Nigeria’s New Data Protection Act, Explained

By Mercy King’ori

On June 12, 2023, the President of Nigeria signed the Data Protection Bill into law following a successful third reading at the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Data Protection Act, 2023 (the Act) has had executive and legislative support and marks an important milestone in Nigeria’s nearly two-decade journey towards a comprehensive data protection law. Renewed efforts towards a comprehensive law began in September 2022 when the National Commissioner of the Nigeria Data Protection Bureau (NDPB), now the National Data Protection Commissioner (NDPC), announced that the office would seek legal support for a new law as part of the Nigeria Digital Identification for Development Project. The drafting of the law was followed by a validation process that was conducted in October 2022. After validation, the Act was submitted to the Federal Executive Council for approval, which paved the way for its transmission to the National Assembly. The 2022 Data Protection Bill was introduced in both houses of Nigeria’s bicameral legislature as the Nigeria Data Protection Bill, 2023. The Act commenced upon signature by the President.

The Act provides for data protection principles that are common to many international data protection frameworks. It defines “personal data” broadly and it includes legal obligations for “data controllers” and “processors,” defined similarly to the majority of data protection laws around the world. While the structure and content of the Act align with other international frameworks for data protection, the Act contains notable unique provisions:

  • The Act introduces a new category of “data controllers and processors of major importance,” which seems to be inspired by the tiered approach in the EU’s Digital Services Act and its specific obligations for “very large online platforms and search engines;”
  • A “duty of care” is among the principles that controllers and processors need to comply with;
  • Controllers and processors must seek the services of a data protection compliance organization (DPCO) to perform a data protection audit, among other obligations;
  • The broad extraterritorial provisions under the Act are also notable;
  • The Act also introduces and places limitations on legitimate interest as a legal basis for personal data processing which is not present under the NDPR and the Implementation Framework;
  • Data subject rights under the Act are similar to those found in international data protection frameworks, however, with minimal restrictions on their exercise;
  • The Act provides stronger protections for children and persons without legal capacity, compared to the NDPR. It also introduces a requirement for age verification, where feasible; and
  • Lastly, the Act sets out structural changes to the existing data protection authority, which will change from a “Bureau” to a Commission, and updates the governing mechanisms for the authority.

Prior to the introduction of the Act, Nigeria’s data protection landscape was governed by the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation, 2019 (NDPR) and the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation 2019: Implementation Framework (Implementation Framework). However, the need to fill in the gaps under the NDPR, create a legal foundation for the existing data protection body, and as a necessary condition for the rollout of a national digital identification program required the creation of a new legislative framework. However, the NDPR and its Implementation Framework shall remain in force alongside the Act. Under Section 64(2)(f) all existing regulatory instruments, including regulations, directives, and authorizations issued by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) or NDPB shall remain in force as if they were issued by the Commission until they expire, are repealed, replaced, reassembled or altered. Per Section 63 of the Act, the new law shall take precedence in any instance of a conflict with pre-existing provisions.

1. Covered Actors: Novel Categories of Data Controllers and Processors

The Act applies to the processing of personal data by data controllers, data processors, and third parties, which may be individuals, private entities, or public entities that process personal data. A data controller is defined as an individual, private entity, public Commission or agency, or any other body which, alone or jointly with others, determines the purposes and means of the processing of personal data. A data processor is defined as an individual, private entity, public authority, or any other body who or which processes personal data on behalf of or at the direction of a data controller or another data processor. The Act does not define third parties.

The Act introduces a novel category of “data controllers and processors of major importance.” A data controller and processor of major importance is defined as a “data controller or data processor that is domiciled, resident in, or operating in Nigeria and processes or intends to process personal data of more than a such number of data subjects who are within Nigeria.” The Act continues, explaining that “the Commission may prescribe or such other class of data controller or data processor that is processing personal data of particular value or significance to the economy, society, or security of Nigeria as the Commission may designate.”

While the practical thresholds of this definition are set to be further clarified by the Commission, they will be based on the number of data subjects whose data are processed and the value or significance of the processed data. This categorization has commonalities with the EU’s Digital Service Act’s designation of entities as Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) and Very Large Online Search Engines (VLOSEs) and may be used to create unique and additional obligations for such controllers and processors. The Act currently requires qualifying entities to meet special registration requirements, appoint a data protection officer, and pay different penalty amounts for violations. Future obligations will relate to processes relating to filing of compliance returns (Section 61(2)(g)), as well as any others that may be prescribed through regulations later issued by the Commission.

2. Covered Data: Broad Categories of Sensitive Personal Data 

The Act covers both personal and sensitive personal data. It defines personal data as “any information relating to an individual, who can be identified or is identifiable, directly or indirectly, by reference to an identifier such as a name, an identification number, location data, an online identifier or one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, psychological, cultural, social, or economic identity of that individual.” The definition closely tracks Article 4(1) of the GDPR.

It further defines sensitive personal data as personal data relating to an individual’s:

  • genetic and biometric data, for the purpose of uniquely identifying a natural person;
  • race or ethnic origin;
  • religious or similar beliefs, such as those reflecting conscience or philosophy;
  • health status;
  • sex life;
  • political opinions or affiliations; and
  • trade union memberships.

Section 30(2) of the Act envisions a broad, flexible definition for sensitive personal data by authorizing the Commission to prescribe further categories of sensitive personal data. The Act also prohibits the processing of sensitive personal data unless specified conditions are met. Notable allowances for processing of sensitive personal data include:

  • Where the processing is necessary for reasons of “substantial public interest,” on the basis of a law (Section 30(1)(f)). Substantial public interest is not defined under the Act; and
  • Where the data subject has consented to such processing (Section 30(1)(a)).

These proposed rules closely track Article 9 of GDPR’s restrictions for the processing of “special category” data. Unlike the GDPR, which envisions situations where the prohibition on processing sensitive personal data may not be lifted on the basis of consent, the consent exception under Nigeria’s Act is only restricted to situations where a data subject has given and then withdrawn such consent. Additionally, the Act only applies an “explicit consent” requirement to the potential sharing of sensitive personal data by a “foundation, association, or other not-for-profit body with charitable, educational, literary, artistic, philosophical, religious, or trade union purposes,” while the GDPR’s Article 9(2)(a) requires “explicit consent” for all excepted processing. However, the Act does permit the Commission to potentially create additional regulations that may apply to the processing of sensitive personal data, including regulations expanding categories of sensitive personal data, additional grounds for processing such data, and safeguards to be applied.

3. Territorial Application: Broad Extraterritorial Application of the Act

Section 2(2)(c)) of the Act contains broad extraterritorial authority, covering any form of processing the personal data of a data subject in Nigeria by controllers or processors not established in Nigeria. This provision does not consider the nature of processing being conducted, unlike frameworks such as the GDPR, which include the “targeting” criteria.

Exemptions from Application of the Act: Increased Protections for Exempted Processing Activities 

Section 3 of the Act provides several different exemptions from the broader application of the law and makes room for the Commission to expand the processing activities that may be exempted from the Act. Processing personal information “solely for personal or household purposes” is exempt, as long as such processing does not violate a data subject’s right to privacy. This is a stark difference from laws such as the GDPR, which wholly exempts processing of personal data by a natural person in the course of personal or household activity, regardless of whether it touches on the person’s right to privacy or not. Therefore, there are instances where personal data processing activities of a non-professional and non-commercial nature may fall under the ambit of the law. The rationale for this condition is not clear. Other exemptions include processing activities by law enforcement during the prevention, investigation, detection, or prosecution of a crime, processing for the prevention or control of a national public health emergency, national security or public interest purposes, and as necessary for the establishment, exercise, or defense of legal claims that are exempt from most of the obligations under Part V of the Act. Exempt entities must still comply with some specific provisions under Part V including:

  • The principles of personal data processing – Section 24;
  • Provisions relating to the lawful basis of processing personal data – Section 25;
  • Provisions relating to the appointment of data protection officers for data controllers and processors of major importance – Section 32; and
  • Provisions relating to personal data breaches – Section 40.

While the Act reserves for the Commission authority to prescribe additional exemptions, it includes a greater number of protections for exempt processing activities than the 2022 Bill. In addition to the above-mentioned provisions that exempt entities must comply with, the Act empowers the Commission to issue a Guidance Note on the legal safeguards and best practices for exempted data controllers and processors where such processing violates or is likely to violate Sections 24 and 25 of the law. Some exemptions have been narrowed relative to the 2022 Bill. Entities who were exempted from complying with provisions under the 2022 Bill must now comply with the above-mentioned provisions for exempt entities under the 2023 Act, as well as those relating to data security and cross-border data transfers.

4. Obligations of Data Controllers and Processors: Novel Registration Requirements for Data Controllers and Processors of Major Importance 

Some of the Act’s obligations for data controllers and processors are novel, while others have been maintained from the NDPR.

Data Controllers and Processors of “Major Importance”

The designation of “data controllers and processors of major importance” and the Commission’s authority to classify and regulate such entities is a key new development. Section 44 of the Act sets out the process and timelines to which such entities must adhere, including registering with the Commission within six months after the commencement of the Act, or upon meeting the statutory criteria for qualifying as a data controller or processor of major importance. Additionally, the Act empowers the Commission to exempt classes of data controllers and processors of major importance from registration where it considers that such registration is unnecessary or disproportionate. The criteria for exemption may be stipulated through Regulations by the Commission.

Another special obligation for controllers and processors of major importance is the requirement to appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO), which is imposed by Section 32 on such entities only. This requirement substantially differs from the NDPR and the Implementation Framework; under the NDPR, every data controller must appoint a DPO (Article 4.1.2), while the Implementation Framework stipulates conditions for such an appointment (3.4.1).

Other important obligations of all data controllers and processors include:

Compliance with Data Protection Principles

Data controllers and processors are responsible for complying with the principles provided in the Act. The principles are similar to the FIPPS-based sets found in many comprehensive data protection regimes but also include the duty of care as a principle for controllers and processors (Section 24(3)). Specifically, both controllers and processors owe “a duty of care” with respect to data processing, which is linked to demonstrating accountability related to compliance with other principles provided by the Act.

Filing of Audit Reports

As discussed in greater detail below, controllers and processors must seek the services of a data protection compliance organization (DPCO) to perform a data protection audit, among other obligations. As the Act does not create new criteria for entities required to conduct such audits, provisions under the NDPR and Implementation Framework remain in force. While the Implementation Framework provides that the authority may carry out scheduled audits or perform spot checks, the common practice is for controllers and processors that process personal data of more than 2000 data subjects in 12 months to engage a DPCO to conduct annual audits on their behalf. This practice is expected to continue.

Provision of Information to a Data Subject Prior to Collection of Personal Data

Where a data controller collects personal data directly or indirectly from a data subject, they must supply the data subject with the following information prior to collection:

  • The identity, residence or place of business of, and means of communication with the controller;
  • The specific lawful basis of processing under either Section 25(1) or 30(1) of the Act, and the specific purposes of processing;
  • The categories of recipients of the personal data;
  • The existence of the data subject rights;
  • The retention period of the data;
  • The right to lodge a complaint with the Commission; and
  • The existence of any automated decision-making, including profiling, its significance, the envisaged consequence of such processing for the data subject, and the right to object to/challenge such processing.

Where personal data is collected indirectly, a controller may be exempted from providing this information to a data subject if it had already been provided or where it would involve a disproportionate effort (Section 27(2)). The transparency obligations imposed by Section 27(1) (listed above) shall form part of the content of a privacy policy that a controller is obliged to have under the law and must be expressed in “clear, concise, transparent, intelligible, and easily accessible form.” In providing this information, a controller is obligated to take into account the intended class of data subjects. This implies that a privacy notice may need to be adjusted to cater to, among other issues, the literacy levels and language differences among data subjects.

Conducting a Data Protection Impact Assessment

Section 28(1) mandates a data controller to conduct a data protection impact assessment (DPIA) prior to the processing of personal data, where such processing may likely result in a high risk to the rights and freedoms of a data subject. The Act does not specify the period within which a DPIA must be conducted prior to such processing. Laws such as Kenya’s Data Protection Act require a DPIA to be conducted 60 days prior to the processing;  this obligation may be clarified under future Regulations.

The Commission may designate, by Regulation or Directive, categories of processing or persons that automatically trigger the requirement to conduct a DPIA. To qualify, a DPIA must include:

  • A systematic description of the envisioned processing and its purpose, including any legitimate interest pursued by the controller, processor, or third party;
  • An assessment of the necessity and proportionality of the processing related to those purposes;
  • An assessment of the risks to the rights and freedoms of the data subject;
  • Measures envisioned to address those risks, along with any safeguards, security measures, and mechanisms in place to ensure the protection of personal data.

Overseeing the Conduct of Data Processors and Sub-Processors

Controllers engaging processors, or processors engaging sub-processors, must take “reasonable measures” to ensure that the engaged party complies with the requirements of the Act set out in Section 29(1). These measures must take the form of a written agreement and ensure that the engaged party:

  • Assists the data controller or processor, as the case may be, in the fulfillment of the controller’s obligations to honor the rights of a data subject;
  • Implements appropriate technical and organizational measures to ensure the security, integrity, and confidentiality of personal data;
  • Provides the controller or processor, where applicable, with information reasonably required to demonstrate compliance with the Act; and
  • Notifies the engaging controller or processor when a new processor is engaged.

Data Security and  Data Breach Notification Requirements

Controllers and processors shall be required to implement security measures and safeguards for personal data. The level of such measures shall take into account several factors, including:

  • The amount and sensitivity of personal data involved;
  • The period of data retention; and
  • The availability, and cost of technologies to be implemented.

The measures that controllers and processors may implement are further described under section 39(2), including pseudonymization, encryption, and periodic assessments of risks to processing systems.

Where a data breach occurs that affects a data processor, the processor will be required to notify the data controller or processor that engaged it as soon as the breached party becomes aware of the incident, and must respond to information requests regarding the breach (Section 40(1)).

Where a data controller suffers a breach that is likely to cause a risk to the rights and freedoms of data subjects as defined by Section 40(7), several steps are required, including:

  • Notifying the Commission within 72 hours of becoming aware of the breach;
  • Notifying the data subjects without undue delay. No time specification is made for notifying data subjects.

The requirements for communications to the Commission and to affected data subjects also differ. Communication to the Commission should be as detailed as possible and include a description of the nature of the breach, while notice to data subjects should be in plain and clear language and include steps to take to mitigate any adverse effects. Section 40(4) highlights the common information that should be present in both cases, such as the name and contact details of a point of contact for the data controller. Information relating to a breach may be provided in a phased manner, where it is impossible to provide all information in a single communication.

5. Lawful Grounds for Processing Personal Data, Consent Requirements, and Children’s Personal Data

The Act provides for six lawful grounds for processing personal data similar to those under the GDPR, including:

  • With consent of a data subject for the processing of personal data for a specific purpose;
  • For performance of a contractual obligation in which the data subject is a party;
  • Compliance with a legal obligation to which the data controller or data processor is subject;
  • For protection of the vital interest of the data subject or another person;
  • For performance of a task in the public interest or exercise of official authority by a data controller or data processor; and
  • To fulfill the legitimate interests of a data controller or processor, or by a third party to whom the data is disclosed, considering that a data subject would have a reasonable expectation that personal data would be processed in the stipulated manner and the processing does not override their fundamental rights and freedoms. This basis is, however, not permissible where a controller or processor’s legitimate interests are incompatible with other lawful bases under the Act.

Consent Requirements

The Act requires that consent be freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous. This is similar to consent requirements under the NDPR and Implementation Framework. The Act prohibits implied consent – i.e., the inference of consent from a data subject’s inactivity or the use of pre-ticked boxes. This corresponds with most of the consent provisions under the Implementation Framework, other than the fact that the Framework provides exceptions for consent relating to cookies. The Framework (5.6) provides that consent for cookies may be implied from the continued surfing of a website and does not mandate explicit consent. This effectively limits the extent of consent to direct marketing that is required under 5.3.1(a) of the Implementation Framework.

Children’s Privacy

The Act expands the protections accorded to children and persons lacking legal capacity compared to the NDPR and its Implementation Framework. It increases the age threshold under which a data subject is considered a  “child” to 18 years, in alignment with the Nigeria Child Rights Act (however, not all states have domesticated the Act), and contrasts with the Implementation Framework,  which categorizes a child as a person under 13 years of age). The Act also includes specific consent requirements for children and persons lacking the legal capacity to consent. While the NDPR and Implementation Framework are silent on whom to obtain such consent from, under the Act, consent shall be obtained explicitly from parents or legal guardians (Section 31(1)). To effect this, the Act requires controllers and processors to adopt consent verification mechanisms. To guarantee stronger privacy protections for children, the Commission will create Regulations to guide the personal data processing of a child of 13 years and above in the course of their usage of online products and services.

However, there are instances where a controller or processor may process the personal data of children and persons lacking legal capacity without the consent of a parent or legal guardian, such as:

  • Where the processing is necessary to protect the vital interests of the child or person lacking the legal capacity to consent;
  • Where the processing is carried out for purposes of education, medical, or social care, and undertaken by or under the responsibility of a professional or similar service provider owing a duty of confidentiality; or
  • Where the processing is necessary for proceedings before a court relating to the individual.

Further Protection for Processing of Personal Data Relating to Children and Persons Lacking Legal Capacity 

In addition to the consent requirements, the Act further requires controllers and processors to adopt age verification mechanisms. Age verification is required “where feasible,” taking into consideration available technology. Presentation of any government-approved identification documents will be permitted as a verification mechanism.

6. Data Subject Rights: Robust Rights with No Implementation Mechanisms for Data Subjects and Narrow Restrictions on Exercise of Rights

The Act provides for data subject rights, which data controllers and processors must comply with prior to and during the processing of personal data, including the rights to:

  • Obtain information regarding the personal data held by a controller or processor about the requestor, in a commonly used electronic format;
  • Know the source of information where the personal data has been collected from a source other than the data subject;
  • Lodge a complaint with the Commission;
  • Know the existence of automated decision-making (ADM) and not to be subject to a decision that is solely based on automated processing of personal data, including profiling, and the significance and consequences for the data subjects of such processing;
  • Correct, and where it is not feasible or suitable, delete inaccurate, out-of-date, incomplete, or misleading information;
  • Request erasure where the personal data is no longer required in relation to the purpose for which it was collected and where the data controller has no other lawful basis to retain the personal data;
  • Request the restriction of processing personal data where there is a pending resolution of a request, where a data subject objects to processing, and where a data subject seeks to establish, exercise or defend a legal claim;
  • Object to the processing of personal data, including where processing is for the purpose of direct marketing;
  • Data portability. The Act makes it possible for a data subject to receive personal data concerning them from a data controller and transmit it to another controller, or for the data to be directly transferred from one controller to another. The importance of this right, given Nigeria’s thriving fintech ecosystem, has seen the Central Bank of Nigeria issue operational guidelines within the context of open banking; and
  • Withdraw consent to the processing of personal data at any time.

The Act does not provide comprehensive mechanisms for implementing these rights, such as parameters and modalities to respond to data subject requests. However, the Implementation Framework (2.3.2(c)) requires controllers to inform data subjects on the method to use to withdraw consent before obtaining consent. The Act states that “a controller should ensure that it is as easy for the data subject to withdraw as it is to give consent.”

The Act does not provide general restrictions/limits to the rights except for specific cases such as:

  • The right to object – where a controller may still process personal data in light of an objection if there is a public interest or other legitimate ground which overrides the fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject; and
  • Exceptions to the right not to be subject to ADM systems, including where the processing is necessary for contractual obligations, is authorized under a written law, or based on a data subject’s consent. While a person may not object to processing by ADM systems if it falls under the three exempt conditions, data subjects retain the rights to (i) request human intervention in the ADM system, (ii) have an opportunity to express their point of view, and (iii) contest a decision based on an ADM system. This differs from the 2022 Bill where a controller using an ADM system on the basis of another existing law, did not have to guarantee these three data subject rights.

7. Cross Border Data Transfers: Broad Grounds for Transfers of Personal Data as well as Parliamentary Authorizations to Protect Data Sovereignty

The Act establishes as a rule that personal data should not be transferred outside of Nigeria, allowing for two exceptions. First, personal data can be transferred when the recipient of the personal data (the data importer) is subject either to (1) a law, (2) Binding Corporate Rules (‘BCRs’), (3) contractual clauses, (4) a Code of Conduct, or (5) a certification mechanism that “affords an adequate level of protection” to that provided by the Act. In the absence of such adequate protection through one of the enumerated means, personal data can also be transferred outside of Nigeria in exceptional situations, listed in Section 43 and mapping precisely to the set of derogations under Article 49 GDPR (consent of the individual, or for the performance of a contract, among others).

Controllers are under an obligation to keep a record of the legal basis for transferring personal data outside Nigeria, as well as to record “the adequacy of protection,” according to the criteria described in detail under Section 42 of the Act. This wording suggests that the adequacy of the means of transfers used can be validly assessed by each controller. This is a departure from other existing adequacy regimes, which usually require an official body to declare a specific jurisdiction adequate.

The Commission is tasked with issuing guidelines on how to assess the adequacy of a particular means of transfer, under the criteria established by Section 42 of the Act. This section explains that an adequate level of protection means “upholding principles that are substantially similar (n. – our emphasis) to the conditions for processing personal data” under the Act. The criteria relevant for adequacy include “access of a public authority to personal data,” potentially complicating such assessments in line with the broader global debate on “government access to data held by private companies.”

Of note, the Commission is given the possibility under the Act to determine whether “a country, region, or specified sector within a country, or standard contractual clauses, affords an adequate level of protection.” In this sense, it is important to recall that the NDPR and Annex C of the Implementation Framework already provide a white list of 41 countries whose laws are considered adequate. Interestingly, the Act specifically allows the Commission to make an adequacy determination under the Nigerian law based on an adequacy decision “made by a competent authority of other jurisdictions,” if such adequacy is based on similar criteria to those listed in Section 42 of the Act. This opens the door for Nigeria to potentially equivalate adequacy decisions made by foreign bodies, like the European Commission, making an “adequacy network effect” functional. The Commission is also empowered to approve BCRs, Codes of Conduct, and certification mechanisms for data transfers.

Finally, and particularly interesting in the context of emerging certification frameworks like the Global Cross Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) framework, the Act requires that any specific “international, multinational cross-border data transfer codes, rules, or certification mechanisms” relating to data subject protection or data sovereignty must be approved by the National Assembly of Nigeria. This provision on data sovereignty aligns with the Nigeria National Data Strategy, 2022, which incorporates data sovereignty as one of its enabling pillars. Under the Strategy, data sovereignty will facilitate data residency and ensure that data is treated in accordance with national laws and regulations.

In this sense, the Act also empowers the Commission to “designate categories of personal data that are subject to additional specified restrictions on transfer to another country.” This designation would be based on “the nature” of such personal data and on “risks” to data subjects. This provision opens the door to potential future data localization requirements for specific categories of personal data.

8. Enforcement: Legal Foundation for the Nigeria Data Protection Bureau, Creation of a Governing Council and Expected Regulations

Establishment of the Commission

Originally created through an Executive Order in February 2022, the NDPB has now been renamed the “Nigeria Data Protection Commission” and will operate as an independent and impartial body to oversee the Act’s implementation and enforcement. Previously, data protection enforcement in Nigeria was conducted under the auspices of the Nigeria Information and Technology Development Agency. However, concerns that the NITDA lacked powers to oversee data protection in the country may have necessitated the creation of a new agency. The Commission will function as a successor agency, and all persons engaged in the activities of the Commission shall, upon enactment of the Act, have the same rights, powers, and remedies held by the NDPB before the commencement of the law (Section 64(1)). All regulatory instruments issued by the NITDA, including the NDPR, shall remain in force, and shall have the same weight as if they had been issued by the Commission until they expire, are repealed, replaced, reassembled, or altered (Section 64(2)(f)).

Functions and Powers of the Commission 

Some of the key functions and powers of the Commission include:

  1. Accrediting, Licensing, and Registering Suitable Bodies to Provide Data Protection Compliance Services (Section 5(c)).

Section 28 of the Act provides the Commission with the power to delegate the duty to monitor, audit, and report on compliance with the law to licensed data protection compliance organizations. This model was introduced under the NDPR and allows the data protection authority to delegate some functions under existing regulations to monitor, audit, and report on compliance by data controllers and data processors. Detailed provisions on the operation of DPCOs can be found under the NDPR and Implementation Framework and shall continue to apply to controllers and processors.

  1. Designating, Registering, and Collecting Fees from Data Controllers and Processors of Major Importance (Section 5(d)).

Following successful registration of a controller or processor of major importance, the Commission is tasked to publish a register of duly registrants on its website. The Commission is also expected to prescribe fees and levies to be paid by this class of controllers and processors.

  1. Participating in international fora and engaging with national and regional authorities responsible for data protection to develop efficient strategies for the regulation of cross-border transfers of personal data (Section 5(j)).

Currently, the Commission’s predecessor, the NDPB, continues to fulfill this mandate, as seen in its recent participation in initiatives such as the Cross Border Privacy Rules Forum.

  1. Issuing Regulations, Rules, Directives, and Guidance.

The Commission is expected to develop certain regulations as prescribed under the law and as detailed above, including in relation to designating new categories of sensitive data, adequate steps for data breach notification, conducting DPIAs, or issuing data localization regulations for specific categories of personal data.

Other functions of the Commission include promoting public awareness and understanding of personal data protection, the rights and obligations imposed under the law, and the risks to personal data; receiving complaints alleging violations of the Act or subsidiary legislation; and ensuring compliance with national and international personal data protection obligations and good practice.

In a bid to ensure that the services of the Commission are accessible beyond urban areas, the Commission is allowed to establish its offices in other parts of Nigeria (Section 3(b)). This is important as part of creating awareness of the importance of data protection across the country.

The Commission will be governed by a “Governing Council” (the Council), whose members will be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Minister on a part-time basis, drawn from the public and private sector to serve for a term of 5 years that is renewable once. This rule exempts the National Commissioner, who will serve as the Secretary to the Council.

The Council is tasked with providing overall policy direction of the affairs of the Commission, approving strategic and action plans, budgeting support programs submitted by the National Commissioner, as well as providing advice and counsel to the National Commissioner.

9. Offenses, Sanctions, and Compensation: Higher Penalties for Data Controllers and Processors of Major Importance 

The Act provides a data subject who has suffered injury, loss, or harm arising from a violation of the law with a private right of action that allows recovery of damages in a civil proceeding. Where a controller or processor violates the provisions of the Act or subsidiary legislation, the Commission may issue a compliance order requiring them to take specific measures to remedy the situation within a specified period as well as inform them of their right to a judicial review. The Commission may also impose an enforcement order or a sanction. In issuing an enforcement order or a sanction, the Commission may:

  • Require the data controller or processor to remedy the violation;
  • Order for the compensation of data subjects;
  • Order the controller or processor to account for profits realized from the violation; or
  • Impose a penalty.

However, it is not clear from the Act what conditions may trigger an enforcement order, sanction, and thus a penalty or any other such measure. In laws such as Section 62 of Kenya’s Data Protection Act, failure to comply with the requirements of an enforcement order (referred to as a compliance order under the Act) triggers a penalty notice. The Act does not specify the period within which complaints may be heard and concluded.

The penalty amount depends on whether the violator is a data controller or processor of major importance or not. Penalties against data controllers or processors of major importance shall be the higher of N10,000,000 (approximately 22,000 USD) or 2% of the annual gross revenue of the preceding financial year. Penalties against other data controllers and processors shall be greater than N2,000,000 (approximately 4,300 USD) or 2% of the annual gross revenue of the preceding financial year.

The Commission is empowered to create regulations that create new offenses and that impose penalties not exceeding those prescribed under the Act (Section 56(3)).


As Nigeria continues to make its mark within the global digital economy and rapidly expand its technology ecosystem, this Act represents a continued focus on protecting the personal data of Nigerian citizens, in alignment with common internationally accepted principles of data protection.

However, the Act contains unique provisions that should not be overlooked, including a new classification of data controllers and processors “of major importance” and specific obligations attached to them, as well as broader protections for exempt processing activities. Overall, the Act represents a significant step in Nigerian data protection and notably resolves the long-running dispute regarding the identity and institutional authority of Nigeria’s primary data protection regulator.

Curled from Future of Privacy Forum