the bill had been circulated to all committee members digitally and that the NITDA boss was represented by the agency’s legal adviser.  

He said, “For us in the senate, everything is intact and the necessary documents concerning the bill have been circulated through digital means. So, I believe if you are conversant with your system you should have been able to see that. 

“I don’t see any reason why we should not go ahead with the public hearing. From our end, the senate, we are ready for this public hearing.”  

The House of Representatives members, however, stood their ground and moved a motion that the public hearing be adjourned till next year when the main drivers of the bill would be available to respond to questions on its merits and demerits.  

Other lawmakers unanimously supported the motion when it was put to a voice vote and the public hearing was adjourned to January, 2023.