In Nigeria different organisations regulate computer hardware, the Internet and telecommunications companies. Given the role all these elements play in the online space – and by extension, online media in all its forms – it's about time the Nigerian government seriously looks at merging the regulatory organs. By REMMY NWEKE.
Since the current revolution in information and communication technology there has been much debate around the digital migration of media operations in Nigeria. Technological convergence has made the existence of certain organs of the federal government less important, and the situation regarding regulation is very confusing, with fears of conflict abounding. Officially print publications in Nigeria are supervised by the Nigeria Press Council, and broadcast media by the National Broadcasting Commission, but now the growth of ICT in delivering news makes it imperative for technology regulatory agencies to come to the party.
The federal government organ to regulate computers and other technological devices is the Computer Professionals Registration Council of Nigeria, attached to the federal ministry of education. Most media organisations nowadays have websites and make extensive use of the Internet, which is regulated by the National Information Technology Development Agency, under the ministry of science and technology. On the other hand, the technology driving the websites and the Internet presence of these media houses is being provided by telecommunications companies, which are regulated by the Nigerian Communications Commission.
Convergence has become more visible given that nowadays people who have access to the Internet with good bandwidth can easily produce and deliver audio on their websites or via social audio platforms like YouTube. Technology is making most media outlets think big because of its huge potential and for those who understand this fact, there is no option other than to explore it.
But right now, Nigeria is at a crossroads regarding who is really in charge of regulating the digital space. Those who described themselves as core IT professionals insist technology is all about hardware and software - and that's all there is to it. Those in telecommunications engineering maintain that telecommunications is the pipe from whence all good things come. This group also argues that without enabling the duo of hardware and software to serve as a communication platform, these pieces of equipment or tools serve no point.
A start in streamlining the regulatory organs was made in 2006 when the Nigerian government under Olusegun Obasanjo, decided to merge the ministries of information and national orientation into what is today the ministry of information and communications. More agitations saw the setting up of a presidential committee on the merger of relevant ministries, mostly among the ministries of science, technology, information and communications.
The formation of the ministry of information and communications was desirable. Nonetheless, other government agencies in charge of one regulation or another need to be harmonised as soon as possible. And for some industry observers, the merging of information and communications was only on paper and nothing more because no practical advances have been made.
A fear of the unknown still exists, and IT professionals insist what is needed is an IT ministry, instead of an all-encompassing ministry of information and communications technologies. There is uncertainty on how to share responsibilities even under the proposed ministry of IT and this is being canvassed for in some quarters with suggestions that the individual agencies maintain their status quo while under the umbrella of one ministry. Others have canvassed for clear-cut regulatory agencies modelled for specific subjects, but information and communication experts have argued that such clear demarcations are obsolete, given the prevalence of technologies and increasing convergence.
Granting agencies individual autonomy on issues such as frequency allocation and regulation does little to improve matters. To date, the NBC and the NCC issue frequency in Nigeria. For example, there are frequencies hitherto licensed by the NBC which have become redundant, but which the NCC says it could revitalise to gain digital dividend instead of it letting it lie fallow. The current situation leaves plenty of room for in-fighting and political games, without any real progress being achieved.
The greatest enemy seems to be the residual problems in technology management and the earlier these are sorted out, the better for the Nigerian people and its media. FAM
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