The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is being overhauled to ensure that its regulations meet future imperatives of a robust telecoms sector, Barrister Adeleke Adewolu, Executive Commissioner, Stakeholder Management (ECSM) at the telecoms industry watchdog says.
NCC, he says, is adjusting regulatory instruments and management tools to ensure regulations are fit for the future when he spoke at a panel session at the 2021 Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association held in Port Harcourt on the general theme of “Taking the Lead.”
“In specific terms, we are taking action in the following areas: We are adjusting regulatory instruments and management tools to ensure regulations are fit for the future. An example is our ongoing review of the Telephone Subscriber Registration Regulations to strengthen the framework for digital identity; and the review of the Spectrum Trading Guidelines to ensure more efficient use of spectrum” Adewolu, says during a panel discussion on Government Regulation of Innovation and Technology.
NCC is laying institutional foundations to enable co-operation with other regulatory institutions and international organisations such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
The regulator is also developing and adapting governance frameworks to enable the development of agile and future-proof regulation; he says, and equally adapting regulatory enforcement activities to the “new normal.” This is to ensure alignment with the rapid technological changes and innovations that are emerging at a high speed and with sophistication.
While speaking on censorship, particularly tackling illegal and harmful content on over-the-top (OTT) platforms, Adeleke says that NCC had to opt for “a middle ground that promotes safe use of digital service platforms without necessarily stifling the exercise of the citizen’s right to free expression as guaranteed in the Nigerian Constitution.”
On technology platforms, censorship manifests in three scenarios, namely, restriction of person-to-person communications; restriction of Internet access generally; or restriction of access to specific content, which governments find objectionable, Adewolu explains.
This, he explains, was pursuant to constitutional provisions such as those in Section 39(3) of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution, as amended, which provides that “any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society to prevent the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph films.”
In particular, the third scenario is globally recognised as the ideal situation because one of the core responsibilities of government (as enshrined in Chapter 2 of the Nigerian Constitution) is to safeguard the lives and property of citizens, the NCC Commissioner says.
According to him, social media platforms allow instant communications without regard for impact or consequences. While noting that self-regulation is possible, but “as we have experienced over and over again, an ill-considered post on social media can easily incite unrest and crises.”
Leading social media platforms have demonstrated a rather unfortunate reluctance to moderate the use of their platforms for subversion and harm, Adewolu says. “So, we cannot trust them to self-regulate.”
Self-regulation has not been very effective, and interestingly, the NCC Commissioner says noting that “the largest platforms are global platforms and many of them are protected by their home governments.”
For instance, “Sc.230 of US Communications Act provides immunity to firms like Facebook and Google from responsibility for content disseminated on their media, although they still apply fair usage and community rules which enable them to self-regulate. However, as we saw with the case of former US President Donald Trump – people are often able to disseminate negative content for a while before they are cut off. Mr. Trump had over 87 million followers he engaged directly with.”
Another example that happened just a few days ago, according to the NCC Commissioner, when CNN reported that Facebook deliberately failed to curb posts inciting violence in Ethiopia despite the fact that its own staff flagged such posts, and that Ethiopia is listed as a high-priority zone, which has been fighting a civil war for the past one year. He further recalls that the UN Secretary-General recently called for the regulation of social media platforms, and even the CEO of Facebook has made similar calls in the past.
“So, we cannot wholly depend on self-regulation. And whilst we cannot prevent citizens from freely expressing themselves on these platforms, it would be irresponsible for any government to allow unbridled use of these mediated communications to cause chaos and imperil lives and property. Government must act to protect social cohesion and national security,” Adewolu says.