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Internet technology is creating opportunities
Globally, internet technology has been improving rapidly. This has brought with it a lot of opportunities in all spheres of life. Economically, socially, and culturally, the internet continues to greatly impact on nations, communities, institutions, and the individual. Today we continue to embrace new ideas like e-governance, e-learning, e-banking, and of course, e-commerce, among others.
Internet technology is creating exciting opportunities, particularly in the aspect of industrial innovation. Electronic commerce or e-commerce, as it is better known, is one of such opportunities. While it has proven to be a vibrant source of economic growth in developed countries in America, Europe, and parts of Asia since the turn of the 21st century, e-commerce is also now witnessing rapid growth in Nigeria and some other African countries including Kenya, Egypt, and South Africa.
e-Commerce as a game changer in the Nigerian economy
I will focus on the evolution of e-commerce in Nigeria and its potentials as a vibrant source of economic growth and development. Its impact on Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs) towards creating jobs and generating wealth will also be discussed.
And since a strong legal framework is crucial to the successful running and regulation of any vibrant and secure e-commerce system, policy makers could find some of my recommendations useful. We can put Nigeria on the world map of e-commerce revolution–perhaps in a matter of five years, or less.
The evolution of e-Commerce in Nigeria: buying and selling online anytime
e-Commerce in Africa is currently growing at 25.8% rate. Against the rest of the world’s 16.8%, this growth rate makes the continent the fastest-growing e-commerce market in the world.
The emergence of e-commerce has greatly changed the traditional method of shopping. Buying and selling of goods and services can now be done online anytime. While goods are delivered with either in-house or partner courier service providers, electronic products like eBooks, videos, and audios are delivered electronically.  And this is at affordable and competitive prices, sometimes cheaper than offline prices.     
                          
Business Day recently reported that the current market opportunity for electronic commerce in Nigeria is over N255 billion annually. The market is equally growing at the rapid rate of 25 percent per year.
It had not always been so good. As recent as a decade ago, a business plan based on an e-commerce model in Nigeria would have been easily dismissed as a bad investment.
Times have changed, and keep changing.
e-Commerce is getting bigger and bigger in Nigeria
e-Commerce continues to grow in Nigeria. It’s the same with the rest of Africa and most part of the world. In Nigeria, e-commerce has been growing even faster. More and more Nigerians are embracing e-commerce as their preferred platform for buying and selling goods and services. This is great.
With about 60 million Nigerians now enjoying access to the internet, the e-market is bound to get even bigger. And wider too.
The best part is that Nigeria has a predominantly youthful population. There are presently about 60 million Nigerians connected to the internet; thanks to the rapid growth of mobile telecommunications. This represents about 36 per cent of Nigeria’s 170 million people. About 300,000 online orders are made every 24 hours in Nigeria. This is very promising. e-Platforms will continue to grow with business, technology, and leisure.
e-Commerce as contributor to economic growth and development
e-Commerce has started contributing to the growth of the Nigerian economy. First, e-commerce is creating jobs for the country’s over 20 million unemployed youth, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Though the actual jobs created are just over 12,000 jobs since 2012.
The ICT industry directly contributed 10.44 per cent to Nigeria’s 2013 Gross Domestic Product (GDP). ICT’s contributions to other sectors of the economy is also increasing. 
If more Nigerians have access to the internet, that could positively impact on the e-commerce market. The Minister believes that from the present $12 billion, online consumption could worth about $154 billion by 2025.
So it was not surprising when Nigeria’s Minister of Communications Technology Dr Omobola Johnson recently said in Lagos that Nigeria’s e-commerce market has a potential worth of $10 billion. e-Commerce market in Nigeria has attracted about $200 million foreign investment.
Impact on Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs)
The e-commerce space is a major part of today’s market. What is the worth of a market without MSMEs. MSMEs are engines of economic growth and development. They make economies more competitive, vibrant, and resilient.
In countries like US, India, Japan, China, and Brazil, MSMEs have continued to create jobs and generate wealth for millions, particularly the youth population. The success stories have not been just all about the entrepreneurial spirits but the technological support as well.
With the immense value information technology creates, MSMEs’ economic potentials in Nigeria can be amazing.
With e-payment-solution companies springing up in Nigeria, buying and selling online have been given a great boost. MasterCard, InterSwitch, e-transact, and VisaCard are continually improving their services to provide an easier, safer, and faster online shopping experience to Nigerians. This is good for business, and for the Nigerian economy.
Providing a strong legal framework for a vibrant and secure e-commerce system
Law is not as bad as most business people think it is. Law does not only send people to jail; it can be an instrument of social engineering. Law can help you protect your business, regulating your affairs in a safer and happier way.
And that is exactly what proactive and strong laws can do to e-commerce entrepreneurs. It can help them succeed.
To create a safer and more secure e-commerce environment for Nigerians, the right laws must be put in place. 
Let’s check cyber crimes and protect online privacy
Cyber crimes must be checked. Till date, Nigeria does not have any legislation on cyber crimes. All we have are bills.
Privacy of online shoppers also needs to be legally protected. Section 37 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) guarantees the privacy of citizens. But we need to build on this constitutional provision by providing a robust law on online privacy.
Data protection and intellectual property rights protection are invaluable
Online privacy is at risk without data protection. This is why protecting data is crucial. Since people who buy products and services online are often required to use their e-payment cards, vital information may be exposed to risks.
And hardly can we separate a safe, secure, and vibrant e-commerce system from strong and proactive intellectual property laws. Copyrights protection under the Nigerian Copyrights Act come to mind. Simply categorizing software under ‘literary works’ will not sufficiently protect intellectual property rights owners in today’s digital world. We can do better than that.
Even trademark infringements are taking a new dimension online; cyber-squatting (registering or using a domain name with intent to profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to someone else) for instance. When someone visits Jumia.com.ng, can we be sure it’s Jumia’s site or some smart guy just created a site with a similar domain name Jumia.comJumia.net, or even Jumai.com.ng?
We need a total review of our laws to bring them in line with international best practices. We must catch up with the rest of the world.
Conclusion
e-Commerce is evolving rapidly in Nigeria. But the law has been slow in this regard. The law needs to rapidly evolve too. There is urgent need for more legislative action. This will help combat the legal issues e-commerce is bound to throw up in Nigeria. A stronger legal framework will provide a more secure and robust platform for e-commerce growth just as it does in advanced countries of the world.
Senator Ihenyen is an Associate at Assizes Lawfirm and The Write House. He advises on intellectual property, internet technology, e-commerce, and tax. He can be contacted at senator@writehouseng.com or senatorihenyen@gmail.com. 

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Nigerian Law Today

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