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Online Freedom of Expression Highlighted as Internet Freedom Forum 2016 comes to an End\

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Lilian Ezejelue

The internet freedom Forum 2016 has come to an end but the conversation around freedom of expression will never stop.

The Forum was hosted by PIN, its theme -Rights are Rights, Offline or Online- embodying the essence of the two-day event.

The second day was just as productive as the first with important persons within and outside Nigeria gracing the event.

The first panel sat to discuss Digital Rights and Freedom Bill: Highlight and Reviews. Making up this panel were the following people; Hon. Chukwuemeka Ujah, Vice Chairman, House Committee on Telecommunications, Titi Akinsanmi, Head, Policy and Government Relations, Google, and Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria.

Hon Ujah expressed his displeasure at the way young people use the internet to be disrespectful towards elders in ways they couldn’t dare physically. “We all have children” He said the other panelists who will not talk to us anyhow because we will correct them, but they do so on the internet… I cannot walk up to you and slap you, but on social media someone will do that and walk away leaving you in tears.”

To buttress his point he encouraged Gbenga Sesan to join a political party, hopefully he wins, so that he can see what it’s like on the other side and how it feels to have a private life made public.

He however stated that in spite of his reservations about the way social media is being abused that he is and will always be in support of the freedom of expression.

The highlight of this session came with Hon Ujah promising to ensure that the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill will be read at the floor of the Senate at least twice and he will follow through to see that this bill which is to counter the Anti-Social Media Bill is passed.

Another panel sat after that to discus Citizens Privacy, Proliferation of Data and Lack of Regulatory Framework. The panelists argued about having a centralized data based system to avoid duplicate and the possibility of citizen’s data being used for fraud. While some supported that it was possible and even necessary to have a centralized data collection, others argued that data collection cannot be centralized, however it can be integrated.

The risk of giving up personal information to institutions like banks, telecoms companies and even less structured institutions was discussed. Seember Nyanger, CEO, Public and Private Development Centre, Nigeria, lamented the process used by institutions for data collection and how little they do by way of protecting the data.

The third panel discussion for the day included Gbenga Sesan, Nani Jansen, Legal Director, Media Legal Defense Initiative, United Kingdom, Demba Kandeh, Journalist and Researcher, Front Page International, Gambia, Sa’ad Abubakar representing Major General Babagana Mungono, National Security Adviser, Nigeria, Ashnah Kalemera, Programmes Associate, CIPESA, Uganda and moderated by Renata Avila, Global Campaign Manager of Web We Want.

Internet Surveillance and Government Transparency was the topic discussed in this session. Nani Jansen advised everyone present to speak with facts so as not to mislead with their information. Developed countries spying on their citizens was a major concern and was debated.

Senator Babajide Omoworare, Chairman Senate Committee on Rules and Business, who was supposed to be on the first panel arrived much later. He explained that the fear about restriction of online freedom was unfounded because it wasn’t up to one person to decide to regulate social media bill. It had to pass due process and most likely may not be passed.

Tolu Adeleru-Balogun asked him which side he would vote if the bill made it to the floor of the senate and to this the Senator answered “I have been in the parliament for more than sixteen years… I know what I should do and I think you should trust me.

The last panel that brought to an end the Internet Freedom Forum 2016 was a rather interesting one consisting of; Japheth Omojuwa, Blogger, Omojuwa.com, Temi Adamolekun, Executive Director, Enough is Enough Nigeria, Seun Onigbinde, Co-founder, BudgIT, Nigeria, Juliet Nanfuka, Media and Communications Officer, CIPESA, Uganda, Kathleen Ndongmo, Lead Consultant, Anqhore Consulting, Cameroon and Tolu Ogunlesi, Special Assistant On Digital/New Media to the President servicing as the moderator.

During this session, Tolu Ogunlesi asked what the panelists want out of the internet. Kathleen answered that she wants to be able to speedily communicate her criticisms of things around her and be constructive as well through the internet with the reassurance that there will be people who will speak up for her if she is persecuted as a result of expressing herself.

As for Omojuwa, that no one is watching his mail or reading the message he sent to his wife or his girlfriend is to him how the internet should be.

The summary of the discussion by the panelists in this session is that the internet has come to stay and be used for good and it was too late for our leaders to try to control it.  Omojuwa advised that instead of the government to try to  regulate the use of the internet, they should ask instead how they can make it work.

In all it was a successful forum and ended with participants hopeful that the voice of the people will be heard and freedom of expression will always be assured.

The Internet Freedom Forum 2016 was officially brought to an end with closing remarks from Boye Adegoke, Program Manager, (ICT Policy) Paradigm Initiative Nigeria. In his remark, he asked that participants take with them the promise made by Honorable Ujah that the a digital Rights and Freedom Bill will be read at least two times on the floor of the Senate.

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