Why the Local Content Guidelines in ICT must be Implemented

At more than half the population of all of West Africa, Nigeria is a country that no one can truly ignore even though it has remained a fledgling giant. The country is still considered an emerging market and a regional power. That is why it is a member of the MINT countries. But the interest in Nigerian may not always be for good. Most times we also inadvertently dig our own metaphorical grave. Otherwise, how can anyone explain why as a country bordered on all sides (east, west, north and south) by French speaking neighbors yet we speak no word of French? But all our neighbors make every effort to speak English. Anyone with the most basic knowledge of security and foreign policy must be aghast that French is neither a compulsory subject in Nigerian schools nor the country’s second official language after English. Another truly inexplicable pattern is how we send our soldiers on peace keeping missions or even to intervene in neighboring countries like Liberia, have the hands and legs of our nationals chopped off by militants then return from the mission with nothing to show for it. Our business men do not accompany the soldiers to help ‘rebuild’ the countries nor do they move in when peace is restored to ‘help’ stabilize their economy. You might be wondering how all this relate to local content in ICT. The relationship is at least on two counts but let me hasten to point out that there is absolutely no reason why Nigerian ICT solutions (hardware, software and services) should not be ‘helping’ in Liberia, Dafur, Angola, Congo, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, for instance. Call it South to South aid. You will be correct. So far, what the world knows is North to South aid (Western countries’ aid to Africa). The truth is that wars and peacekeeping are motivated by economic interests. Our foreign policy machinery needs to recognize this. The disconnect between our private sector and government can only be attributed to naivety in foreign policy. It is true that Nigerian businesses including banks dot the west coast, but much of that have been through private efforts. None has been facilitated by any direct government policy or action. Government-backed trade mission in ICT has not taken place in living memory in the real sense of the expression. The relevance of the local content program in ICT initiated by NITDA and the Federal Ministry of Communication Technology under Omobola Johnson to the concept of South to South aid is embedded in the role ascribed by the Guidelines to NITDA in Article 10.6. 3: NITDA shall collaborate with similar IT development agencies in neighbouring West African states in order to establish regional Information Technology tradeshows that will provide a platform to grow the local industry The import of the clause is that NITDA, as Nigeria’s IT Agency, is expected to lead ICT trade missions for the purpose of diversifying the economy and making ICT an important foreign exchange earner for the country. What the local industry needs to grow is the creation of new markets or the expansion of existing ones beyond the shores of the country Customs and Immigration issues in cross border relations will be a lot easier for Nigerian entrepreneurs if government facilitate such trade missions. Clearly, this should be a major plank in the nation’s foreign policy platform. Development Agencies like NITDA have a solemn mandate in this regard. Now to the issue of security. Currently, the technology world is in shock at the extent of stealing of encryption keys in SIM cards from manufacturers who also make chips for passports and smart cards. The theft has been going on for the past four years but was only reported this year. It potentially enables snooping on telecom infrastructure and the decoding of data on chips. While other countries are scrambling to do damage assessment, we are oblivious of the incident. Now, given the size and status of Nigeria as the largest black nation and the largest economy in Africa, it is almost certain that the SIMs and chips in our phones, bank cards, national ID cards, INEC PVs are all compromised! Every one of that sensitive technology is imported! None is adequately checked for breach but our critical information infrastructure and financial system ride on them! Article 12.1.3 of the Guidelines for Nigerian Content Development in ICT states that ICT Companies shall “use only locally manufactured Smart cards for the provision of data and telephony services…” This is a guideline which must be urgently implemented. It is not national pride. It is not just capacity building; our economy and the survival of our nation, as we know it today, may well depend on it. Inye Kemabonta is Editor TECH FUTURE

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Ihesiulo Grace

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