By Okoh Aihe
The big news last week in the telecommunications industry was the re-election of Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta as Executive Vice President of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). In the form of practice in this part of the world, congratulations are coming from everywhere because, as in all political offices, one person is not named but metaphorically, an entire village or a town.
Let me also extend my congratulations and wish you the best in carrying out your official responsibilities from now on. In any case, the industry will expect some level of stability as Professor Danbatta consolidates his efforts in previous years. That is why I am a little puzzled that no one seems to be talking about setting a new agenda for the EVC, but rather that it is a season of subtleties, praise, and denomination composition at a time that demands very strong leadership for a fertile sector.
It hurts me to see that much of that good development was marred by the way the news got out, which clearly betrayed the underground politics that developed in the renovation process. Generally, such information should not be for public consumption. But these are not ordinary times, dear friends. Every minuscule achievement in office is adorned with a delicious political icing to stop the angry attention of a frustrated people.
The statement issued by the Minister of Information and Digital Economy, Prof Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), and signed by his spokesman, Uwa Suleiman, stated in part: “Prof Danbatta’s re-election was based on the recommendation of the Honorable Minister of Communications and Digital Media Economics, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), in line with the Nigerian Communications Law, 2003 “.
The question is, what law is the minister talking about? My humble sojourn in the telecommunications industry teaches me that there is only one such document for the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that is the Nigerian Telecommunications Act of 2003. The Act is so well packaged by professionals with hot patriotic blood rushing through their veins that has continued to be the foundation of a very promising industry that is not yet in full flight, regardless of our claims to the contrary. This is why some of the developments in the telecommunications industry in recent times should upset all patriots or those with a little love for the industry.
What the law says
This is the position of the Act in Chapter 2, Part 2, Section 8 (2) on the appointment of the EVC. “The Board will make recommendations to the President regarding duly qualified persons for his appointment as Executive Chief and Executive Commissioners of the Commission and the President will take into consideration the Commission’s recommendations for the appointment.”
A simple observation of the above is that there is no place for the Minister in the appointment process and even if his opinions were requested by the President, his opinion would not have any constitutional validity. However, there are more concerns than a minister trying to claim responsibility for what is normally beyond his reach.
There are issues that need to be addressed in the industry before going back to the hyperactive nature of a minister that almost makes the industry a joke. The industry is fracturing through the center and the whispers are getting louder within the Commission for the entire industry. There is a need for the EVC to immediately start repairing the broken fences and appropriating the strength of the Commission and the entire sector to move forward.
Here are the lyrics to a 1971 song by The Undisputed Truth titled, Smiling Faces sometimes: “Smiling Faces Sometimes / Pretend to be your friend / Smiley faces show no trace / Of the evil lurking inside (can you dig it?”).
Among regulatory agencies, the NCC stands out and can boast highly trained individuals; some of them were trained for several decades in regulatory issues. But there may be some people within the regulatory system who inadvertently carry the song’s lyrics in their hearts. No institution reaches the super highway into the future with that level of fracture. The EVC should stop the drift and redirect its energies. His knowledge is needed now, as is his strength and commitment.
Devoid of salt and pepper, these are some of the industry’s loud whispers last week that deserve EVC’s attention and this could also hit their agenda.
- Strong leadership that accommodates the strength of each stakeholder for industry growth, initiative, and innovation.
- A review of the Spectrum Trading Guidelines that was recently discontinued. Industry followers believed that the NCC had embarked on a good cause to make spectrum use more dynamic, but cut it short for reasons that remain obscured.
- A proper revival of Infraco licenses to breathe new life into the industry. The proper deployment of Infracos will improve connectivity between operators and make them less dependent on satellite and microwave services. This alone will address the elusive quality of service.
- Noting that there has been a breakthrough with some of the state Governors that have reduced the cost of the right of way (ROW) for the deployment of fiber in all states or a total elimination of them, some stakeholders observed that such Profits could be eroded by multiple taxes, which is equally very damaging.
- They suggest a one-stop shop where operators can enter a state and transact in one place.
- The reference rate or the minimum rate for the data must be delivered based on political misunderstandings and handled professionally.
- NCC must track the status of the Critical National Infrastructure Bill (CNI) that was allegedly in the 7th Assembly, and pursue it conclusively to help protect the industry.
- They noted that what was recently called an Executive Order of the President was verbal and has no instrument.
A return to Section 25 (2)
Some suggested that to tackle the above head-on, the EVC should seek a strong industry governance structure that can create a comfortable pull between the industry and the regulator. They frowned greatly at recent developments in the industry, including unnecessary controversies, where the regulator appears to be integrated into the Ministry of Communications.
It was regretted that such disappointment only hurt the industry and created an avoidable barrier to much-needed foreign direct investment (FDI). His agonized cry last week was an urgent return to Section 25 (2) of the 2003 Law which says: In the execution of his function and relationship with the Commission, the Minister must at all times guarantee the independence of the Commission, as regards the performance of its functions and operations under this Act, it is protected and is not compromised in any way. “
Anything below the aforementioned will result in the regulatory capture of the regulator by the Ministry and its Church of Ministers and this will not be a good testimony to a regulator that in the days of yore was a regulatory benchmark for its peers. across the continent, ITU and GSMA communities.