The 2019 Workshop for Judges on Legal Issues in Telecommunications opens in Enugu, south eastern Nigeria, this week focusing on how to bring the law judges to speed with technology.
The workshop is organised annually by Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to bring the judiciary up to speed with emerging issues in telecommunications. The first edition held 17 years ago and it has since held every year with the objective of enhancing the capacity of the judiciary to dispense justice in telecommunications cases from an informed position oriented in appropriate and contemporary knowledge.
According to the Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, in his welcome address, technology can make the law to be very timid and reluctant because technology evidently moves faster while the law struggles to catch up. The implication of this is that judges may face situations in which they may have to rely on extant laws to adjudicate on cases, thus creating scenarios that are out of sync with reality.
It is evidently important to close the disparity in tempo of progress between technology and the law through knowledge sharing which is the overarching objective of the workshop, added Danbatta. He was represented by the Executive Commissioner, Stakeholder Management at NCC, Mr. Sunday Dare.
Danbatta positioned was shared by the Administrator of the National Judicial Institute, Hon. Justice R.P.I. Bozimo and the Hon. Ag. Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman, Board of Governors of the National Judicial Institute, Hon. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed. The justices expressed conviction knowledge of technology with its dynamics was essential for judges to arbitrate efficiently in telecommunications dispute. Hon. Justice Mohammed was represented at the event by Hon. Justice Mary Odili, a justice of the Supreme Court.
NCC’s Director of Legal and Regulatory Services, Yetunde Akinloye, who made the first major presentation of the day on ‘Overview of the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003 told the judges that because the NCA do not provide for everything like most laws, section 70 of the Act empowers the commission to make subsidiary legislations and the legislations go through normal legal processes and are gazetted before they become operational.
Akinloye also revealed that Lawful Interception Regulation, National Communications Policy 2012 (undergoing review), and the National Broadband Policy 2013-2018 are part of the instruments affecting and shaping the operation of the Act.
The NCC according to Akinloye also derives powers from the Nigerian Telegraphy Act of 1961 (reviewed in 1998). She noted that the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention etc) Act 2015, and the new Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act (2019) are also regulations that overlap with some provisions of NCA 2003 and NCC relates with agencies supervising the implementation of these and other impinging laws to reduce the spectrum of conflict in enforcing the laws.
Law and over-the-top (OTT)
The operators in Nigeria are complaining about the over-the-top (OTT) applications because of the implications for revenue and operational issues. OTTs are any apps or services over the Internet that bypass traditional distribution.
NCC, as a regulator, is exploring how to achieve a win-win situation between operational issues and the need for services to be available, accessible and affordable to the consumers. Akinloye further told the judges that the Nigerian Communications Act (2003) is undergoing comprehensive review by the Nigerian Law Reform Commission.
Electromagnetic Radiation – Implications for Human Health
An interesting presentation at the workshop by Dr. A.S. Peters of the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, focused on Electromagnetic Radiation – Implications for Human Health. The paper highlighted the over three decades of research on radiation and debates around possibly health risks from masts and other telecom infrastructures. More than 25,000 peer reviewed scientific articles have been published, and meta-analysis of these research results and expert reviews have also been undertaken to address these ranging issues.
One of the discussants includes Dr. Edwin Edeh of the World Health Organisation (WHO) agrees that research works are still ongoing which recognise the fears fueling the controversies around electromagnetic radiation – implications for human health.
Peters affirmed in his presentation that radiation from microwave oven and electric high tension wires that could affect human health and are more than radiation emanating from telecom base stations.
According to him, the fundamental question “is the threshold above which the effects become enabling or a threat to human health. In concluding, Peters recalled that after an in-depth reviews of the literature, WHO concluded that “current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health conservation from exposure to low level eletromagnetic fields”.
Mu ltiple taxation is predatory
In his presentation on Harmonisation of Taxation/Regulation of Telecommunications Infrastructure, Prof. Abiola Sanni of the University of Lagos, stated that beyond multiple taxation, the major problem bedevilling the telecom sector may be “abuse of regulatory powers by various relevant agencies for revenue purpose.”
Sanni said a much more frontal approach was necessary to resolving the issue at both policy and regulatory levels so as to stop the predatory tendencies of states and local councils which ultimately, undermine the provision of quality of service by operators.