Business Lawyers Ponder the Impact of ICT & the Digital Economy on the Future of Law
The Westwood Hotel in Ikoyi, Lagos on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 hosted members of the Nigerian Bar Association’s Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) and other stakeholders as they gathered to ponder the future of their profession in an age of globalization driven by data and propelled by the demands of the digital economy. Held to discuss the topic, ‘Examining the Nigerian ICT Industry in an Age of Globalization: Legal Issues and Challenges in the Digital Economy,’ the event was graced by a number of leading lights in the NBA-SBL – including its immediate past chairman, Olumide Akpata and the 2019 NBA-SBL Business Conference Planning Committee Chairman, Dr. Adeoye Adefulu, as well as other members of the Section.
In his welcoming remarks, Basil Udotai, Esq., chairman of the ICT committee of the SBL, which put the event together, made the point that this event was long overdue, given the pace of transformation in virtually all sectors of the Nigerian and global economy (including the practice of law and the delivery of justice) occasioned by the digital revolution. He described the event as a timely intervention by his committee in the ongoing debate about the legal implications inherent in the deployment and use by various parties of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI); the internet of things; blockchain, and so forth, and urged participants to make the most of the intellectual feast to come.
The first speaker of the day, Olawale Noiki, is the Associate Director, Technology Advisory at the Firm of KPMG Advisory Services. NEWSWIRE Law & Events Magazine correspondent at the event reports that Noiki, who explored the topic, ‘The Business of ICT and the Role of Young Lawyers,’ called the attention of lawyers as a group – and young lawyers in particular – to the enormous range of possibilities open to them in the effort to catalyze the digitalization of legal services, as well in the legal and other implications of investing in the ICT and digital sector as an emerging practice area. Some of the areas in which the input of lawyers would be critical, Noiki said, include regulatory efficiency; cyber-security; identity management; and money laundering, among others.
In answer to a question during the Q&A session that followed his presentation, namely, how lawyers can drive the regulatory as well as policy framework in order to drive the IT space in a desired manner, Noiki agreed that lawyers should indeed be proactive in helping shape the laws that guide the use of digital resources, but hastened to add that law must never be allowed to run ahead of technological innovation, for fear of stifling it even before it has taken root. He also agreed with another speaker who suggested an active synergy between the NBA and other professional associations in the country on ways of playing in the IT space for mutual gain, as well as presenting a common front in their interactions with lawmakers and other policy-makers. Noiki ended by calling on young lawyers to be well informed; to constantly seek opportunities to leverage on ICT and all it has to offer; and to join in the advocacy for an enabling environment.
The second session of the day featured two keynote speakers. Bayo Adekanmbi, who spoke first, serves as the President of Data Sciences Nigeria, as well as the Chief Transformation Officer of the telecoms giant, MTN. He was joined on stage by Emeka Okoye, who is the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Architect at Cymantics Limited.
Adekanbi’s lively presentation featured anecdote after anecdote to demonstrate his topic: ‘Nigeria’s Evolving Data Economy: Opportunities & Challenges,’ and his assertion that ‘the data economy is here.’ Describing data as an economic multiplier and a lifesaver (especially when used to diagnose diseases and track their incidence), Adekanbi said that 2020, data would be ‘productized.’ Data, he said, was now a factor of production – alongside the traditional factors such as land, labour and capital. Describing the many functions that data was currently being used to carry out in various countries around the world, he also described data as ‘the new oil.’ This new oil, he said, also came with its own legal baggage around issues such as ‘data spillage’ and ‘data militancy’. This was where legal governance must come in, he ended by saying, and where lawyers must make their presence felt – after they have gained a thorough understanding of the data economy.
Also speaking, Okoye, the Cymantics boss, painted the picture of a future powered by a close and symbiotic interaction between man and machine. This ‘4th Industrial Revolution’, as he called it, must necessarily lead to a number of transformations not just in the economy, but in the polity as well – such as greater openness in society and in the processes of governance. It was in such an environment of openness (open data, open governance) Okoye said, that innovation thrives – which was why the most prosperous countries in the world today are also the most open in terms of political (and especially democratic) governance.
NEWSWIRE’s correspondent also reports that one of the featured speakers for the third session of the day, Lanre Osibona, who is the Senior Special Adviser to the President of Nigeria on ICT (in the office of the Vice-President) was out of the country at the time of the event, but was able to speak to the participants – and field a number of questions from the house – via Skype. But the second featured speaker, John Edokpolor, was very much on ground, and he more than did justice to the topic, ‘Nigeria’s Digital Transformation Agenda and the Role for Lawyers.’ Edokpolor, who is the Lead Commercial Attorney for Microsoft MEA Emerging Markets and General Legal Counsel at Microsoft, spoke at length on the increasing prevalence of Cloud-based platforms, companies and other entities, and the dominant roles they would be playing in how we live, work, interact and store our information in the future. He cited companies such as Uber, Airbnb, Google, Facebook, Cloudfare and Xitomi, among others, as examples of the transforming power of data. He ended by urging participants desirous of getting to grips with the new reality of digital innovation to read the following Microsoft publications:
- A Cloud for Global Good
- Digital Transformation in the Cloud
- The Future Computed
The vexed issues of competition among industry players and its impact on consumer protection was explored in the fourth session on the day. Speaking on the topic, ‘Competition and Consumer Protection Law – Exploring the Likely Impacts of the Technology Sector,’ the Director-General of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, Tunde Irukera, began by asserting that there was no place where law was more robust than in the antitrust regulations around ICT, citing the United States of America as perhaps the most regulated jurisdiction in the world as far as consumer protection and consequent liabilities was concerned. Consumer protection, Irukera said, was not activism (as is commonly seen in these parts, even by lawyers) but business. In view of this, he urged lawyers to be more proactive especially in the institution of class-action suits against infringements of antitrust and consumer-protection regulations as a component part of their business model.
The fifth and final session of the day was a panel discussion moderated by Basil Udotai, chair of the SBL’s committee on ICT. The panel featured Senator Ihenye, the Lead Partner at Infusion Lawyers; Rotimi Ogunyemi, Managing Partner at Bayo Ogunyemi & Co., and Emmanuel Edet, Legal Adviser to the Board and Head of the Legal Unit of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). Two other featured panelists, Emmanuel Ghahabo of the Templars law firm, and Ibe Ngwuoke of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) were not able to attend.
The three panelists went over issues of the prospects of ICT as a practice area for lawyers, in terms of financial reward and other rewards in the short, medium and long term; NITDA’s cloud policy and its ability to prosecute violations of InfoTech regulations; the ability of law firms to help tech startups to navigate the hoops pertaining to the industry; the need for government agencies to tap into private-sector data to enable planning (Edet pointed out that the Lagos State government, for example, could learn a lot from Uber’s knowledge about Lagos traffic); and the vexed issue of whether or not Nigeria has a data-protection regime (Edet clarified that she does – though it was not as all-encompassing as some might like, but more of a series of sector-specific data-protection laws e.g. the Central Bank of Nigeria, and the National Health Service, among others).
In his remarks to close the event, the immediate past chairman of the NBA-SBL, Olumide Akpata expressed his gratitude to the Section’s ICT team for making the Members’ Forum a success, and called for more regular events like this one. Lamenting the dearth of ICT lawyers in Nigeria, he urged his colleagues in the legal profession to get more involved in tech – given the important it is set to occupy in the practice of the very near future.
See photos below:
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