This a positive development but wrongly executed. The much anticipated online version of the Lagos State Laws is now live on http://laws.lagosstate.gov.ng/. But it is going to cause some rumpus in the tech ecosystem and the larger society.
While the Lagos state government should be relatively commended for doing the right thing no matter how late or long it took, putting a paywall in front of the public to have free access to the law of the state is a total mockery of the whole process.
The argument of the state government is that it will be a ready-made resource to foreign investors who want to invest in the country to be abreast of the extant laws in the state and also follow up amendments.
But seriously, the decision is misguided. While the state is at liberty to shore up its revenue generation through creative means, it is not in any way sensible to put a paywall on a document that is not an ‘intellectual property’ per say. It is a public document that should be made available at no cost. Citizens of the state who pay taxes and other levies should have access to the document without restraints. Perhaps a smarter way of doing this is for the state to give access to the document via tax clearance IDs if the state feels the stress and time used to build the platform is so valuable.
Putting a paywall is counter-productive. Other governments are opening up the Internet space to increase literacy and enlightenment of their people. The digital divide would get wider with such a move. If few foreign investors and corporates can pay to access the laws of the state, the larger population who needs the information on the site should not be ripped off.
To further buttress the fact that the government does not have Lagosians in mind when it developed and finalised the access/payment methods for the site, pricing of all the documents were quoted in Dollars (USD). With a vicious forex problem faced by Nigerians, it is totally insensitive for the state government to quote in USD by default with an option to switch to Naira (NGN). A typical foreign investor would not switch to NGN because of the current unstable price of the the currency. While it is a shrewd approach to bring in dollars. It is short sighted and self-serving. It is better quoted in NGN so as to increase the value of the Naira. However many Lagosians would shun the USD option even if they have to download any document.
Slamming a paywall on a site like this is a step backward and it indirectly defeats the purpose it was created for, which is to provide real time and immediate access to the state’s laws.