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Nigeria @49: Vulnerable cyberspace, wide dev gap between telecom, IT

By Prince Osuagwu

Nigeria would tomorrow mark 49 years of independence. It would also provide the country a very good opportunity to look  into the past and reflect on many activities that have made her thick or thin depending on which angle the country is standing at the time of review.

From Agriculture to oil, banking to the stock business, Nigeria has had her high and low points. Yet in technology, the country is neither a push over nor a technology savvy economy, making up the aggregate economy that is difficult to dismiss or totally embrace.

Nigeria’s journey into the world of technology in the last forty nine years has been both eventful and adventural. However it has only been particularly dependent on the telecommunications landscape. From the First Generation ,1G, of systems for mobile telephony , analog, circuit switched, FDMA Access technology, to the Second Generation , 2G,  of mobile telephony systems and the third generation, 3G system for mobile communications, Nigeria as a market economy, keeps transforming from an alienated local player to a global leader.

From a black nation with dearth of telecommunications infrastructure, the country climbed to a market leader in the whole of Africa and the emerging markets of middle east and Asia; became a beautiful bride that hardly escapes the prying eyes of the leading world suitors.

Today, developments in the Nigerian telecom market, accounts for the lead African telecom is maintaining in the world market.
With about $8.42 billion revenue at the end of  2008 business year,  Nigeria had a quality lead of the African telecom market ahead of South Africa.
The country is also expected to maintain this lead consecutively in the next five years with a steady growth prediction of 5.7 percent, translating to about $11.14 billion by 2013.

The country has also been tipped to be the catalyst of the $55b investment expected to accrue to Information and Communications Technology sector in African by 2015 , after taking account of one fourth of total phones in the whole of Africa and putting the continent, for the first time in the world ,  first time in ICT sector,  in the last five years, at the forefront of ICT  growth in the world.

Eminent African nationals and strong telecom stakeholders have not hidden their admiration for the pride Nigeria brings to Africa. Secretary General of the International Telecommunications Union, ITU, Dr Hamadoun Toure, who attended a summit in African telecom Development  initiative in Abuja, recently, extolled Nigeria’s virtues, saying   “Nigeria was insignificant in 2000, in the number of phones, then one third of the phones in the continent were in South Africa, today one fourth of phones in the continent are in Nigeria so Nigeria is taking it rightful place in the Africa continent. It is  therefore, not surprising that the four billion mark of mobile phone subscription has been possible due to the vibrant nature of the Nigeria private sector.”

But that is not all there is to growth and development. In all countries of the world where such developments Nigeria is championing today are sustained, there is always a growth synergy between the Information Technology and that of telecom. But in Nigeria the gap is wide, giving a worrisome impression that the tall impressive telecom growth may be standing on ordinary sands if not complemented by strong IT growth as well.

The wide gap has also created some security risks that the country could not afford to ignore. The world has come to terms with the reality of a seamless cyberspace. So where cyber security is low, the brewing cyber war would make such a society, a possible casualty.

Issues bothering on hacking, phishing and general identity theft are common in Nigeria. ATM fraud is a daily occurrence and cybercrime is recurrent.
Perhaps that is why  renowned IT expert, Mr Chris Uwaje, in a recent event in Lagos, described the Nigerian cyberspace as a jungle where on the fittest survive.
Uwaje noted that the way the cyberspace is closing down on individual homes, offices and personal lives, only proactive measures and a stringent law can mitigate the level of casualty vulnerable societies like Nigeria may suffer.
”Nigeria urgently requires electronic legislations and compliance with Privacy Act” he warned.

He was not alone in that call. A reputable telecom lawyer, Adewale Jones corroborated his position. His case is that since the world market has shifted to the globe and  fraud risk is potent in the cyberspace, “there is need for an Electronic Communications Act similarly to what obtains in Europe, US and even in South Africa to address issues like E-Signature among others and to provide legal foundation for the growth of E-Commerce . Also  a law in the mould of Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, RIPA 2000 in the UK is required to regulate the Investigatory powers of law enforcement agencies”

“And while a data Protection Act is desirable, now is time to make the Computer Security and Critical Infrastructure Protection Bill 2005 a reality to check computer misuse and cybercrime”.

All these are food for thought for a country that has just only 12 months to attain a golden age but Toure dropped some possible growth strategies that can take the country out of the woods and keep it ever strong as the base of development growth in the whole of the continent. “You need to ensure that you have taxes that are very friendly for those who want to import  Information and Communications Technology equipment. Nigeria been a large country is a potential big market. Nigeria is strong enough to create demand where manufacturers can site a factory here that will serve not only Nigeria but other West African market, create a free movement of people and goods.

“You need to put strategies together that will attract manufacturing industries here and having a local consumer base is already a big plus, as opposed to smaller countries with less than 10 million people, such markets are small lo attract manufacturing companies. Here you have that capability, and you have to use that potential in order to attract manufacturing industries here.

“With the right vision of leadership those things can be realized. When you have manufacturing industries based here, you create jobs and Universities will be much more involved because research and development need to bring public and private sectors together, and therefore we can apply some of our capabilities. When you train people from developing countries in one single skill such as in software development you have solved a lot of problems, because in our daily life in developing world, all we do is solving problems”.


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