Dr. Jimson Olufuye tells Clifford Agugoesi at a recent AfICTA CEO Roundtable in Abuja, the Internet has benefitted African economies and that ICT stakeholders on the continent should step up their role in Internet Governance Issues to ensure sustainability of the gains of the Internet.
Africa Telecom & IT: In a stakeholders forum, the immediate past Minister for Communications Technology in Nigeria, Dr. Mrs. Omobola Johnson remarked that Nigeria welcomed a free Internet but certainly not one without control. What is your interpretation of Johnson’s remark and personal take on this?
Dr. Jimson Olufuye: When we had the Internet summit in Geneva in 2012, one professor said that the time would come when the system would be left to itself and it will be running. I said, no. This must not happen. Whatever we evolve must serve our interest. If it does not serve the interest of the stakeholders, then it is not allowed, it is not valid. So when you say freedom of expression on the Internet, it must come with a responsibility, freedom with responsibility, such that there must be rule of law, of course. It is not just freedom with pornography, child online abuse flourishing and messing up the system. We have values, so the rule of law as it applies outside the Internet, must also apply on the Internet. Our offline and online behaviours must align. What we mean is freedom of expression, of association, the basic ones we know, but there is always a line and we must not cross the line. For example, you do not have to hide under freedom and you come and steal my data, no. So that is why we must appreciate that there is a cybercrime Act in Nigeria now; there has to be control. There must be control.
AT & IT: Nigeria’s interest to vie to host the 2018 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) came up at the AfICTA roundtable and clear divisions as per the modality and timing arose from among different interest groups . What would be the correct reading of AfICTA’s supposed role in this process?
DJO: Well, we support African countries hosting the IGF, we need it. The Internet has benefitted our economy; we are growing and this needs to be sustained. As a Nigerian, I strongly believe Nigeria should host. Kenya has done it before, Egypt has done it; so it is not a a big issue. In this part of the world governments’ say matter a lot; so that is why the new minister of Communications has to buy into this. If there is no buy-in from government, the idea is not going to fly. So there has to be a buy-in from government and we all are expected to be there to do the foot walk and get things done. The stakeholders are there but the government needs to rally round all interests to make it work . In Egypt, government’s role was very visible; same as in Kenya. In India, when they hosted the IGF, government’s role was very visible, as in Brazil. In Brazil there is the CGI which is the lead and is a multistakeholder organization. So it makes sense for government to empower an institution to take care of that and that will go a long way to institutionalizing the IGF process.
AT & IT: What major value proposition would Nigeria be making in hosting the IGF; what would it be pushing for the outside world to see?
DJO: We need to demonstrate that we have a multistakeholder platform wherein business is there, civil society is there, the academia and the government…are there. So we must have a multistakeholder credential which is actually building up really, because now, things are being done in multistakeholder approach, but we can improve on that. And then we need commitment to the Internet Governance principles-the principle of freedom of expression, the principle of free association, the internet rule of law and, of course, belief in collaboration for cybersecurity mitigation, protection of intellectual property et cetera. So those credentials appear to be there-we are not a totalitarian regime, we have sound credentials and the world will be happy to come to Nigeria. if we are They are looking forward to Nigeria asking to host … so it is only left for us to do the proper thing and then make the invitation and it is highly beneficial to us in the sense that one, it would boost tourism, more investments would come in and you know where fly to , where people visit that is where trade goes, there will be some trade opportunities, business matching opportunities and then, of course, more capital, people would have confidence to say let us put more money into the economy. So that’s the strategy, hotels would have more patronage, the institutions, there would be more awareness. Infact, the key thing about IG is awareness., for people to know what to do especially when it comes to email etiquette, for example what to do and what not to do on the Internet. The awareness will increase so it would add more value to our own economy.
AT & IT: Why is AfICTA opposed to the UN (ITU) control of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)?
DJO: Business wants to be on the table and discuss global issues of policy framework that leads to continuous prosperity around the world. In particular, the UN (which is government-led) has not been particularly very successful when it comes to economic management, when it comes to the issue of connecting the people as per the WSIS resolutions. So the private sector, undoubtedly, are better managers of resources, better managers of peoples and organisations. And when you are now discussing policy issues that will chart the direction of the Internet or of the society, the people that are managing these resources optimally need to be on the table; so it is just the point that we need to be on the same table.
AT & IT: Many analysts have voiced their concern over business not being interested in internet governance (IG) issues. You belong to the BC-ICANN. How would you rate the activity of BC-ICANN vis-à-vis this concern and what is the current state of involvement of business from your perspective?
DJO: To the contrary, infact the global business from day one has always engaged; the business world led by the US has always been involved… they do not want the US to hand oversight functions of IANA to the UN. In the northern business the problem is that you do not find developing countries doing business there. So that is the problem. The problem is not with the northern business, but with the southern business, businesses from developing countries and you know the reason-we are still developing, we are not as muscular as they are, sincerely speaking… AT & T can afford to employ somebody to represent its interest in IG issues and that would be his job; but we do not have companies like that here . Things are changing though, may be companies like MTN have Internet Governance Officer (I am not even sure there is any such designation), but it is coming up now, that is part of the advocacy. You can see secretaries, but when it comes to policy on IG you don’t see . It is evolutionary. This is established in businesses from the north, businesses there are very much engaged but the next thing we need to focus on is the developing countries, business in developing countries and that is why this CEO Roundtable is taking place.
AT & IT: What would be the major reasons the southern businesses are not involved in IG issues; does it have to do with the size of their pocket or the quality of the minds of business leaders from this part of the hemisphere?
DJO: It is a function of the maturity of the economy; the economy is yet to mature . When it comes to economic maturity it encompasses many things. As you know, we are only talking about the digital divide, we are just gradually easing out of the digital divide while now we are talking about digital spread, that is yes, digital opportunity is available, but it is a question of who wants to adopt it. Since the World Trade Organisation (WTO) said that telecommunications should be liberalized, it is a question of who is ready to liberalise. It was when Nigeria liberalized that all these changes started; so it is a function of the government making the right decisions and policy direction that determines the maturity; the maturity determines the pocket . For example, in our advocacy role, a lot of personal resources go into it, because we believe that at some stage, some people will have to pay the price to open the road to some other people. We believe in the Nigerian project, we believe in the African project as part of our own corporate social responsibility. We have seen clearly we needed to put in some of our time, skills and resources to mobilise others to take this serious. So basically, it is a question of the maturity of the economy and over time, it matures. It is gradually maturing.
Olufuye is the Chairman of African Information and Communication Technology Alliance(AfICTA).