Murmurings, division among lawmakers on Joint Committee ICT and Cybersecurity force adjournment of controversial public hearing on National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) Bill, Rep members insist legislation needs to be properly scrutinised and understood by all, given its importance.
It was another mild drama on Friday as some Senators and members of the House of Representatives clashed over a controversial bill seeking a repeal of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) Act continued on Friday.
The development took place at the hurriedly arranged joint public hearing organised by the Committees on ICT and Cyber Security of both chambers held at the Senate wing of the National Assembly.
The Joint Committee led by Senator Yakubu Oseni and his counterpart in the House, Rep. Lado Abubakar Suleja had commenced the hearing on a normal note but had to be called to order by the Chairman, after a member of the House Committee, Rep. Nkem Uzoma-Abonta raised a point of order. Rep. Abonta, who represents Ukwa East/West Federal Constituency of Abia State, called for the public hearing to be postponed to January.
Noting that only a handful of members of the House Committee on ICT and Cyber Security were in attendance, he added that those available for the meeting did not have a copy of the bill. He also noted that the Minister for Communications and Digital Economy, Prof Isa Ali Pantami, and the NITDA Director-General, Katie Inuwa Abdullahi, were absent at the hearing.
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The lawmaker stressed that things had to be properly done; hence the Minister and the NITDA DG had to be physically present to speak on the bill spearheaded by them, even as members should be given copies of the bill ahead of time.
He explained that the National Assembly must not be in haste to host a public hearing on a sensitive bill when members of parliament, especially the Christian Faithful, were already in a holiday mood and only sticking around until December 28, slated for a passage of the 2023 budget.
“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. 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. 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 be done should be seen to be properly done,” he said.
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Rep. Abonta’s position was immediately supported by the member representing Ukanafun/Oruk Anam Federal Constituency (Akwa-Ibom State), Rep. Idem Unyime, who stated that he wasn’t sent a copy of the bill, which needed to be properly scrutinised and understood by lawmakers given its importance.
The Senate Committee Chairman, Senator Yakubu Oseni, 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.
“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 the one hand.
On the other hand, even if the NITDA Director-General is here, he won’t be the one to speak; he has a representative, and 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,” the Senator noted.
However, this explanation did not stop murmuring at the hearing as division among the lawmakers present was noticeable. Another member of the House, Rep. Isiaka Ibrahim further moved a motion that the public hearings be adjourned based on the issues raised by his colleagues. Bowing to pressure, Senator Oseni announced that the public hearing has been adjourned sine die.
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Indications that the public hearing wouldn’t have gone on as usual, first came when the Deputy Senate Chief Whip and representative of the Senate President, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, cautioned those he accused of describing Friday’s public hearing as a secret meeting. Abdullahi stated that the National Assembly had no ulterior motive and has followed due process in calling for the public hearing on the NITDA Bill.
Stakeholders in the ICT sector had raised an alarm over the hurried move by the Joint Senate and House Committee on Information Communications Technology (ICT), to pass a controversial bill aimed at governing the Nigerian Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). They expressed suspicion that the Committee wanted to pass the bill without substantial public input, alleging that the submissions of stakeholders in the industry during its first public hearing were jettisoned.