Dr. Chris Uwaje, is president of Global Network for Cyber Solutions (Organisers of the Conference) and first vice president of the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON). He is also managing director of Connect technologies Limited. A valuable asset to the ICT industry, Uwaje is a well sought after speaker globally and consults for the federal government on a number of projects. Uwaje spoke to chike Onwuegbuchi
First, let me congratulate Nigeria CommunicationsWeek for coming out with a very educative and informative concept in what I would call ‘technology reporting,’ which has been missing over the last decade. What we have around generally is regular reporters and they cannot be blamed because they have not being exposed to technology reporting skills. That is why I want to congratulate you for being different. Now, to your question about what informed the cybersecurity conference or my initiative with respect to involvement in cybersecurity; it dates back to 1999. Consequently, with my project leader initiative as a consultant for the First Bank Nigeria PLC, as a software engineer, I saw a lot of vulnerabilities in the daily operations and when I had the opportunity in year 2000 to pioneer the National Policy Transformation of Technology, I was privileged to have incorporated cyber police units as far back as 7 years ago. The issue of cybersecurity that has now taken centre stage globally – it is not just about the security content but it is about the sovereignty of the community of people.
That is why the issue of cybersecurity is very important. As we speak, I am dealing with a cybersecurity issue here; I have been communicating with some cyber criminals who are posing as a friend of mine. They say he is stranded in a 5 Star hotel somewhere outside Nigeria and has lost his international passport and need some money, I have been trying to make them give me a bank account number where l will make the payment but they have insisted that I send the money through Western Union Money Transfer. This communication started about 2 weeks ago; these miscreants hijacked the email of one of my friends. What they do is send a message saying that your Yahoo! account is being reconstructed and you should renew your identity and password. Once you do that, they hijack that mail box and you cannot have access to it anymore. Now they begin to operate with that mail box and some people fall prey to their schemes. This is about technology and Nigeria has what is called technophobia syndrome. Nigerians are very shy of technology; it is not their faults because Science and Technology has been on the downturn. If it had been upground, the issues we are facing today would not have been strange. So, there is need to involve Science and Technology contents in our everyday lives.
It is very important to ensure that Nigerians understand what technology is. Nigerians have created a fallacy of technology definition; it is not just computing, aeronautics, automobile, electronics; these are the products of technology. Technology is the concept and process that creates the product; so we should concentrate on the core content of technology. But we neglect the process and go for the product only and that is why about 80% of what Nigerians consume is imported, and with such a scenario, it shows that we are not creative entities.
Fighting Cyber Criminals
The issue really is that there are two ways Nigeria can get herself set. One of the ways is the institution of critical infrastructure and of course, massive capacity building for knowledge workers and ‘code warriors.’ For Nigeria to be prepared in terms of dealing with the cyber criminality of the world it needs to produce a reserved pool of nothing less than 1 million code warriors from our tertiary institutions, secondary and primary schools, as well as industry. Because e-Government has to be protected, businesses have to be protected; even our cultures have to be protected. What we are witnessing today is no different than what our ancestors witnessed about 500 years ago. Technology has the centre stage today. Some people believe that Slave Trade is just about the ship, the cargo and the Whiteman. That is not so. What is at the centre of Globalization, which is Slave Trade 500 years ago, is the compass – the face of technology. Ideally, without the compass, those sailors of that time would not have ventured into the seas. So, the centre of globalization has always been technology. Indeed, technology is another word for the internationalization of trade and commerce. So, the cell phone of today has security content for Nigerians; the computer of today has security content for Nigerians; the Internet of today has greater security content for Nigerians; and there is going to be more ferocious attacks on this sub-region. We learnt that during the time of the 9/11 attacks, Al-Qaeda used some of the IP addresses within Nigeria to wreak some havoc. So, we should be prepared. It is important and paramount – above all, professionals should be put in place to engage these cyber criminals that are almost ruining us.
If Nigeria knows IP and cybersecurity issues, they should domicile them at the footstep of the professionals in the CPN, the NCS and Atcon. These are people who have been trained in the area of informatics and information technology development; they should be the experts advising Government. How can we have a nation that does not have an IT adviser to the president? And you want to safeguard your country from digital attack. There must be a special assistant to the office of Mr. President, who would be a senior adviser on information technology. These are the things that need to be put in place in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which is very strategically imperative that we need to do as fast as we can. There is no reason why we should not have an Institute of Cybercrime Monitoring; there is no reason why we cannot have Cyber Engineering in our institutions; there is no reason why we should not inculcate the cybersecurity curriculum from primary school upwards. Just the same way we used to have the civic lessons of the old, cybersecurity and cybercrime can be introduced at the primary and secondary schools levels.
Local Software and Patronage
I have spoken about technophobia. First, let me point out the difference between indigenous software and local software. The former are those that are developed and politically managed and supported by Nigerians, for Nigerians without the transfer of foreign exchange. Whereas foreign software is one hundred percent transfer of our local currency, in other words, this transfer does not have the potential of capacity building. We are creating jobs and labour for other people externally. It is the duty of every nation to protect its indigenous software. I can put it to you that there is no software that is developed for external use; they are developed for resolution of the challenges in the immediate environment. It is technophobia and a fallacy to say that foreign software is better than indigenous one. It is sheer ignorance and a lot of people do not understand software because it is an intangible thing that one cannot see. But they buy computer; now they are saturated with hardware and they then see that the hardware itself has not solved their problems and they are still where they are. There is a difference between computerization and automation. They must automate and that is when the software starts to drive them. When we say foreign software, we are talking about application software and services; not system software because that is still far away. There are lots of services that Nigerians can render as outsourcing entities to fellow Nigerians and other African countries, much better than people from elsewhere. An example is our payroll – our payroll was based on our state and national structure and foreigners from India and the U.K are finding it difficult to sell payroll here because their own structure had informed the development of their software. They were developing for their region. Digital colonies would be built this century and the way they are going to build it is to take control of the software engines that run the lives of the entire people of a community, nation or sub-region. That is why we are passionate when we say that ISPAN needs grants – Government grants, individual grants, if you take say, ten companies today and tell them to give us a software that can run in Nigerian banks in about six years from now, I can assure you that that can be done. That is what other countries do; they create what is called ‘failed projects’ in software development and when these projects are done, people learn from them because they can always experiment. We shy away from research and development in software because nobody is ready to invest. It is high time our Governments understand the imperative of indigenous software and also know that Nigerians are capable of producing world-class software.
In fact, a lot of Nigerians are working in laboratories abroad. If they can do that there, why can they not do same here? ISPAN has been campaigning and of course, it has yielded a little result by ensuring that we created IT departments in the ministries as a pilot. We have gotten a circular from the last regime that indigenous software should be considered before any foreign one for use within government departments. We have an agreement with Government that 50% of the cost of every foreign software imported into this country should be charged as a tariff to check their influx into the country. There is a lot of software – the core banking applications, among others, that have failed in this country. Nobody talks about them and Nigeria is losing money. The cost of these failed software is enough to build software institutes, is enough to provide superlative employment for software code warriors all over the country.