The Saga. Who Wins? – By Toba Obaniyi

A few days ago, the Federal Government of Nigeria announced the relaunch of a new national carrier for Nigeria, The Nigeria Air. With the announcement came the unveiling of a logo for the brand that was supposedly designed by a Bahrain company for some millions of Naira. As expected, this launch has generated some discussions online. I actually found an interesting tweet that made me look closer at the logo. It is actually not just a ribbon, but an eagle spreading its wings.

What interests me most however in this saga, is that some “sharp” guy went ahead to register and and put them up for sale! Some are saying that he is indeed smart and will make the government cough up some millions before releasing the domains since they were not smart enough to register the domain before announcing. Others have suggested that he will probably be arrested since it is a crime to register the domains. To respond, I will like to educate first.

No one really owns a domain.

Generally, when you need a domain name, you would go to a registrar/reseller that sells the domain extension and place a request for the domain after confirming that it is available. Then you pay a fee for say a year or more and then the domain is registered in your name. You are tempted to believe that you own the domain for that period, but that is not really true. I think it is more appropriate to say that you have rented the domain for that period. You also only keep that domain as long as you do not flaunt the regulations of the domain registry.

To put it simply, the domain registry is responsible for managing all domains within the zone. So, if you register for instance, you are bound by the rules of the registrar/reseller you bought the domain from and the registry that manages all dotCOM domains, Verisign. If you register, you are bound by the rules of the registrar/reseller you bought the domain from and the registry that manages all dotNG domains, the Nigeria Internet Registration Association (NiRA). If the registry believes that you have flaunted any of their rules, they can actually pull down the domain or in some cases, take the domain from you.

Why cannot be sold.

So, before you can sell a domain, you need to be sure you are not breaking any rules. There have been cases where people have sold domains for quite a lot of money. It is possible to sell domains. In this case however, I doubt a sale will be possible for the following reasons.

The domain is not really registered…yet.

NiRA has some exceptions that prevent the registering domain names and one of such restrictions is what has been termed “geonames”. In summary, a geoname represents a domain name that can be confused to mean that the domain is owned or managed by a government entity. For instance, if I register, it will be argued that this domain is owned and managed by the Lagos State Government, and as such will not be registered. The same applies to Even without the announcement, this domain is considered a geoname as it implies that the domain is owned and managed by the Federal Government of Nigeria. As such, it will not be registered.

But it has already been registered, you say. Not quite. If you perform a WHOIS search of (a WHOIS search allows us to see the details of the domain registration), you will see the status of the domain is “ServerHold”.

This means that the domain has not been approved by NiRA because it violates the rule described above. A domain in ServerHold cannot actually be used because it has not been fully registered. In other words, the guy doesn’t even “own” the domain he is trying to sell…yet. And I doubt he ever will.

Even if the domain was fully registered, it could be taken away from the “owner”

So, let us argue that the domain is later approved for some reason. Or let’s say you don’t believe me and you insist the domain has been registered. Like I explained above about domain ownership, even if a domain has been registered, it can still be taken away. And one valid reason to take a domain away if someone else has trademark for that name in Nigeria. According to Article 8.4(4) of the registrant agreement of NiRA, a domain registrant (a person who registers a domain name) represents, warrants and covenants to NIRA that

No Infringement. Neither the registration of any Domain Name nor the manner in which the Registrant intends to use or uses such Domain Name will directly or indirectly infringe or otherwise violate the trade-mark or other intellectual property or other rights of any Person or defame any Person or unlawfully discriminate against any Person or breach any Applicable Laws.

So, if the Federal Government has a trademark for NigeriaAir, which I believe is a small matter, the domain can simply be taken away. Game over.

So, Who Wins?

Definitely not the guy. At best, he will get a refund because the domain could not be approved. At worst, the domain is taken away from him and he loses his registration fee. He has just successfully informed the Federal Government that they should register the domains and they probably would.

The lesson of the day is you can’t win them all.

Toba Obaniyi is the MD of Whogohost, a NIRA Accredited Registrar

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