This report explores the state of digital rights and data privacy in Nigeria. It outlines how personal data is collected and retained, and how privacy can be breached by both private and state actors; the legal and regulatory framework, and how this functions in practice; and ongoing efforts and recommendations to better protect Nigerians’ digital rights and privacy.
Over the past two decades, internet use has exploded in Africa’s largest economy. At the beginning of 2001, a paltry 200 000 Nigerians used the internet. By 2020, that figure had increased to over 126 million – a factor of almost 630 – with a 61.2 percent penetration of the population. In 2018, 98 percent of the adult population used some type of mobile phone (56% smartphones) to access the internet, while computers and tablets were used by only 23 percent and 9 percent, respectively. This growth has been economically significant as well. In the second quarter of 2019, the information and communication sector’s 13.8 percent contribution to nominal GDP surpassed that of oil and gas (8.8%).
The Nigerian government has officially acknowledged the connection between digital rights and human rights. A 2012 United Nations resolution aﬃrmed that the civil, political, economic, and social rights that people enjoy offline must also be protected online. In July 2016, Nigeria joined 52 other countries, including the United States, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, to co-sponsor an updated reaﬃrmation of the 2012 resolution.
Nigerians’ right to privacy is derived from Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which recognises privacy and free expression as fundamental rights. Section 37 provides that “[t]he privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations, and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected”, while Section 39(1) asserts that “every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”.
The rights to privacy and freedom of expression are two sides of the same coin. For example, a free and open press is at risk if journalists’ phones are under surveillance. At the same time, policymakers face a difficult trade-off between privacy rights and security and commercial concerns.
However, Nigeria’s political trends do raise a number of red flags concerning people’s vulnerability to data-related abuse by state and private-sector actors.