Dear readers, it is my delight to welcome you to the year 2022! We live in exciting times; yes, a time marked by mind-blowing advancements in technology. As you are aware, the ICT Clinic column has always endeavoured to unravel existing and new technologies in the context of their application in Nigeria as well as the whole of Africa. Now in its ninth year, the ICT Clinic column continues to forge ahead in its tradition of driving the Nigerian economy, empowering start-ups, calling out unfavourable, draconian policies while championing those that impact the country positively and are in sync with current trends in technology.
Just like in previous years, I would like us to kick off on an interesting note. The ICT Clinic column 2022 will open with a two-part exploration of last year’s top contents that resonated deeply with our socio-economic realities. In order of appearance, I’ll share five excerpts from 2020 publications ranging from issues of data security to successive bans that threatened to add some flavour of dictatorship to our democracy, not to mention our economy.
Of data security and WhatsApp fiasco
We live in an insecure world where people are reluctant to provide their data to platforms because they fear their information will be sold to a third party or worse that they will be hacked.
Yet very early into 2021, WhatsApp announced its updated Terms of Services compelling over two billion of its users to agree to have their data including phone number and geolocation shared with Facebook, its Parent company, or have their account deleted at the end of a stipulated deadline if they do not comply. In my ICT Clinic column of Sunday, January 29, 2021, I wrote that the decision to espouse or reject a social media platform on any sort of ground should not be done irrationally.
I recommended that WhatsApp users who are looking to migrate from WhatsApp to other messaging platforms should take the time to study their privacy policies, terms of services, security, and usability, reconciling themselves to the fact that some might not come with a host of features that exist on WhatsApp.
CBN slams ban on cryptocurrency trading
No sooner had the words “Happy New Year” left our mouths in February did the Nigerian government crackdown on cryptocurrency trading despite the opportunities it presents for the youth population. If you ask about the reason, here’s what I wrote on the matter: “The CBN claims that the restriction of cryptocurrencies is to protect Nigerians and the country’s financial system from the illegal nature of such currencies as well as the inherent risks involved in trading them.
We live in a country where herdsmen go on a killing spree in various states, kidnapping and committing other forms of atrocious activities, yet the government can’t act swiftly enough. Instead, it chooses to tackle cryptocurrencies rather than launch a full-scale onslaught on the marauders defaming Nigeria.”
Since Nigerians are no stranger to the government’s ill-advised policies, I proposed several recommendations. One is for the CBN to build central databases that curate the identities and custodian wallet addresses of crypto users for authorized financial intelligence units to access. Another option is to look into practical ways to regulate and monitor the use of cryptocurrencies to an extent possible instead of an outright ban.
Attack on press freedom and unpopular policies
When citizens think they have seen and heard it all, something even more ridiculous comes hurtling. In my ICT Clinic column of Sunday, February 28, 2021, I commented on the government’s quest to “sanitise media practices” in the country.
Titled ‘The Nigerian Press Council Amendment Bill, 2019’, the bill sought to raise the qualification for journalism practice in Nigeria, ensuring that only individuals that have degrees or diplomas in media-related courses can practice journalism.
As a journalist myself, I raised some pertinent questions on this issue. “What will become of tech media firms, including popular ones, which neither have founders with media degrees nor make the attainment of one a requirement before recruiting? Does their lack of degree invalidate countless hours of research and work they put in showcasing remarkable feats of African startups to the world?”
Rather than choose the outright criminalisation of journalists without a degree in media-related courses as a panacea for fake news dissemination and misinformation, I explored possible suggestions that the government may want to consider.
A National Innovation Establishment Bill? Totally unnecessary!
In my ICT Clinic column of Sunday, March 28, 2021, I interrogated the reasonableness of the government’s proposition to introduce not a Startup Act Bill, my friends, but a completely irrelevant bill that proposed the setting up of a national innovation agency when an active innovation ecosystem made up of entrepreneurs, startups, researchers, investor and other relevant stakeholders already exist.
In my words: “We live in a country that already has an over-bloated civil service, where efficiency and effectiveness are not properly driven by technology, yet the government is busy building more civil service structures especially with this new proposed establishment.”
Even from a distance, astute citizens could discern that the proposed agency would have no new function to deliver. At best, it would be a replication of several existing agencies and at worst, a ploy to misappropriate funds. Having thoroughly considered the Bill in its entirety, I gave a number of recommendations. You may choose to re-read the March 28 piece to know what these are.
Twitter ban: An outrage for the masses
In a negative but historic move, the Federal government of Nigeria decided to shut down one of the most used social media platforms in the country.
In the June 13 piece on the ICT Clinic column, I wrote that the government’s ban on Twitter is a dangerous slide into dictatorship, regressing Nigeria to a reign of terror during the past military regimes.
My comments go thus: “Our government claims to be democratic, but this present course of action indicates that nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps, what the Nigerian government finds galling is the discipline Twitter administered, under the direction of its Chief Executive Officer, Jack Dorsey, as the president of the country.”
Although the Nigerian government is supposedly democratic, the outrage that poured from citizens and civil society organisations demonstrate that the move to restrict citizens’ freedom to use Twitter is a dangerous slide into dictatorship.
I ended the piece with an appeal to the government to overturn its suspension of Twitter and come up with less threatening ways to combat hate speech, misinformation, and disinformation without sacrificing our rights as enshrined in the constitution.
No doubt the just concluded year was an interesting one. Looking back in time from the last few days down to the final hour in 2021, there was no denying the anticipation in the air. For some, they just could not wait to resume their new jobs. Others spent their time ruminating on innovative ways to reinvent themselves and make more impact. Still, we cannot ignore those who believe that 2022 will be a year just like others prior to it and should not be burdened with so many expectations.
Whatever you choose to believe, be sure that only you can determine what the new year will mean for you. I choose to see 2022 as a chance to do something amazing in a different way. Look out for the concluding part in this series. Happy New Year!
CFA is co-founder of techbuild.africa & blockbuild.africa, platforms deepening Africa’s tech ecosystem & godohub.org, a social enterprise supporting innovation in Africa.
Didi Global losses continue amid China clampdown
Chinese ride-hailing firm, Didi Global, losses have continued after Beijing ordered online stores not to offer the company’s app.
According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, the firm reported an operating loss of $6.3bn for the first nine months of the year as revenues in China fell by five per cent in the third quarter. The company’s run-in with China began days after it made its New York stock market debut at the end of June.
In December, the company said it will move its share listing to Hong Kong from the US. In recent months, Didi has become one of the most high-profile targets of Beijing’s clampdown on the country’s technology industry.
Restrictions on the company by authorities in China have hit its share price in the US hard. The company’s value on the New York Stock Exchange has fallen by 65 per cent since its debut less than six months ago.
In its latest report to investors the firm said that its board had authorised it to pursue a listing of its shares on the main board of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
Didi said, “The company is executing above plans and will update investors in due course.” This announcement came on the same day the US Securities and Exchange Commission said it had finalised rules that would mean US-listed foreign companies can be delisted if their auditors do not comply with requests for information from regulators.
Since coming under intense scrutiny from Chinese regulators, Didi now faces tough competition in its home market from ride-hailing services launched by car makers Geely and SAIC Motor.
ICT Clinic by CFA is published weekly in the Sunday Punch