By Etuka Sunday
Regulators, investors, patrons and all stakeholders can now heave a sigh as the long sought legislative backing of the telecoms sector has been achieved.
Part of the laws literally rushed through the outgone National Assembly, was the Cybercrime Prohibition and Prevention Act. It was in like manner, quickly appended by former President Goodluck Jonathan before leaving office on May 29, 2015.
The new law signed on May 15, 2015, stipulates that henceforth, any crime or damage to critical national information infrastructure, sale of pre-registered sim cards, unlawful access to computer systems, cyber-terrorism, among others, would be punishable. Beyond, this, it is important to note that the law is a harmonisation of several bills submitted to the National Assembly including the Critical Infrastructure Bill, the Cybercrime Prevention Bill amongst others.
The essence of the law includes to provide an effective and unified legal, regulatory and institutional framework for the prohibition, prevention, detection, prosecution and punishment of cybercrimes in Nigeria; ensure the protection of critical national information infrastructure and promote cyber security and the protection of computer systems and networks of electronic communications, data and computer programmes, intellectual property and privacy rights.
Following increased crime related issues such as physical attacks and stealing or vandalisation of telecoms facilities and base stations, stakeholders in the ICT sector began to seek ways to secure legislation for the protection of telecoms infrastructure and to confer on them protection as critical infrastructure. There were also issues such as the rampant and random sale of pre-registered sim cards, hacking of e-mail accounts and stealing of identities of online surfers, amongst many other crimes.
Telecom facilities have since become fundamental and the most preponderant infrastructure in the country next to electricity installations. Therefore, it became worrisome that without protection from the law, operators might be compelled to slow down on investments if there are constant threats to infrastructure both from cyber criminals and vandals who cart away cables, diesel, generators and other hard ware.
The Cybercrime Act lists offenses and penalties including unlawful access to computers, unlawful operation of cyber cafes, system interference, intercepting electronic messages, emails, e-money transfer, tampering with critical infrastructure, and computer-related forgery, among others, as offenses that are punishable under the law. Theft of electronic devices, electronic signature, child pornography and related offences, racism and xenophobic offences are also punishable under the new law.
The provisions of the law shall apply throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and implemented to the letter. Accordingly, any person who, with intent commits any offense punishable under the law against any critical national information infrastructure designated under Section 3 of the Act, is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not more than 10 years without the option of fine.
Where the offense committed under subsection (1) of the section results in grievous bodily harm to any person, the offender is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not more than 15 years without option of fine.
Where the offense committed under subsection (1) of this section results in the death of a person, the offender is liable on conviction to life imprisonment.
A person who, without authorization, intentionally access in whole or in part a computer system or network for fraudulent purposes and obtains data that are vital to national security, commits an offense and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years or a fine of not more than N5 million or both.
A person who perpetrates electronic or online fraud using a cyber café, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of three years or a fine of N1 million or both.
Again, any person, who intentionally and without authorisation, intercepts by technical means, non-public transmission of computer data, content, or traffic data, including electromagnetic emissions or signals from a computer, computer system, or network carrying or emitting signals, to or from a computer, computer system or connected system or network, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment of not more than two years or a fine of not more than N5 million or both.
It is also encouraging to learn that lawmakers had carried out a research on the validity of the bill following which they realised the need to create Cyber Security Commission and Cyber Security Council that would oversee the implementation of the bill after it is passed into law. One, however, hopes this proposition will not bring about a duplication of duties or a conflict of interest with the Nigerian Communications Commission.
Nigerians, especially stakeholders in the ICT sector may now rejoice that there is a legal provision that enables the judiciary to prosecute fraudsters and all those involved in online related crimes, a trend that has become globally identified with Nigeria.
It is to the credit of the National Assembly and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) that the protracted battle to give legal protection to ICT facilities as well as ICT users has finally come to pass.
One hopes this major step will boost the confidence of investors and bring in the much needed foreign investments and growth to the sector