August 2, 2021

Stakeholders in the Information Communication Industry have clamoured for an EXECUTIVE ORDER to protect Telecom Infrastructure instead of the APPROVAL for the provision of security for telecommunications infrastructure nationwide which the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami got from President Mohammadu Buhari.

According to some Key stakeholders in the Industry, they are of the opinion that there is a difference between an executive order for protection of telecom infrastructure and the directive to security agencies to protect telecoms infrastructure.
And that what Dr Pantami got from President Buhari, instead, was an approval for the provision of security for telecommunications infrastructure nationwide.

The signing of Executive Order is what some governors, starting with Dr. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State are doing with regards to Right of Way charges. With such Orders, the Governors have been able to reduce Right of Way charges from N4, 500 to N145, N1 per meter while some totally waived the charges for telecoms operators.
In fact, the approval from the President is in no way different from what the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had done in the area of signing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to collaborate with various organisations to strengthen protection of telecom infrastructure in the country. That has been the status quo.
 Yet, as laudable as those agreements and Federal government directives have been, telecom infrastructure cannot be said to have been fully protected from vandalism and theft. This is because there is no force of law and a clear definition of responsibility on any agency to protect telecom infrastructure. In which case, negligence to secure telecom infrastructure by any security agency will not have any serious legal implications.

The President had promised on January 28, 2020 when  the Chairman, MTN Group, Mr. Mcebisi Jonas and President and CEO, Mr. Rob Shutter visited him at the Presidential Villa, Abuja that he would soon sign an executive order to protect telecom infrastructure.

The Nigerian Cybercrime Act 2015 gives the President the power to designate certain computer systems, networks and information infrastructure vital to the national security of Nigeria or the economic and social well-being of its citizens, as constituting Critical National Information Infrastructure, and to implement procedures, guidelines, and conduct audits in furtherance of that.

The Nigerian Cybercrime Act 2015 prescribes the death penalty for an offence committed against a system or network that has been designated critical national infrastructure of Nigeria that results in the death of an individual (amongst other punishments for lesser crimes).
But what was announced by the minister is below the expectation of the Cybercrime Act and the ICT industry.

An executive order by the president would have activated the Cybercrime Act provisions. The Executive Order is what the industry needed to give legal teeth and force of law to the protection of telecom infrastructure.

Though the minister’s statement said the office of the National Security Adviser, Defense Headquarters, Nigeria Police Force, Department of State Security Services and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, have been notified of the president’s directive, the directive does not have force of law.
The NCC and the police already have a similar arrangement, such as the one announced by the minister for the protection of telecom infrastructure. The arrangement was put in place when NCC Executive Vice Chairman led other directors to the office of the Inspector-General of Police in December 2018.
The IG pledged at the meeting, to collaborate on vital issues concerning security of telecoms infrastructure and capacity building for modern policing which the IGP.

Several countries have signed such order to protect their national infrastructure. The United States’ Executive Order EO 13010 was signed in July 15, I996 to protect its infrastructure, among them telecoms as national infrastructure that require special protection from threats of any kind.
South Africa followed the global example in December 2019 when President Cyril Ramaphosa assented to the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, which repeals the apartheid-era National Keypoints Act of 1980 and provides for public-private cooperation in the identification and protection of critical infrastructure.

NCC and other industry bodies have been calling for an executive order, since 2015, that would designate ‘Telecom Infrastructure as Critical National Security and Economic Infrastructure’ as prescribed in the Cybercrime Act, 2015.

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