Free and Open-source Software (FOSS) is a very important aspect of technological development all over the world. And I have written on how FOSS can be of socio-economic benefit to the country and continent at large. When there is a proliferation of software solutions and frameworks that can easily and quickly deployed with no (or little) restriction, it would be prove to be a very innovative strategy for tech development.
There are many features of FOSS that make it attractive; like cost and time of development reduction among others. Since most FOSS license allow for building on top of software already developed by somebody else.
But in Nigeria most software infrastructures are either not built around FOSS principles or imported from outside the country. What has led to this very sorry state?
Inferiority complex: there is a general mental disposition that is prevalent in the country; “anything from abroad or the western world is superior in quality”. Irrespective of the availability of very high quality FOSS, there have always been an insatiable thirst for closed-source software made by the “white man”. Since FOSS developers would not be patronized, there would be no need to even venture into creating an unattractive software.
Closed government: this does not come as a surprise as the government of the country (like a majority of other African countries) is not a transparent one and so would not be a good leader in proposing and encouraging the development of FOSS. If FOSS is to be taken seriously the government would have to be on the front burner of such a campaign. There are sometimes , though, that the government can be seen as using and deploying FOSS, but it is all about the more you look the less you see. For instance, the Voters registration software (OpenVR) used by the independent electoral commission (INEC) is supposedly built with open source principles and also integrated with an open source operating system (Ubuntu). But the github page to host the source code for the software literarily contains nothing and the so-called “OpenVR” is nowhere to be found.
Collusion: many proprietary software corporations from western world have formed very overwhelming partnerships with local proprietary software companies that help to promote and sing the praises of their products here in Nigeria. This rob local FOSS developers and promoters of voice in the ecosystem. Sometime trade agreements are signed by the government that include opening the Nigeria software market to proprietary vendors.
Venture capital: the overall goal of a business is to make profit – software business is nothing different. One of the source of fund for tech development is the venture capitalism. Venture capital investment in Nigeria technology sector is very scarce and mostly come from foreign investors – and the proportion that would go to FOSS would therefore be meager if even possible. FOSS would definitely seem risky to any investor – and worse for those who do not believe or have passion for FOSS business models. And this is not very encouraging, especially considering the economic situation of the country.
Electricity: power is a very important factor in software development in general – the very tools of the trade are electronic. With the current available power infrastructure, freelancers, young talents and small companies (startups) would not be able to make a difference in the FOSS community – let alone even make a livelihood. Many programmers would rather work for large companies (proprietary companies) where they would get, among other things, access to constant electricity, internet connectivity and most importantly make a living.
The idea being espoused here is not to create a disdain for imported or/and closed-source software, but to create awareness regarding the bottle-necks around creating a competitive locally grown and nourished software (and by extension, FOSS) ecosystem. A lot of support, thinking and passion is required for developers to create very high quality FOSS that would be loved by millions of Nigerians and could even be exported to different part of the world.
And there have been many repercussions of over dependence in closed software. And likewise many benefits for using and encouraging FOSS development. Whatever the current trajectory is, there is need for a systems where there would be open sharing of ideas and collaboration where innovations are nurtured, protected and supported. My best bet would be on FOSS – any time, any day.