For Prince Osuagwu, High-tech editor
mengr Gbenga Adebayo, is the President Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators in Nigeria, ALTON; The umbrella body of all telecommunications service providers.
In many cases, Adebayo’s leadership style and diplomatic approach to the relationship between the regulator and telecoms operators in Nigeria have been hailed as the reason the sector remained strong even in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic, COVID -19.
However, Adebayo said that the strength of the sector is to look to the future and prepare early enough for the rainy day. He argued that it should be a virtue that deserves the country’s encouragement and not be burdened with taxes and other stunting measures.
Many sectors are grappling with the unforeseen effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, however the telecommunications sector appears to be strong at it. How?
We had seen the trend worldwide in January and February and began preparations for a possible outbreak and the subsequent government shutdown in the event of an outbreak in Nigeria. Our members were advised to provide adequate free space to accommodate more traffic and to create redundancies for the resilience of the network. There was also an emphasis on remote monitoring and maintenance of the network, as well as the sharing of common infrastructure to ensure network availability with adequate capacity to withstand any sudden increase in traffic.
As we approached closing days in March, we requested the right-of-way for telecommunications workers as essential services workers through our regulator, the NCC, from all heads of various security agencies and with the support We obtained all necessary movement rights from our regulator, the NCC and the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy during the closing. All of this helped our response to support subscribers and the economy during the critical days of the total blockade and until now.
The impact of COVID-19 appears to be uneven across sectors. Which sector do you think has been most affected?
All sectors of the economy are affected in one way or another, the pandemic and the associated blockade have demonstrated the interconnectedness of our world and the economy. One would think that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are mostly affected, followed by education, travel and tourism, hospitality and entertainment, a large number of telecom players and their support companies are also they were affected and very affected by this pandemic.
Considering that the companies closed due to the blockade, the main income for network operators, such as Voice, has also decreased significantly, which affects their income. While we had many online and virtual activities, which were primarily the use of over the top (OTT) services, operators experienced a significant decrease in revenue for large corporations.
How about finding a solution to prosper, publish COVID?
There are concerns about the days to come, and we don’t know how fair the various sectors, including telecommunications, will be. We need to wait and see. COVID -19 has become the new normal, but more concerning is the fact that the effects of the post-COVID blockade may be greater than the blockade itself, so we must prepare for the next few days in the new normality.
But some begin to say that telecommunications are beneficiaries of COVID-19. How correct is the narrative?
We need to be careful with this narrative. Again, and for emphasis, it is incorrect to use the result of some operators to determine the general health of the industry.
Various actors in the sector are struggling like many other sectors of the economy. They are significantly affected by the pandemic. Before the blockade and until now, we have debt interconnection problems between operators, which speaks to the state of health of many operators.
Taking into account that the companies closed due to the blockade and that some services were affected, fewer mobile calls were registered. The use was mainly OTT services; Operators had seen a reduction in revenue from corporate services and a significant decrease in voice traffic.
If you look at Nigeria’s overall economy, do you see a way out of the ravages of this pandemic?
The systems and economies were not designed for a waiting time like we had during the blockade and the impact of the blockade will be felt for some time. Several companies will not be able to meet their goals for this year; the loss of a quarter of the year will certainly affect the ability of many companies to survive the rest of the year and even later. We already have news of companies that place personnel in layoffs, salary reductions and general inability to fulfill their obligations. A number of projects and contracts will have to be restarted, restarted, and the parties must find the best form of collective survival.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel as they say, a known problem is a solved problem. So, with awareness of the impact of this pandemic, I think companies will have to make the necessary adjustments.
Regulators will need to consider policy interventions that will help companies survive. In our sector, for example, we would seek the revision of certain mandatory tariffs, the granting of import rights on network elements, access to foreign currency as necessary, and exemption in some areas. Therefore, we can continue to survive and support the economy as companies navigate these difficult times.
Telecommunications services are essential for Nigerians to survive this period. Are your members adjusting their operations to accommodate this task?
As you may already know, there is already a presidential statement on the protection of telecommunications infrastructure and we are very happy as this will contribute greatly to avoiding network interruption, we are also developing capacities in line with national broadband plans and The issue of senior right-of-way positions by the state government is becoming a thing of the past, we are ensuring the injection of additional capacity at all times to meet consumer demands.
All ALTON members have made significant contributions in support of the Government, and some have stumbled upon several million naira both as a team and in aid: some of us are also members of the Committee Against COVID (CACOVID).