Cybersecurity Digital Economy Innovation

The Nigeria Data Protection Act, 2023

President Bola 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.

Now an Act, the new law, the Nigeria Data Protection Act, establishes the Nigeria Data Protection Commission (NDPC) and replaces the Nigeria Data Protection Bureau (NDPB) established by President Buhari in February 2022.

The Nigeria Data Protection Act primarily aims to regulate the processing of personal information, and ensure compliance with data protection obligations within Nigeria. It focuses on safeguarding personal data and promoting privacy rights in the country.

The Commission is led by a National Commissioner. Under the Nigeria Data Protection Act, the National Commissioner will be responsible for its daily administration and execution of policies. The pioneer National Commissioner is Dr. Vincent Olatunji, who ably led the NDPB as its first and only National Commissioner. His role and contribution has been most critical and pivotal in driving Nigeria’s data protection and privacy initiatives and efforts.

The Commission’s Governing Council will provide policy direction and approve the organization’s strategic, action and budget plans.

Overall, the Nigeria Data Protection Act, 2023 presents a mix of both opportunities and challenges. Certainly, the major issues revolve around trust, digital economy, innovation and compliance.

Opportunities of the Nigeria Data Protection Act

The Nigeria Data Protection Act, 2023 undoubtedly provides an immense opportunity to strengthen data protection in Nigeria. Increased trust among individuals and businesses when it comes to sharing and processing personal information is an expected outcome. It creates a society where responsible data management is a norm and not an exception. Certainly, organizations that don’t take data protection seriously will run into problems. They could potentially face customer backlash, a loss of trust, significant customer losses, and legal sanctions.

As we use and consume more and more data, there is also a need for responsibility and protection. We all need to handle our personal information responsibly. Therefore, improved privacy rights are another major benefit of the Nigeria Data Protection Act. The new law promotes privacy rights and empowers individuals with more control over their personal information.

Data-Driven Innovation and Digital Economy

Interestingly, the Commission is expected to foster the development of personal data protection technologies. Such innovations must comply with international best practices and data protection obligations. The Nigeria Data Protection Act obviously aims to promote data-driven innovation. Indeed, Nigeria should take advantage of this unique opportunity to grow its emerging data protection ecosystem. It’s an avenue to innovate and develop data security, privacy, and consent management solutions.

Data protection culture, recognition, and demand are growing worldwide. New business models and collaborative approaches may be necessary to seize the new opportunities.

The NDPC is basically empowered to ensure compliance with data protection obligations. Legal obligations for data controllers and processors encourage organizations to prioritize data protection and implement robust compliance measures. A massive consequence and promise, however is that increased data protection compliance fostered by the Nigeria Data Protection Act boosts and expands the digital economy. It significantly promotes trust and confidence in digital transactions and solutions. The prospects are huge.

Indeed, individuals will feel more confident in sharing their personal information with digital platforms, leading to increased user engagement and participation in the digital economy. The potential economic impact is a big plus, particularly in a nation that needs to create jobs for its young and growing population. A robust data protection framework fosters growth in digital job creation, innovation, and services, contributing significantly to economic growth.

International Data Transfers

Furthermore, since the Nigeria Data Protection Act aligns with globally recognized data protection standards, it will facilitate international data transfers. It could help in removing challenges organizations may or could have faced when transferring personal data across borders. Standard contractual clauses or binding corporate rules are, of course, necessary in the process. Such measures will help facilitate lawful and secure data transfers between Nigeria and other countries.

Certainly, the Act will foster international business collaborations, attract investments, and promote knowledge sharing. It creates an environment that better enables organizations to explore new market opportunities, expand their customer base, and engage in data-driven activities on a global scale. Obviously, the Nigeria Data Protection Act sends a message that Nigeria values and prioritizes privacy and data security. It is an innovative 21st-century digital economy!

Challenges of the Nigeria Data Protection Act

Certainly, as new legislation, ensuring effective implementation and enforcement can be a challenge. The NDPC will need to establish mechanisms for monitoring and enforcing compliance with the Nigeria Data Protection Act. Are resources, personnel, capacity, and organization adequate for the task at hand? Effective implementation and enforcement also require cooperation from the public and private sectors. As a member of the Strategic Roadmap and Action Plan (SRAP) 2023-2028 committee of the former Nigeria Data Protection Bureau (NDPB), I know that the SRAP contains specific implementation and enforcement recommendations. These recommendations should be followed faithfully in collaboration with stakeholders.

Although data protection is crucial in the digital era, what is the level of awareness and education in Nigeria? Lack of knowledge and understanding evidently poses a serious challenge to the effective implementation and enforcement. It’s not just a new law; it’s new concepts and new operating models. Changes in behavior, attitudes, and actions are critical. The desired changes and compliance will certainly be more difficult if many individuals and organizations are unaware of their rights and obligations under the new Nigeria Data Protection Act. The NDPC will need to work with stakeholders to raise data protection awareness nationwide. It is essential to conduct widespread awareness campaigns and provide education on data protection. Greater awareness of the principles and practices will consequently improve understanding and compliance in the country.

Compliance Cost

Additionally, though the Act will usher in better protection against data breaches and unauthorized access to personal information, it will result in increased organizational compliance costs. Effective, not pretentious, compliance doesn’t come cheap. Organizations operating in Nigeria will surely need to invest resources to ensure compliance with the Act’s requirements. Organizations must particularly invest in implementing data protection policies, training staff, and conducting data audits. Evidently, reporting data breaches and implementing data protection measures will entail additional costs and administrative challenges. Investments in technology infrastructure and expertise will obviously be required. Increased compliance costs could, therefore, pose a challenge, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Non-compliance with the Act can lead to sanctions, fines, and reputational damage for organizations that fall short. The fines can be huge, serving as deterrents. However, NDPC messaging shouldn’t focus on revenue generation. It is crucial that NDPC is seen as prioritizing data protection and the establishment of a strong compliance culture. Part of its main focus should be on ensuring organizations mitigate their legal and reputational risks. The collection of fines and revenue generation are part of the compliance system but shouldn’t be the main focus or motivation. Creativity is required.

Balance Data Use and Innovation

Furthermore, balancing data use and innovation is a typical challenge of data protection regulation and legislation. While the Nigeria Data Protection Act aims to protect personal information, there is a need to strike a balance between data protection and promoting innovation, research, and development. Overly restrictive regulations may hinder technological advancements and the use of data for innovation. For example, there may be a need to leverage data for healthcare research, youth innovation initiatives, or public interest projects. Indeed, data protection should be an enabler, not a hindrance to innovation.

This Nigeria Data Protection Act provides a unique opportunity to promote a culture of responsible innovation. Certainly, Nigeria must pursue and promote innovation to solve its problems. Clearly, this is in line with the Act’s promotion of data-driven innovation, mentioned previously. However, stakeholders must also prioritize data protection, privacy, and transparency in their work.

STISA and Data Protection

The Act is in line with the Science, Technology, and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA). STISA is the broad strategy developed by the African Union (AU) to guide the development of science, technology, and innovation across the African continent. By establishing a legal framework for data protection and ensuring compliance with data protection obligations, the Nigeria Data Protection Act aligns with STISA’s goal of promoting responsible data management practices and protecting individuals’ privacy rights. Furthermore, it promotes the use and development of privacy-enhancing technologies. The Act, therefore, supports the principles of data protection and privacy outlined in STISA. It is an important tool that furthers Africa’s overall innovation agenda outlined in STISA.

Overall, the Nigeria Data Protection Act is a promising development for Nigeria and the African continent. Strategic, creative, and inclusive implementation with stakeholders is necessary. Moving forward means addressing data protection, privacy, and technological innovation in a purposeful and visionary manner. The Act is not an end in itself. Data protection is more than just data protection. The essence is to usher in economic growth and sustainable development. At the end of the day, everything we do in the technology space is always about the quality of life. It’s always about people.

Author: Jide Awe

Science, Technology and Innovation policy advisor.

Find him on Twitter @jidaw