At ATCOM AGM 2020, Stakeholders Share Perspectives On Protecting Critical National Infrastructure, Cybersecurity


By Clifford Agugoesi, Editor-in-Chief

The criticality of digital infrastructure to the attainment of a robust digital economy to satisfy the hopes and aspirations of ICT services consumers in the country and the fierce urgency to protect these assets to ensure sustainability in the industry, came to the fore again, as the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), held its Annual General Meeting(AGM) 2020, with stakeholders sharing their perspectives on how best to achieve protection of CNI in the country.

ICT Stakeholders, including ATCON members, are united on the need for an effective law to secure critical information and communication technology(ICT) infrastructure and had been vacillating between securing a Presidential Executive Order or a Law to achieve this. While Nigerian Leader Muhammadu Buhari appears willing to okay an Executive Order, following heads-up to this effect from the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, the industry appears to be in some kind of animated suspension, over this, since last year. However, fresh perspectives shared by industry players at the ATCON AGM seemed to point to a better strategy.

Leading discussions on CNI and the need to protect them was the out-going President of the Association of Telecommunication Companies of Nigeria(ATCON), Teniola Olusola. He explained that protection of CNI was critical to a speedy achievement of a digital economy in Nigeria. “We need to ensure CNI is pushed through via Executive Order and through Law,” he said. Speaking at the 2020 Annual General Meeting of ATCON at the Victoria Crown Plaza Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, south-west Nigeria, Teniola said that there were certain data that the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami needed to forward to the Office of the National Security Adviser, (ONSA) to guide the President to issue the Order. He appealed to ATCON member companies to cooperate with officials of the FMoCDE on the data request.

The outgoing ATCON President, reflecting on “worrisome happenings in the industry” regretted that hoodlums had become so powerful in Nigeria and made the work of telecoms companies difficult, particularly in the laying of fibre cables across the country.He regretted that ATCON members were threatened to carry out their work of increasing the infrastructure towards a digital economy for Nigeria, saying the “Stop, No Work” posters from hoodlums were no longer acceptable as it was a disincentive to investors. “Investors want to ensure that their investments are protected. That is what ATCON is about. We want to ensure that government continues to provide conducive and enabling environment for investments to survive and thrive,” he said. Teniola appealed to the media to support the call for an Executive Order on CNI, especially the preponderance of hoodlums in the industry, which he described as “a growing nuisance.”

Explaining that there could be no digital economy without digital infrastructure, Teniola said the criticality of telecoms assets and the dependency that other sectors had on them has made the call for protection imperative. While noting that ATCON’s advocacy had led to some states soft-pedaling on right of way(RoW) fees, he said the deteriorating security situation nationwide had forced government to start placing some kind of obligation on our members. He reasoned that SIM Registration Database should not be used as a human being tracker as the database was not designed to function that way, saying “there are a lot of databases not verifiable in Nigeria.” Teniola noted that updating systems would put a heavy strain on the resources of telecommunications companies, saying “this is not good.” He added that meeting the security obligations provided an opportunity for ATCON to engage and collaborate with the National Identity Management Commission(NIMC) to discourage using telecoms databases as national identity tracker as “our networks are not designed for that purpose.”

In his intervention, General Counsel at MainOne, a member company of ATCON, observed that the COVID-19 pandemic had upped reliance of other sectors on the telecoms sector and the recent #ENDSARS protests, later hijacked by hoodlums and miscreants, led to some base stations of member companies being significantly impaired. Adebanjo praised ATCON leadership for doing “a significant amount of advocacy on a number of issues this year.” He pledged the readiness of MainOne to supply the critical elements needed to ensure the protection of critical telecoms infrastructure in the country.

A former President of ATCON, Engr. Lanre Ajayi thanked Teniola for his insightful backgrounder to the CNI debate. In a historical journey into the issue, however, Dr. Ajayi stated that both CNI and Cybersecurity were topical issues over the past 7 years. According to him, there was a law already on CNI. ‘There are clauses in the Cyber Crime Act that take care of CNI. What the industry needs is the enforcement of the CNI clause in the Cyber Crime Act,” he said. Noting that an Executive Order was inferior to the Law, he added that an Executive Order was good and would complement the Law. He said there was nothing wrong for the industry to push for an amendment of the Act Cyber Crime Act or ask for its amendment.

However, Teniola said that the clamour for the Executive Order is not just an ATCON advocacy but also the quest of those who are not members of ATCON.

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