REJOINDER: Much ado about call masking and call refilling

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By Kunle Arowojobe

Sunday Folayan’s treatise titled “Much Ado about Call Masking and Call Refilling – NCC’s “Ogboju” And Non-Neutrality” initially made an interesting read until one gets past the last sentence of the piece to the credit line after the article. He is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of General Data Engineering Services (GDES), and president of Nigeria internet Registration Association (NiRA). The former, CEO position, is a confirmation that he, or at the very least his company, is a direct beneficiary of the aberration he tenuously tried to defend in the write-up.

To do this, Folayan drew similarities that are either not applicable to the subject of discourse or are inapplicable to Nigeria for the very reason that they are impractical. His decision to place the blame at the wrong doorstep – that of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) as the regulator, is a matter that should be discussed on another day but to accuse that organization of doing the bidding of those that Folayan identified as the criminals strongly suggests that there are people who desperately want NCC to drop its hard stance against refillers and they found their mouthpiece, albeit an ineffective one.

It is most unfortunate that this writer sought to reduce the issues of call refilling and masking into voodoo or witchcraft, which only a coven of witches and wizards understand, hence his conclusion that the engineers of the regulator do not understand the technicalities of refilling. From the much that is in the public space, there is nothing to suggest that the NCC is not on top of its game. Rather, one has a sense of a regulator that is wary of disrupting the sector it has the mandate to manage and nurture, an organization that tend to make consideration for the proprietary models and technology in use by its licensees. Whatever is behind this considerate treatment of licensees across board will one day be revealed even though one can categorically say at this point that it is apparently not lack of competence on the part of its staff.

Of all the points raised for coming hard against call masking and refilling, Folayan, latched onto items that are of interest for him, but of little worth to anyone seriously interested in addressing the national embarrassment and security concerns arising from the refiling issue. He wrote ‘The problem is the age-old problem in Technology and development: “Finding the boundary between Revenue assurance, Innovation and Theft, without challenging the Status Quo, Incumbency and turf protection”.

“Folayan, latched onto items that are of interest for him, but of little worth to anyone seriously interested in addressing the national embarrassment and security concerns arising from the refiling issue”

These, no doubt, are the writer’s grouse with the regulator. Incidentally, these are the grouse of those caught pants down engaging in refilling and call masking. For them, it is all about the money, the turf and living the life at the expense of others. They have no cares in the world how their action affect the rest of us.

Not a few spouses today face marital challenges. A husband on official trip to Europe calls his wife and the call shows up as a local number. How on earth will the hapless husband convince a wife, who has become justifiably suspicious that her spouse is not in a corner of Nigeria engaging in a tryst? Should the desire of some companies to make more money be allowed to cause such damage to families being the smallest building blocks of our social fabric?

His historical examples about the SS7 telephone circuits, FAX, NITEL, internet and the works would have been fantastic examples if all that is at stake is money making and turf protection. When all these technological disruptions came, the world was not facing the kind of socio-political upheaval that has made terrorism so common place as it is now. Failing to take this into consideration, Folayan completely overlooked the security implication of what he is rooting for while focusing only on the money that could come to him and his company if they are allowed to keep having their way.

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He is free to accuse NCC’s engineers of not doing investigation but those of us in the security circle have done ours. If a call from an ISIS member in the Middle East were to be treated the way our dear CEO excitedly outlined and terminated on a phone number held by a Boko Haram member even the switch would register it as originating from a local number. The security agencies would have thus lost the opportunity to have the call from the international terrorist flagged. Should the terrorist perfect his plot with the ISIS handlers, one can only wish that Sunday Folayan would not be in the vicinity of the attack so facilitated so that he can at least learn that it is not always about the money but about our collective safety.

“To accuse [NCC] of doing the bidding of those that Folayan identified as the criminals strongly suggests that there are people who desperately want NCC to drop its hard stance against refillers.”

It can be easily argued that there are dozen other platforms that terrorists can use to communicate with unanimity, but we should also ask if there is anything to lose by leaving the terrorists with one less channel of communication. By the way, in their quest to evade detection their preference is voice calls for being in touch with their international handlers.

It is also pertinent to ask Folayan, who takes responsibility if any of the numbers used for masking and refilling are linked to crimes? Numbers/SIM cards are expected to be registered to known users, so to whom are the ones deployed for these activities registered? The advice to the writer in question is to step back from his current befuddlement brought one by an eagerness for lucre, perhaps he will then appreciate that there are other dimensions to what he sought to defend.

May one also advise Folayan that innovations are adopted within the context of a nation’s realities. The way he is enthusing about innovation betrays the fact that he has not fully considered the consequences other than the naira and dollar signs beclouding his view.

As observed at the end of his piece, “Ogboju” is a Yoruba word that connotes ‘bullying’ and the same lexicon has something called “Ogboju Odaran”, which is ‘criminal bully(ing)’, “Odaran” being “criminal”. Folayan’s intervention in this matter, to the extent that it is meant to defend the criminal acts of call refilling and masking, has all the elements of ‘Odaran’ in it, which is why a clean form of Ogboju may just be what the nation needs to deal with it.

Arowojobe is a telecoms analyst.


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