THE Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) has appealed to the Nigerian government to consider enacting a law that promotes transparency and increases citizens’ understanding of the procurement of digital technologies in Nigeria.
PPDC said different institutions in the country circumvented the Public Procurement Act (2007) and made biddings for critical digital technologies not known to civil society organisations and citizens as required by the law.
It said such a practice would breed corruption.
The organisation said when eventually procured, many of the devices end up infringing on the rights of people in the country when installed or being used.
PPDC said the new law would cover the procurement of digital technologies by security agencies and other critical sectors in the country, if enacted.
The organisation made the appeal in Abuja at a validation session of its “Country Report on Government Procurement of Digital Technology Systems (DTS) in Nigeria” on Wednesday.
The report was part of the Government Procurement and Deployment of Digital Technology System in Africa being implemented in three Africa countries: Uganda, Liberia and Nigeria.
PPDC noted that the research sought to understand citizens’ understanding of the investment and procurement of DTS such as artificial intelligence, facial recognition and digital identity by various institutions in the country.
DTS include all digital systems used by intelligence and security agencies, those used by Federal Road Safety Corps and related organisations to capture people’s data and for surveillance as well as for tracking, including those used by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) during elections among others.
Making the presentation, Programme Officer/Researcher at the organisation Nneka Odenigbo said the research showed that many citizens were unaware of the government’s procurement and investment in DTSs.
She said that although government ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) follow the procurement process as stated in the Public Procurement Act (2007) when procuring DTSs, no specific laws relate to DTSs procurement.
Odenigbo said the absence of such laws could contribute to unpreparedness for a pandemic, leading to errors when procuring and implementing DTSs projects to combat it.
Speaking further on the result, she said the government was not completely open in its budgeting and procurement of DTSs.
“Findings reveal that DTSs budget and procurement plan are not always available to the public and during the procurement process, the CSOs (civil society organisations) are expected to be present during the opening of bids, but that is not always the case.
“The existing laws and policies that related to the use of DTSs are not comprehensive. Every law and policy in Nigeria is sourced from the 1999 constitution. But these laws are not all-inclusive as to the generality of the use of DTSs, data privacy and protection policies; therefore are not laws, and the binding nature of those policies are questionable and without sanctions.”
She said that findings indicated that the government’s directive for linking the National Identity Number (NIN) with every other identity database was an attempt to unify all identification information into a central database.
She added that with the unification of all the databases in the country, digital and policy experts were pushing for a new law that would create an identification management authority responsible for collecting and regulating personal data.
According to the findings, the proliferation of databases for citizen information increases the opportunity for illegal access to citizens’ and personal data.
In her remarks, Programme Director of the organisation Ifeoma Onyebuchi said procurement should be done in line with Section 19 of the Public Procurement Act, which states that the civil society groups should be part of the process.
According to her, Section 17 of the Procurement Act requires the president to assent to defense procurement, adding that there is no legal framework that guides procurement for defense in the country.
She said laws should classify DTSs as classified and non-classified so that the public could understand the procurement for those that are not classified.
She said the call for a special law for DTS was because of the poor perception index for the government by Nigerians.
Onyebuchi said the law would also guarantee safety for the public by ensuring that DTS would not constitute threats to their health.