There was a power play in the National Assembly on Friday between members of the Senate and the House of Representatives’ Joint Committee on ICT and Cybersecurity over a bill to repeal and re-enact the National Information Technology Development Agency.
The Bill, among other things, seeks to empower NITDA to fix license and permit fees, levy fees and penalties and issue notices of infringement and non-compliance with the Act.
The proposed legislation also seeks to establish a National Information Technology Development Fund, which will be funded through a one percent tax on the profits of companies and enterprises with an annual turnover of N100 million and above.
Stakeholders expressed concern about some of the bill’s provisions that overlap or usurp the statutory powers and authorities of other government agencies.
On Friday, the joint committee held a public hearing on the bill to receive input from industry stakeholders.
But the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, and the Director General of NITDA, Kashifu Abdullah, were prominently present at the hearing, a development that prompted some members of the commission to call for suspension.
Representatives Isiaka Ibrahim (Ogun), Uzoma Nkem Abonta (Abia) and Unyime Idem (Akwa Ibom) objected to the continuation of the public hearing due to the absence of the minister and the NITDA DG, absence of bill materials and the bill. In fact, the event comes at a time when the members of the National Assembly are already in the “holiday mood”.
They expressed disappointment that they did not receive an apology from the minister or the NITDA leader, while none of their representatives attended the public hearing.
“The drivers of this bill seem to be driving in low gear. The necessary components for us are not here. We don’t have the documents in front of us. The members are not here, the minister is not here, what needs to be done must be done properly”, said Abonta.
Their submissions did not go down well with the co-chairman of the panel, Senator Yakubu Oseni (APC, Kogi), who insisted that proceedings should proceed as planned.
Oseni said copies of the bill were digitally distributed to all members of the commission, and the NITDA boss was represented by the agency’s legal counsel.
“I want to state here that if there is any anomaly or missing document, it should be a mistake on your part, members of the House of Representatives.
“For us in the Senate, everything is complete and the necessary documents on the bill have been circulated digitally, so I think if you’re familiar with your system, you should see that.
“I see no reason not to proceed with the public hearing. From our end, the Senate is ready for this public hearing,” the senator said.
Members of the House of Representatives, however, stood their ground and tabled a motion to delay the public hearing until next year, when the bill’s key players will be ready to answer questions about its merits and demerits.
Other members of parliament unanimously approved the motion when a voice vote was taken and the public hearing was postponed until January 2023.