Mr Segun Akano, Managing Director of Upperlink Limited has grown the Nigerian technology company to play in key sector of e-payment and has lately been among the registrants promoting the .ng, the Internet name for Nigeria.
In this exclusive interview with Kolade Akinola of Technology Times, Akano talks about managing Upperlink, industry segment market trends, policies and allied issues. Excerpt
TT: Who is Segun Akano?
Segun Akano: I am the Managing Director of Upperlink Limited. We are a firm of indigenous software developers and we started operations in 2003. We have been able to establish four main lines of business which are domain name, payment integration and collection with bank, software development as a whole for business automation, Google app for business and education. We partnered with Google to do that. As a matter of fact, we do what is obtainable anywhere in the world as far as software is concerned.
We are also blessed with a team of programmers that are brilliant and dedicated. We are proud that our products are of international standards making use of Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) standard which has just commenced and we have started the process of being accredited by CMMI. We are also starting International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) accreditation. These are things we have put in place to be competitive worldwide.
[su_quote cite=”Segun Akano, Managing Director of Upperlink Limited”]The Internet population is about 60% of active lines. However in terms of content, we have not achieved much. 70 million have access to the Internet, so what’s the output? That’s a big question. We sit on all foreign platforms like Facebook, Yahoo, Gmail and the likes, the question is how do we reverse the trend such that we diversify from all the foreign platforms. We need to expand our scope of generating content and engagement among the ecosystem of stakeholders. [/su_quote]
TT: Your company was recently accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). As a matter of fact, you are the only accredited ICANN registrant company in Nigeria. What does this mean for your service delivery?
Segun Akano: We are the 8th ICANN-accredited registrant in Africa and interestingly the first in Nigeria. Until we got accredited in July, there were only seven accredited registrants in Africa even though we have up to 1000 registrants worldwide and highly dominated by Europeans.
It is a big privilege that we have taken Nigeria to the world map and that’s our pride and joy. But it has come with a lot of obligations in terms of service delivery. ICANN has its own set of rules which they do not compromise. In fact, you can easily be de-accredited if you don’t follow the rules. This has really helped our business. It has made us to scale up to be more customer-focused.
If you have any complaint with your domain name, our staffs are always up to the task. “Customers are kings”; that rule stays here. We are also up 24 hours in a day which is part of the rule ICANN set for us. We treat our customers with honour and dignity. When all these things are put in place, we definitely get result.
TT: Aside being an ICANN registrant, you are also an accredited NIRA registrant company. What is your assessment of .ng (the Nigerian Internet name) uptake in Nigeria?
Segun Akano: .ng domain is on the rise. The body in charge of administering it is NIRA (Nigeria Internet Registration Association of Nigeria) and they are doing their best to create a lot of awareness among the populace. They have also created a lot of fora so that people can be sensitised. They are also engaging policies on the need to fashion out strategy to open up .ng. So, it is growing. We just need to give it its own time. You can’t force anything on anybody, you can only make it available in a friendly way and I think that’s what NIRA is doing.
We believe that in the next two years we will see millions of business in .ng domain in Nigeria because the bedrock for that service is bandwidth to be made cheap and available. The Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) is trying its best so that bandwidth is available to all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria.
Until bandwidth is cheap, people won’t be willing to come to .ng to register their business. We have a success story about this in the last three years because bandwidth is getting cheaper. We are looking at the time that bandwidth will be more affordable. We are also looking at over 17 million SMEs to register on the .ng domain in the next couple of years.
- Segun Akano, Managing Director of Upperlink Limited during the interview Photo credit: Kolade Akinola/Technology Times
TT: One of the NIRA’s objective of canvassing the .ng domain is that it offers security in cyber space. But some big players in the industry are yet to fully adopt it. Where would you say the missing link is?
Segun Akano: We started late and that’s the issue. You can’t blame those players. We are encouraging them to take up their equivalent of .ng name. Every domain is just like an estate that you invest a lot in. You invest your money and data in that domain, so migrating is not that easy. Above all, that domain would have propagated all over the world, so if you are looking at total abandonment that might be a bit difficult. So, what we advise is that those players get the equivalent of their domain name in .ng.
Every country has its identity in the cyber space and that’s what we are preaching to all industry in Nigeria and for security purpose. NIRA just came on board about six years ago and there are some business in existence for 15 years. So what we just advise is to take up their .com and marry it with .ng
TT: Lets go to a more critical issue and that the issue of cyber crime and cyber security.The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has just passed a bill that stipulates that anybody found guilty of cyber crime will get a 7-year jail term. What’s your take on that?
Segun Akano: The deterrent is key. Let offenders be punished. That’s the angle which we want to make a case because we always had laws in Nigeria but they are not well-implemented. If you look at different cases in Nigeria, it has always taken the same shape thereby giving offenders the boost to commit more crime.
But I hope this will not take the usual shape and method we have experienced in Nigeria. If anyone is found guilty, he has to be convicted immediately. In that case, other offenders will be afraid to commit such a crime. When that law is properly implemented, the young ones will start making positive use of the Internet rather than the negatives.
To me, it’s a good thing that the Senate has done by passing the law because you can never stop crime. But when laws are properly implemented, the rate at which crime will be committed will reduce drastically.
TT: Nigeria has a population of over 170 million people and the latest market information from NCC reveals that approximately 130 million lines are active and over 70 million active Internet users. How would you assess the level of Internet usage in Nigeria?
Segun Akano: The Internet population is about 60% of active lines. However in terms of content, we have not achieved much. 70 million have access to the Internet, so what’s the output? That’s a big question. We sit on all foreign platforms like Facebook, Yahoo, Gmail and the likes, the question is how do we reverse the trend such that we diversify from all the foreign platforms. We need to expand our scope of generating content and engagement among the ecosystem of stakeholders.
We could take a clue from the likes of Jumia and Konga on how they created local content for online business. I will strongly advise other sectors to do same or even more in adopting this system in terms of generating content. If we have more content on our platform, the rush for foreign content will reduce. Developing our local content is therefore key. We have a lot of information that can generate content to users and this is what will make us producers and consumers of content.
TT: Your company develops software for e-payment solutions. Based on experience, what’s your view on e-payment system in Nigeria?
Segun Akano: With e-payment solution in Nigeria, there has been a major leap and it has further deepened the cashless policy directive by the CBN. More people are coming online to do transactions either by ATM, PoS or several other payment solution platforms and in a way there is a lower pressure of carrying naira around. It even tends to give more healthy life because it save us the rigour of carrying huge cash from one bank to another and also it reduces tension, vulnerability to robbery attacks and lots more. Aside, it gives a cleaner environment and that’s the clear concept.
TT: Upperlink Limited is a wholly Nigeria company. Are there any plans to have any kind of synergy with foreign companies or investors in the nearest future?
Segun Akano: Right now we want to consolidate ourselves. We have our presence in the North, East and we also have our branch in the US. Our plans is to expand to few other African countries in the next one year. By that time, we will be ready for any big Investors that wants to come in since we have strong footing in the economy and aside the business space where we operate we have been rated high and that’s been our goal. We have always set our target to be the leader in any business space we find ourselves . We are also looking at India to set up our business. With this, we may just open up to foreign investors who share same passion and vision with us.
TT: You were nominated for the prestigious IT personality of the year by the Nigeria Computer Society. How did you feel about the nomination?
Segun Akano:I feel great. I think it’s a motivation to continue to do what we are doing. It is good that somebody or a body is noticing us somewhere and I think that’s the message from that nomination. The nomination reminds us that people outside are watching us and taking note of what we are doing. I believe we are just starting, in the next couple of years, we want to become a mega company that has international appeal. Nigeria has a lot of potentials in Information Technology and we need to do more to catch up with international community.