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<nettime> _el reg_: the scoop on .ng
nettime's_roving_reporter on Tue, 20 Jan 2004 05:33:16 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> _el reg_: the scoop on .ng


     [via <tbyfield {AT} panix.com>]

< http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/6/34947.html >

     19 January 2004
     Updated: 22:51 GMT
   
   Internet fools gold sparks Nigerian fiasco

   By Kieren McCarthy

   Posted: 17/01/2004 at 06:20 GMT

   "It seems clear to us now than ever before, that what Mrs Odusote is
   interested in is to continue to hold the government of Nigeria, and
   the teeming members of Nigeria's Internet Community, to ransom on
   personal, selfish and largely unjustifiable grounds, without any
   regards whatsoever to the patriotic interest of Nigeria."

   What ICANN head Paul Twomey made of that on 10 December 2003 when the
   letter from Nigerias minister of science and technology, Professor
   Turner Isoun, landed on his desk, we shall never know. But it was
   clear to everyone that something had gone horribly wrong in the
   running of Nigerias Internet.

   Mrs Odusote is the official point of contact between the Internet
   overseeing organisation ICANN and the domain names set aside for
   Nigeria, run under the two-letter suffix "ng".

   It is up to ICANN to decide who (individual or organisation) is
   allowed to run country domains. But if it had had anything to do with
   it, no one would know a jot about the enormous battle going on for
   control of Nigerias Internet. Not a single reference to the struggle
   can be found on ICANNs website (save two press reports that have
   slipped through the net), no member has ever mentioned the fact, and
   none of the official letters sent by interested parties have been put
   in the public domain. This despite the organisations stated policy
   that: "All decisions of substance are preceded by prior notice and a
   full opportunity for public comment."

   However, Nigerias tendency toward public criticism and condemnation
   has caused the whole horrible mess to explode on the wider stage. Prof
   Isouns letter was born out of frustration from what he perceived as
   the stalling tactics of Mrs Odusote for her own personal gain.
   A few months earlier, the Nigerian Internet Group (NIG), through its
   political connections, had been awarded the rights to run the domain
   by the Nigeria Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).

   ICANN was informed of the decision. However, Mrs Odusote - and much of
   the Internet community including universities, ISPs and Internet
   old-hands - were concerned about NIGs ability to run the show and the
   fact it was dominated by government officials.

   It was an attempted coup and the reason - although everyone has been
   careful not to say it publicly - was money.

   Ten times ten million is...

   The head of NITDAs corporate affairs, Mr Inye Kem-Abonta pointed out
   in a press conference that it was "alarmingly dismal" that only 576
   Nigerian domains had been sold since 1995. There are 120 million
   Nigerians, he exclaimed, and other countries have had up to one
   million registrations in one year.

   Nigerian domain names are delightfully old-fashioned in that they are
   run as in the early days of the Internet - by individuals and for
   free. Mrs Odusote is the administrative contact for the domain, and
   Net veteran Randy Bush, who lives in the US, is the technical contact.
   They are not paid and there is no fee to register a domain - all you
   need to do is fill in a registration form and prove you are a Nigerian
   national by providing a contactable address in the country.

   The trouble was that the false hopes of Internet potential that
   infected Western society in the 1990s had reappeared. If you start
   charging, say, UKP10 for a domain and you sell one million domains then
   you make... huge wads of cash in next to no time, figured the
   Nigerians. Blinded by the glistening fools gold and helped by Nigerian
   officials traditional flexibility in monetary matters, the NIG viewed
   the delay by Mrs Odusote as purely selfish.

   Nigerias Internet community realised too late in the day what was
   happening, but quickly formed the Nigerian Computer Society (NCS) -
   made up of the Computer Association of Nigeria (COAN), Information
   Technology (Industry) Association of Nigeria (ITAN), Internet Service
   Providers Association of Nigeria (ISPAN), Institute of Software
   Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPAN)/Software Developers Group (SDG) and
   others - to put forward their views.

   Backlash

   The NCS wrote to ICANN in response to Prof Isouns letter, claiming he
   had been misled by the NITDA, and went on to list a series of concerns
   with the NITDA and NIG. We know this because it was also sent to
   Nigerias president (who is keen to stamp out government corruption)
   and leaked to the press.

   It alleged close links between NITDA and NIG that made objective
   advice difficult; a lack of genuine consensus; an absence of
   transparency and accountability; and that stakeholder meetings were
   staged. It asked the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to
   review the decision to hand the domain over to NIG.
   This, unsurprisingly, did not endear the NITDA to NCS and while ICANN
   stood back, the fireworks flew.

   The NIG tried to bypass presidential consideration by publicly calling
   the NCS letter an outrageous insult on the Presidency of the Federal
   Republic of Nigeria" and demanding an apology. It added: "We urge the
   NCS to immediately withdraw its petition to ICANN because it is an act
   of gross disrespect to the Federal Government of Nigeria. The NCS
   didnt, and NITDAs Kem-Abonta tried a new tack: Forced re-delegation is
   only now a matter of time," he told reporters.

   Watching all this, bemused, was the ng technical contact Randy Bush.
   Randy, who describes himself as an old Internet dog has been running
   the Nigerian Internet for years, for free, from his home in Washington
   State, USA.

   Randy is delighted with the idea of the domain being redelegated to a
   professional organisation, he told us, not least because it will put
   him out of an unpaid job that has caused him nothing but headaches and
   early-morning phone calls from angry Nigerians.

   Randy was temporarily pulled into the argument after he wrote a letter
   expressing his views. Running the domain was not intellectually
   interesting in the least, he wrote, and explained the apparent lack of
   success of ng domains by noting that 95 per cent of registration forms
   were incorrectly filled in. He also make his concern known that
   Nigeria did not widely discuss the one thing Nigeria has become famous
   for on the Internet - email scams.

   Inevitably, there was some backlash to this, with references to
   foreigners running Nigerias Internet domains. "Nigeria does not hold a
   monopoly of scam on the Internet," retaliated NIGs president, Dr.
   Emmanuel Ekuwem, at another press conference.

   One man and his log

   But Mr Bushs concerns are for the African countrys Internet
   infrastructure. What can a nerd do to help the world? he asks us. His
   answer is to help provide and transfer the technology developed in the
   West for the benefit of all.

   He is unapologetic about rejecting so many registration forms though. 
   "I'm a stickler for correctness. Thats my job. And that means the
   servers must be working, on a different Net backbone, and the person
   has to be in the country and has to be contactable." He puts the
   applicants inability to do this down to cultural differences: "They
   don't want some Honky telling them they must put their domain on a
   different server - I even tell them where to find a free server - to
   them it is just me making things difficult for them, but without that,
   one day they will find their domain isnt there."

   There are a lot of clever people in Nigeria, Randy explains, but very,
   very few engineers with the right skills. Domains are tough - they can
   be a little complex. The smartest guy in Nigeria works for one ISP and
   hes trying to build a business. He helps others out but he is trying
   to get on with running his business.

   All it takes, Randy says, is a full-time engineer, an office with a
   fax and phone, a help person to explain to people what they need to do
   and why, and someone to balance the books.

   Randy told the Nigerian government this and its angry response was
   telling. It refused point blank to accept that such a small team could
   start the Nigerian Internet ball rolling effectively. It would clearly
   need a huge team because hundreds of thousands of domains would be
   sold in a matter of months.

   Randy sums it up succinctly: "It's the smell. I would say that due to
   its culture, Nigerians are even more of a sucker for the
   get-rich-quick scheme than us Americans."

   The ironic thing is that domain redelegations to date have almost all
   been controversial for a different reason - that the government or
   commercial organisation has won control by striking a secret deal with
   ICANN, signing a contract pledging undying loyalty to it in the
   process.

   With ICANN requesting a consensus before it acts in Nigeria, the
   situation has reached an impasse. But, if Mr Bush is to be believed,
   the extraordinary battle may soon be coming to a close. As I
   understand it, in the next day or so, we [the NCS] will say that the
   domain should be transferred to the NIG but that it has to become more
   representative.

   And so the seemingly old-fashioned frenzy for Internet riches will,
   with luck, be solved by the even more old-fashioned Internet culture
   of consensus. Its good to see the Net can still spark such passions
   though.

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