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In support of localisation of govt data

If I titled this article something like China’s Delisting of Foreign ICT Products from Approved list: Lessons for Nigeria it would still be very appropriate. In fact China has just done that. That emerging technological world power has recently taken off CISCO, Apple, McAfee and other big American companies’ products from the list of approved products from which government Agencies and Departments could equip their offices and power their operations.
As appropriate as that title might have been, I chose In Support of Localization of Government Data over it for a number of reasons. First, Nigeria has already ‘learned’ the lesson, even if partly, by the publication in 2013 of the Guidelines for Nigerian Content Development in ICT. It is important for us as a nation to consciously identify and celebrate positive actions by our own government and people. Indeed, it is part of the editorial policy of TECH FUTURE to help develop the indigenous ICT industry through editorial emphasis on local content in technology.
In this particular instance, NITDA and its supervising Ministry (the Federal Ministry of Communication Technology) must be commended for the publication of the Local Content Guidelines. It is the only industry after Oil and Gas to do so. ICT is hot on the heels of Oil and Gas. With the current slump in the price of crude oil and the subsequent drop of that sector’s contribution to Nigeria’s GDP to below 9% ICT may have caught up with Oil and Gas sooner that was predicted. The second reason why I think that In Support of Localization of Government Data is a better title is that it draws attention to the vexed issue of mandatory local hosting of government data in the Guidelines for Nigerian Content Development in ICT. Quite a few foreign companies have vehemently opposed that provision in the Guidelines. Google leads the pack.
Article 14.1 of the Guidelines makes it mandatory for Data and Information Management Firms to “Host government data locally within the country and shall not for any reason host any government data outside the country without an express approval from NITDA”. MDAs have eighteen months to comply. By June 3 this year MDAs will be in default of the NITDA regulation and risk severe sanctions. Article 14.3 goes on to enjoin NITDA to “Promote and support local data hosting firms and set appropriate service level requirements and standards for
data service provisioning for
such firms”.
China’s action ( like that of NITDA and its parent Ministry) is an effort to consolidate the growth of its local ICT industry and further empower its local companies. In fact the order to take off foreign products from official China government list included the immediate replacement of the products with those from Huawei and ZTE, two of the country’s local brands. Apart from promoting the indigenous industry, there is also the question of security. Every advanced country has become nervous about espionage since the Snowden ignominy. This is the simple reason why I almost could not resist the urge to title this article “… Lessons for Nigeria.
Indeed, there are grave lessons for Nigeria! Our economy and government operation run on routers from CISCO and Huawei, for example. In fact the nativity of our critical information infrastructure is part Chinese and part American. It is certain that the home countries of these companies have far more data on Nigeria than our own government has. Like the common whore, our backside is easy access to the West and the East (forgive my language). NITDA is in the best position to rise up to the occasion, and it must. Its Local Content Guidelines requires it to. The first step of mandating local hosting of government data has been taken. The next step, which is not specifically provided in the Guidelines but which is critical to the issues of standards, security and capacity building is the establishment of Reverse Engineering and Deformulation Labs.
The widely held view is that reverse engineering is intended for the replication of products and can often infringe on intellectual property rights. But in reality, replication or duplication is only one of over eight possible reasons for reverse engineering services. Among the other reasons is the need to discover “impurities”, harmful components and substandard systems. As a country we need to define “impurities and harmful components” very widely and make that a reason for setting up reverse engineering labs with the very active support of NITDA. Every technology product that comes into this country needs to be reverse engineered for the reasons mentioned and more!
The security agreements signed sometimes by government with product manufactures do not go far enough to offer anything close to the potentials a country-inspired reverse engineering services can achieve. What such labs can achieve in the short and long term is to ensure that the products from Asia, the Americas and indeed from any part of the world are not only “fit for purpose” but do not pose any kind of threat to national security. Also the reverse engineering process is an unparalleled capacity building model for any technology-focused society. It will be the foundation for further and continuous development of our local ICT industry.

Inye Kemabonta,

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