Reverend Sunday Folayan is the President, Executive Board of Directors, Nigeria Internet Registration Association (NiRA); Chairman, Africa Network Information Centre (AfriNIC), the IP Address Registry for Africa; and a member of the Board at Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria (IXPN). He graduated from the University of Ilorin with a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering in 1988, and a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering in 1992. He is the Chief Executive Officer of General Data Engineering Services, the owners and operators of SKANNET. He spoke to ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, on the economic importance of Nigeria’s domain name, the .ng, and a host of other industry issues.
Not many people know the importance of Nigeria’s .ng to economic growth. Can you shed light on that?
.ng is the national identity of Nigeria in the cyber space. Every domain name has a suffix which it ends; it uniquely defines what the domain name is all about. So, domains that end with .ng are unique identifier for Nigerian domain. It is not necessary that the domain name is used exclusively in Nigeria. It is just like you buy and register a car in a place and can still drive it anywhere .ng is for domains registered in Nigeria
You know well that the world is going online. For instance, Yudala said what they sold in their shop for a whole year is less than what they sold online on Boxing Day and Christmas day. The world is going online so much can happen online compared to what you can do in a shop.
You can see what happened when examinations were conducted online, exams will be taken in the morning, and results will come out the same day or early the following day because the exams are being taken online. This is a great advancement as domain names offer any business, individual, entity online presence to offer their goods and services simpler, easier and faster.
It has impacted the economy positively because you now see innovative companies using the Nigerian domain name without any ambiguity. I am always excited when I visit sites like guardian.ng as other industries like hotel.ng, travels.ng, tours.ng for your businesses.
When domain names are properly used in Nigeria, it will boost the economy of the country for instance, if you want to buy anything in Nigeria, you can look up price.ng to go across all the buyers offering the good and service.
How many domain names have been registered since the existence of .ng and NiRA?
.ng has existed since 1995, NiRA came in 2005, a span of 10 years, meaning that it has existed for almost 22 years. There was probably about 100 domain names registered as at 1995 but by the close of 2005, a 10 year period, number of domain names did not exceed 2000, as at December 2016, over 75000 have been registered and active.
NiRA has experienced a cumulative 75 per cent growth year on year, as the figure almost doubled the previous year. We hope to sustain the growth. It may look small but, it has been a significant growth based on previous. The 75 per cent is significant and should be noted as improvement. They are active domain names. If we are to consider all the domain names registered before but that are no longer active, we will be looking at 250,000 to 300, 000 that have been registered since 1995.
Prior to NiRA, domain names were not expiring, that is once you have registered, you are registered for life but now, there are expiry dates on them, the domain names being used now are the active ones.
What is the expiration time for domain names?
It ranges from one year to five years by our policy. The registrant decides the life of the domain. Of course, the cheapest is one year and the five years is the most expensive, still, there is a discount for multi/year registration.
How competitive is .ng to others like .com, .or, .za, .net, among others?
Yes, we have been very competitive because domain names are not directly related to population, but the activities. So, there is a tendency to look at 170 million Nigerians and expect 170 million domains but this is not true.
Nigerians are on the Internet, but are a net consumer of information on the Internet. We are not producing as much information as we should be producing on the Internet and without producing information, you can’t have website and content, without website and content, you can have domain names.
Domain names are an accurate reflection of our production of information not our Internet consumption of information. So, if you look at Nigerians with mobile phones, buying SIM is growing significantly because they are going online to consume information, but when you look at the growth of information production, you will see that domain name production far exceeds this growth for Nigeria i.e if we are consuming apple for apple. Steps further, look at population of China or SA vis-a-vis the number of industries and factories there. Compare that to the factories of active industries in Nigeria, you will agree with me at the dwindling level of production and these are the real catalyst that drive the uptake of domain names.
It is not enough to just register domain names they must be used for actual industries and today, there are so many industries supporting the Nigerian domain name like the movie industry, music industry. There are other industries, but these are huge for now in the country and they do provide a lot of support to the .ng mainstream.
How do you see Nigerian companies finding it difficult to use the.ng?
You are correct, but again we must be clear, Nigeria is a peculiar industry and we don’t exist in isolation. In the average home of a Nigerian today, have Italian furniture, doors made in Turkey, Persian rugs. Hardly, do Nigerians consume local goods because they believe there is a level of inferiority attached to it. The truth is not about the good being inferior, it is about that the Nigerian who considered the good inferior. The fact that you paint yourself white does not make you a white man, the fact you drink plenty of milk does not make you white within.
What would help the Nigerian economy is for us to patronise and help them improve. When I was young in school and was told this is made in China, it meant it would be break! So, when you buy it, you can be sure it could break in the next three days and you would need glue. But today, China has really upped their game. Made in Malaysia, is what you have on your Samsung phones not made in America. They are made in the Far East, sent to America and shipped to Nigeria.
It is when Nigerians discovered this, they started going to China to buy directly. So today, made in China is no longer a stigma, the new stigma is in made in Onitsha. But, if we persist, if we face it we will improve made in Aba, Lagos will become better than made in Malaysia.
NiRA is undaunted that the domain name is not widely accepted by Nigerians. What is affecting NiRA is what is affecting other industries in the country with citizens’ preference for foreign goods. It is a trait of Nigerians that defies logical explanation.
How much is the economy losing as capital flight to adoption of foreign domain names?
It is significant but we don’t have a figure yet. People will not buy land when they have no buildings to erect. Catalysing on content generation will impact significantly and grow the domain name coupled with local hosting. But if hosted abroad, it will be a huge loss just as the case of the crude oil in Nigeria. When we host locally, we get more domain names registered.
In terms of sensitising the public, what is NiRA doing?
We are doing so many things. We have started the ‘Switch to .ng sensitisation’. We have adverts on social media. We collaborate with dissemination agencies to spread the gospel. There is promotion of local content with Internet content forum with IXP; we create awareness with the Nollywood industry; music and the media industry. There is a one-day Media College that has been running for three years to deepen the .ng and educate Nigerians
Can government do anything to scale up adoption?
Legislation without enforcement is a waste of time. Government can do these three things including:
Patronage: Government should patronise by putting services online just like the transport companies in the Yuletide season and most of them where .ng.
Consistence: Government should be consistent by looking at all the ramifications and make it adoptable.
Policies: This should be tailored to the aspirations of the people to boost their adoption.
South Africa has significantly registered over one million SMEs on their .za, are there lessons we can incorporate to increase registration of the .ng?
In the past, we said that SMEs are the engine of the economy. Nigeria has 37 million SMEs in the 170 million population, however, just less than 400,000 are involved in value added services (VAS), which is the catchment area that will register on the platform compared to the SA that has a population of 54 million people with a catchment of 10 million, hence the 75 000 is a significant achievement from the 400,000 which is exceeding the limitation of our capacity.