Shortly after its inauguration, the eighth Senate under the leadership of Dr BukolaSaraki resolved through its legislative agenda to reconfigure Nigeria’s business environment through enactment of qualitative legislative intervention.The present business environment has placed the country at the bottom of the ladder in terms of World Bank’s annual rating of ease of doing business. This has impeded the deserved inflow of foreign investment to stimulate the much battered economy. It was lamentable that in spite of its vast potentials that could make it investor-destination, Nigeria was ranked 167 out of 189 countries by the Ease of Doing Business Report compiled by the World Bank.
The need for diversification of the nation’s economy which had been a slogan for several years by different administrations still remains what it is, a mere rhetoric, as there was no conscious and deliberate effort to formulate the necessary policies and legislations that would set the nation on the path to rapidly develop the economy.However, the collapse in oil price that brought huge shock to the nation’s economy on a scale that perhaps, has never been experienced before made it imperative for the government to develop creative strategies that would stimulate business and investments into other sectors.
It was with the understanding of the drawback that the Senate with support from its international development partners and the organised private sector commissioned an expert report which identified 54 extant laws that must be reviewed and brought in line with international best practices in order to open up the economy for private investments and businesses.
This legislative intervention yielded about 15 major economic reform bills and seven business environment bills. Some of these bills have since been passed while some are at various stages of consideration.Among the bills passed, and considered to represent a watershed in the nation’s economic and business legislation was the Electronic Transaction Bill (ETB) 2015, that scaled the legislative scrutiny on December 17, 2015.
Electronic Transaction, otherwise known as e-transactions is relatively a new phenomenon in Nigeria. It is the trend towards globalisation and the creation of e-society as one of the driving forces transforming society worldwide.
However, some of the benefits of e-transactions are not being realised by Nigeria because of the lack of legislative framework. The non-existence of a law on e-transactions has created an unpredictable legal environment for e-commerce. The rights and obligations of the transacting parties, legal aspects of electronic contracts, use of specified security procedures, such as digital signatures and concern for authentication and non-repudiation have remained a source of concern.The absence of the legal framework further denied the sector the confidence of the business community and the populace, while the use of information and communication, the time and the place of dispatch and receipt of electronic communications have become challenges to the sector.
The bill also seeks to facilitate the use of electronic technology and attempt to remove impediments to e-transactions. In effect, it allows some legal requirements to be satisfied by electronic means and gives more e-transactions and information the same legal effect as paper-based transactions.In terms of introducing accountability and fighting cyber crime, the ETB is to provide legal framework for e-transactions and promote transparency in the transactions of government business.The bill is relevant to security agencies in the wake of increasing Nigeria’s transition from a cash economy to a cashless-oriented economy being facilitated by electronic channels.
Making a case for the need of the bill, a legal luminary, Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN) said, “the way and manner in which ICT has been deployed and assimilated by financial institutions and companies is not only commendable but overwhelming. However, this cannot be said about our existing laws which have not kept pace with technology and business practice. The existing laws do not seem to adequately provide for the electronic element in e-transactions, which automatically necessitate the modification of the laws to accommodate this element.”
To free it from conflict with the constitution, the bill was enacted in a manner to conform with the provisions of section 37 of the 1999 Constitution as amended that provided for the guarantee of privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondences, telephone conversations, telegraphic communications and a guarantee and protection of personal data which takes into consideration the enormous issues and complexities of personal data.
Furthermore, Sections6, sub section 1 of the Bill provides for the use of electronic signatures and the issue of execution of contract online. The section deals with the proof of execution document on the premise of same being done on a tangible medium as opposed to being executed on set of information data uniquely allocated to individual.Among its benefits when assented to, the bill will minimise errors in business and community transactions; create data base stores transactions information in data base for as long as it requires; minimise fraud through Address Verification System (AVS) and eliminate chances of shipping to someone using stolen card, thus saving a businessman from a charge back.
Excited by the passage of the bill, stakeholders not only applauded the Senate but expressed eagerness on prompt presidential assent to it for urgent execution.
Speaking on the issue, head of Public Relations of an online marketing company, Kaymu Nigeria, Mr Tomiwa Oladele said, “the decision to regulate the sector is very timely. The safety of online transactions cannot be overemphasised and is one that will have huge prospects for the industry if efficiently implemented…help to checkmate misleading product information on some e-commerce platforms thereby giving more customers confidence to shop online’’.
Re-echoing same, an elated Senate President said, “once signed into law, this bill will offer full protection to contracts entered into via emails, and transactions conducted with online shops, electronic commerce and services platforms, which are currently not provided for in our laws.According to Saraki, “another obvious benefit of this bill is that it will reduce the cost of doing business by eliminating transportation and other logistics cost.This new legal framework when signed into law will embolden our innovative creativity and open up new areas of investment opportunity for our youths and startups who have hitherto suffered lack of support from creditors and investors due to the absence of this law.
The implication is that we now have opportunity to see the emergence of new generation online, electronic application giants in the mould of ChineduEcheruo,” Saraki said.
Isa is Special Assistant to the Senate President on Public Affairs.