Last week was a momentous one as the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the regulatory of the telecommunications industry, organised the 2022 edition of the annual Workshop organized for Judges on Legal and Regulatory Issues in Telecommunications by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in conjunction with the National Judicial Institute (NJI).
The workshop which held at Sheraton Lagos from November 28-December 1, 2022 with the theme ‘The Digital World and the Future of Adjudication’, focused on intellectual property, evolving dispute resolution mechanisms and legal liabilities in a digitalised world with pervasive internet connectivity as well as discuss disruptive technologies, rights of data subjects and jurisdictional issues in the digital age.
The Commission’s engagement with the judiciary was to keep them updated about happenings in the telecommunications sector, especially emerging technologies, towards creating a robust legal support to sustain the industry growth.
The telecom regulator is keen on seeking the nation‘s judiciary to be part of Information Communications Technology (ICT) trends, whose impact has now affected ways that justice is delivered across the world. The workshop had in attendance judges from the Courts of Appeal, Federal and State High Courts.
The 18th annual capacity-building workshop had the Chairman, NCC Board of Commissioners, Prof. Adeolu Akande, urging the legal luminaries to make greater contributions towards ICT development in Nigeria.
While stating the centrality of a functional adjudicatory system as a bedrock for any civilised society, Akande said there was the need to constantly equip judicial officers with the requisite skills for effectual adjudication, especially in the digitized world, where the rate of technology development is fast ahead of laws.
In his welcome address, the Executive Vice Chairman, NCC, Prof Umar Garba Danbatta said the Internet comes with several challenges, hence the need for judges to be exposed to the benefits as well as the challenges associated with new technologies.
He said the increased reliance on telecoms, as well as the growth experienced in the sector has introduced some issues of legal connotation which will be deliberated upon by various experts during the course of this workshop. One of such is the ownership of online content and materials.
Moreover, Danbatta said, “It is envisaged that with the increase in the amount of online content, as well as the economic value attached to it, there will be a rise in conflicts as to ownership of online content and materials. It is necessary that your Lordships are well prepared for the imminent increase in litigation in this area.”
Furthermore, he said with an increase in the number of transactions and businesses taking place in the online space, it is also expedient for your Lordships to be exposed to the peculiarities of adjudicating conflicts in this era of digital presence and online identity.
“The aim of this forum is to further build the capacity of our distinguished Judges with practical insights on these emerging issues in the field of telecommunications. Based on the feedbacks received from participants in previous editions and the current state of jurisprudence on telecoms issues, the NCC has high hopes that the current workshop will further contribute to the development of telecommunications law in Nigeria,” the EVC added.
“It is necessary that your lordships are well prepared for the imminent increase in litigation in this area. Furthermore, with an increase in the number of transactions and businesses taking place in the online space, it is also expedient for your lordships to be exposed to the peculiarities of adjudicating conflicts in this era of digital presence and online identity,” he said.
He stated that the Commission conceived the idea of the forum, as part of its strategic partnership and collaboration, as a forum to further build the capacity of the distinguished judges with practical insights on these emerging issues in the field of telecommunications.
“Hopefully, this workshop will illuminate these challenges and proffer ways to meet the dynamics of the changing times. I, therefore, enjoin you to freely make contributions and raise issues that would assist the commission in coming up with adequate regulatory measures that would enhance development in the communications sector of the economy. We assure you that every view expressed would be respected and considered in this regard,” he said.
What the CJN said
On his part, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Olukayode Ariwoola, commended the Commission for the annual forum while assuring the telecom regulatory of the commitment of the judiciary to using technology for justice dispensation as well as support a more robust legal ecosystem for sustaining socio-economic growth of Nigeria through telecoms sector.
Represented by Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Ariwoola said, through the use of ICT, the judiciary has improved, not just in judicial administration and services, but also in infrastructural development.
He said regardless of the benefits of digitalisation there are bound to be liabilities and risks involved with its introduction and usage as she highlighted such risks to include Cyber Crime, data piracy, and hacking among several other vices.
“Our judicial system has been challenged with delays in dispensing justice. However, with the introduction of ICT into the judicial space, many of the difficulties associated with the conventional methods are gradually being dispensed with,” he said.
The Chief Justice said the path to effective and efficient justice delivery in Nigeria lies in the collective ability to continuously improve the nation’s justice sector with the use of ICT tools. “The Nigerian judiciary is committed to achieving lasting structural and ethical reforms that would reposition it to adequately meet the aspirations of court users and the public for the reliable, effective and efficient administration of justice through the use of ICT,” he said.
Justice Ariwoola said notwithstanding its tremendous benefits, there are bound to be liabilities and risks involved with the introduction and use of these digital innovations. Such risks include Cyber Crime, data piracy and hacking among several other vices. In light of this, it is paramount for judicial Officers to be conversant with the relevant and applicable laws, such as the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act 2015, and the Nigerian Data Protection Regulation (NDPR) 2019.
While charging the judiciary to take the workshop serious, he said, “My Lords, it is worth noting that wrong use of information and communication technology may result in disputes which would require adjudication. Therefore, the synergy between the Commission and Judiciary is vital, as this would deter criminal acts committed by citizens which are inimical to the growth of the nation.”
Technology Impacts on Judiciary
In the effort to ensure that the Nigerian Judiciary becomes ICT compliant, the CJN said they have inaugurated the Judicial Information Technology Policy Committee (JITPO-COM) in January 2012 to chart a course for the introduction of Court Technology into the Nigerian Courts.
“In our desire to automate the Nigerian Judiciary, we have also developed and deployed the Nigerian Case Management System (NCMS) software. Indeed, the backbone of the court automation project is the Nigerian Case Management System (NCMS),” he said.
Ariwoola said the goal of the NCMS is to provide for a seamlessly interfacing electronic platform for case management by all the courts in Nigeria. Some states High Courts are completely automated since October 2020, using the NCMS to receive and assign cases.
He said the committee has retrofitted the courtrooms in the Supreme Court of Nigeria to serve as model Technology Leveraged Courtroom (TLC). The NJC has since replicated this at selected Federal Courts.
The Technology Leveraged Courtrooms (TLC) have features that include Technology Enabled Judges‘ Bench, High-Definition Audio / Video Recording Equipment, For-The-Record (FTR) Court Reporting Software, High Technology Mobile Podium for presentations, Document Camera, Enhanced Room Audio Speakers and Viewing screens in the gallery.
Quest for a Digital Economy
The NCC has been driving the Nigerian government quest for a digital economy that will support national development and economic diversification. This drive has led to broadband penetration in Nigeria increasing by 91.70 per cent in the last four years. The country’s broadband penetration increased from 21.21 per cent in April 2017 to 40.66 per cent in April 2021.
The Commission’s data show that in April 2021, 77,605,500 million Nigerians were connected to the Internet, up from 40,481,570 million in April 2017. The current broadband penetration as at June 2022 stands at 44.30 per cent with more than eighty-four million internet subscriptions in the Country.
These strides are outcomes of the Commission’s regulatory management of the industry as well as its focused implementation of policies and strategies of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Strategic Collaboration and Partnerships
As you may know, Strategic Collaboration and Partnership is the fifth vison of the NCC in the new Strategic Vision Implementation Plan (SVP) 2021-2025 otherwise called the 5-Point Agenda. The 5-Point Vision is a successor to the former NCC SVP 2015-2020 also known as the 8-Point Vision.
The NCC has partnered with law enforcement agencies such as the Police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) address cases of telecoms infrastructure vandalism. It has partnered with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to nip crime and fraudulent activities in the sector.
Therefore, this legal workshop was held by the NCC to deepen the digital knowledge of judges and judicial officers with a view to adjudicating on conflicts in the telecom sector. It would also help prepare the judiciary for the coming review of the National Communications Act 2003.