Convergence raises questions of readiness across all sectors

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banjEngr. Bayo Banjo, CEO, Disc Communications and President Nigeria Internet Group (NIG) spoke in Lagos with IT Edge News, SEGUN ORUAME and MARTIN EKPEKE on why old professionals must step aside to allow new ideas to flourish in a converged environment
You have been very much visible in Nigeria’s convergence trends; you have a telecom license and a broadcast license, how much of convergence has evolved within 2010 and 2012 when you put in perspective things like mobile money, mobileTV, and the likes?
Let’s put it this way, be careful when you say so many things have converged, they haven’t but there is a hope it will if broadband can be successfully implemented. As of present, there hasn’t been much impact of convergence because how many people are watching TV on a handheld device? Very few who like to play with gadget? We are yet to get to that stage but if you look at its promise when we look at other countries like South Korea and the likes where convergence is now coming into play unlike in the US where the cable companies are supplying both internet and telephone and what have you. We can see its effect but it has not happened in appreciable value. We have not come into terms with. But it is already here. Consider this analogy. As a journalist you can set up your own newspaper tomorrow without any formal permission or whatever, example is the Sahara Reporters, and the same thing is going to happen in broadcasting. The internet has opened opportunity to everybody. It also reduces the government ability to regulate which in some cases could be extremely dangerous because the countries that have good regulation are developing faster than the one that don’t, a clear example is India and China. Let us even look at what is happening with the little exposure that we have, we are spreading all sort of unsubstantiated rumour about somebody stealing this and that. So an unregulated Internet comes with its advantages and disadvantages. The first thing I always tried to tell government and they always ignored it is that every new technology is first used by criminals than by honest people. When mobile phones came out, I remembered when I mentioned this; people were saying all the good things about mobile phones that you can call the police and you can get help but it was the reverse. In three months, banks were saying you can’t use the mobile phone in the bank because robbers were coordinating their activities with the mobile phone. The same thing is going to happen when broadband comes, the so-called cashless society and mobile money, remember, somebody is going to be in charge of the server, somebody will have access to all the passwords, so the whole system is technically in the hand of that person. Is our judicial system ready or equipped? Do we have laws that can recognize digital evidence? So these are things that are going to play up.

How do you regulate in a converged environment when we are talking about digital evidence, digital signature? Those appear not to have been accepted within our judicial system.
First thing first which I have noticed, a lot of the old cronies myself included seem to have the tendency to try and hold on to things, even things like registering computer professionals hamper growth. This new revolution is a young man’s game, the hackers and the people inventing new innovations are young. It is not an old man’s game and old people should realize this and stand by. The best they can be is the coach, but they cannot play on the field anymore. It is like in football, when you are old the best you can be is a coach, you can’t play. Now, the implications of this are as follow: can the SSS – State Security Service- for instance, be allowed by law to employ a 16 years old to find a criminal? Most of the hackers that are going to come now are going to be within the age of 15-25, and believe me to catch them; you will need similar brilliant minds who are also between those ages. So we have to be complete in how we approach things, you must remember also that this is a society where we respect age, but this is a technology that is going to be vast so it is the younger people that can do the magic.

Let me take you back briefly to my very first question, you appear to portray the idea that a converged environment is yet to realized. So all these talks about mobile money, internet banking and stuff like that are limited in usage because we are short of broadband?
Yes, also as a result of the fact that many of us including you are living in the urban areas, and we think what we experience here is going on among the majority of Nigerians, there are many places where they don’t see internet at all, let alone mobile services. If this country wants to be successful particularly to stop rural-urban drift, you have to make sure these facilities are available everywhere. But once it does happen, it means that there is going to be two endeavors in telecom, the people that will provide the infrastructures, pipes, channels and the content that rides on it. But it will destroy the old system, like I told you, the newspapers can be set up on the web, one small boy pays for server in the US and keep updating it with current news, and if it is good, it can become the most popular newspaper, so the opportunity is there, same thing with films. So the copyright issue will be a very hot battle and also its abuses.

Do we have a broadband policy in place that can drive convergence?
I don’t think so. What I have noticed is people seem to be emphasizing more on education, and where we talk of education, it is more of courses; internet appreciation and the likes. This is a technology where education is paramount particularly how to classify what is going on or how to regulate what is going on. We must have a policy where things can change on a monthly basis. Now, how long does it take to pass a law in this country? So we must put an instrument that makes policies to be introduced in a short time. Development in this universe that we are talking about changes like every six months just like everything else. In one of the meeting, I stated to government that part of policies is that any IT curriculum must be review at least every three years, the curriculum for instance in mechanical engineering, besides the few additions of the new discoveries is still the same old system that has been going on from 60-80 years ago because those things are still valid, like Newton law. But in this field the curriculum should change at least every three years because what is on the web changes around every three years.

What is the role of the NIG in all of these?
NIG’s role should be to sensitize the government to policies and things that will bring the internet to the Nigerian people. I have found out that there seems to be the fashion that you are only performing when you have shows and events. To me what is really important is how government policies are influenced because that is what is going to relate to the people. In NIG, we have an initiative called I4J where we are concentrating on the foundation of everything to give people job, the more people you give job, the less troubles government has, the less crime.

A lot of the old cronies myself included seem to have the tendency to try and hold on to things, even things like registering computer professionals hamper growth.

Can the SSS – State Security Service- for instance be allowed by law to employ a 16 years old to find a criminal? Most of the hackers are within the age of 15-25, you will need similar brilliant minds who are also between those ages.

[Convergence] will destroy the old system …newspapers can be set up on the web, one small boy pays for server in the US and keep updating it with current news, and if it is good, it can become the most popular newspaper

So we must put an instrument that makes policies to be introduced in a short time. Development in this universe that we are talking about changes like every six months just like everything else.

 


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