NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT THREATENS "FORCED RE-DELEGATION" ON DOMAIN NAME BODY

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The current row over the .ng domain has thrown into sharp relief international discussions over whether ICANN’s GAC Committee or the ITU should be responsible for appointing national domain name bodies. The Nigeria Information Technology Development Agency appeared to be about to embark down the same road taken by the South African government before it reached agreement with its national domain body operator. It says it has licenced the Nigerian Internet Group to administer the TLD, threatening that "forced re-delegation is only now a matter of time." Shina Badaru and Russell Southwood take the temperature of this hot debate.

The cause of the Government’s frustration is perhaps understandable. Thus far the current operator of .ng has managed only 576 registrations. Of these, 7 are on Primary.ng, 379 on Com.ng, and 80 on Edu.ng. Others are Gov.ng, 46; Net.ng, 33; and Org.ng, 61. This is not a wholly impressive record for a country of Nigeria’s size and with an internet community of its scale.

So why has this occurred? The .ng domain name dispute has defied resolution over the last five yeas when some members of the Nigeria Internet Group (NIG) sought to wrest control of the Internet name resource from one of the founding members of the group that promotes local internet development, Mrs Ibukun Odusote. Mrs Odusote, in whose name the .ng domain name for Nigeria is registered is also the administrative contact recognized by ICANN for registration of the Internet name resource. She has said that she would favour transferring the management of the domain name to the regulator, NCS as against NIG based on allegation that the latter is not representative of the nation’s internet community. However to an outsider, it is the current administrator who does not seem to meet the stakeholder condition that insists on a wide level of local ownership within the internet community.

The Nigeria Internet Group as a corporate entity did not register ng ccTLD with ICANN. In fact NIG itself was not in existence by the time ng ccTLD was registered. Thus the claim by NIG to the ownership of .ngccTLD on the basis of an ambiguous, general-purpose license granted it for the "provision and operation of Value Added Network Services", by the National Communications Commission, is perhaps somewhat misleading. However because of the obduracy of the current administrator, those involved feel they have little other recourse than the force of government.

The Technical Contact (and actual day-to-day administrator) is an American named Randy Bush. In international internet circles it is widely acknowledged that Bush has played an extremely significant role in helping those involved in setting up the internet in Africa. When few had realised the significance of the domain administration, he was in effect holding them in trust for many countries. The purpose was to allow local administrators (when they were ready) to take over the running of them.

However not for the first time he seems to have become part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Whatever his many undoubted strengths, diplomacy is not one of them. In an email which was forwarded to Vanguard (and not quoted in full) he seems to have poured oil on the fire:

"I do not enjoy doing the work of registration of the .ng ccTLD. It is not intellectually interesting in the least. 95% of the registration forms are sufficiently incorrect that they do not make it through the programs which process them. Folk really need to get local technical help. I know it’s hard, but I just can’t be everyone’s tech, as we say ‘does not scale’.

Explaining the type of problems often encountered while processing the forms, Bush said: "Some people submit the same broken form 15 times, somehow thinking that the 15th time the program will actually accept it. And they are not polite in e-mail, which does not encourage me to devote more time to trying to educate them." "I just don’t have time to hold anybody’s hand, yet folk think I am here to explain the dos, registration, web services ...to them".

Such attitudes only encourage those who would like to see the control of TLD administration put in the hands of national governments and administered internationally through the ITU. Whilst there are many in Africa who would take this position, it is perhaps worth pondering that which Government gives, it can also take away. Does the internet community in Africa really want to find a key part of its governance controlled by Government?

The Kenyan and South African route where Government and the interested parties from the internet community sit on the same Committee that runs the TLD must surely have more to recommend it. This sounds very like the .ngNIC that the NCS has been promoting as the solution to this seemingly interminable argument.