By Okoh Aihe
There is so much happening in the telecommunications industry that it is difficult to thumbnail any particular development that could spell more danger for the industry in the days ahead. But there is also so much facade over the industry, like some figures of achievements being bandied around, that it will be difficult for anybody to be hunting for what is not going well. But there are several and I will pick only one.
The National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA, has recently moved to amend its 2007 NITDA Act to properly situate the agency to promote development in the tech ecosystem and tackle problems that may impede growth in the industry. The Director General, Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi is enjoying a little gloat over this and he has his army of supporters who are edging him on. They have been told the good side of the story and they can’t wait for miracles to begin to rain down from heaven, and jumpstart the nation to leapfrog Dubai or South Korea in tech growth and adoption.
After all, we are so used to fantabulous tales in our present state of being that truth and reality have been trapped in the conspiratorial web of politicians who prey on the ignorance of the majority to earn a living out of failure. But we have also been speaking to the other side, the group whose members don’t take vacuous bravura as organisational policy but are genuinely searching for lasting documents that can do the nation good apropos technology. When we spoke there was some kind of wailing, like some guys taking a final look at a loved one in the cemetery. But they were wailing for the disguised but the orchestrated assault on, and attenuation of the telecommunications industry.
The future of the telecommunications industry is data. Very soon voice will become a very small part of the business, leaving data to control everything. Already with data, a subscriber can make a voice or video call without using the phone line directly. Whoever controls the data platform controls the industry, and that is what NITDA wants to do, to control the telecommunications industry and its massive infrastructure with scant knowledge of the amount of labour that has gone into building the sector. Just like a rat waking up from a dream to swallow up an elephant! Except this is Nigeria.
Just three functions in Section 5 of the Bill may suffice. They include: issue regulations, guidelines, frameworks, directives and standards to facilitate the establishment and maintenance of appropriate infrastructure, and information technology systems, to support the development of digital services application in Nigeria; develop, test, and certify information technology systems, services and practices to promote innovation and use of emerging technologies to improve efficiency in service delivery including registration of devices and type approvals; and promote universal access for information technology, digital services and systems penetration in urban, rural, under-served and unserved areas.
Having just listed the above, let us also look at only two functions of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, as stated in the Nigerian Communications Act 2003. They are as follows: proposing, adopting, publishing and enforcing technical specifications and standards for the importation and use of communications equipment in Nigeria and for connecting and interconnecting communications equipment and system; and carrying out type approval tests on communications equipment and issuing certificates therefore on the basis of technical specifications and standards prescribed from time to by the Commission.
Section 1V of the Act permits the NCC to consider, design and determine a system which shall promote the widespread availability and usage of network services and applications services throughout Nigeria by encouraging the installation of network facilities and the provision for network services and application services to institutions and in unserved, underserved areas or for underserved groups within community, USP.
The Commission shall then set up a fund known as the USP Fund, part of which monies, shall include a portion of the annual operating levies, AOL, paid to the Commission by the licensees. NCC gets 2.5 per cent of the annual operating levies from the operators and gives 40 per cent of that amount to USPF.
What the above means is that the USPF is a structure set up by law which has guaranteed source of funds to handle its projects across the country and not to constitute a leech on others in order to survive. A little annotation here: equipment type approval is done by the Department of Technical Standards and Network Integrity.
Dr. Chris Uwaje, Oracle of the nation’s technology industry warned that the Bill is danger waiting to happen and will encourage exodus of digital innovators. Engr. Titi Omo-Etu, one of the founders of the tech industry is afraid that investments will become a major victim of the planned Bill. Co-founder of Flutterwave, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, after looking at the various charges, levies and other draconian provisions of the Bill, has regretted voting for this government.
But this is all about power grab. Agencies under the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy are: the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA, Galaxy Backbone, National Identity Management Commission, NIMC, Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited, NigComSat; Nigerian Postal Service, NIPOST; and the National Frequency Management Council, NFMC; which is domiciled in the Ministry but serves all sectors of the economy.
The Minister who was former director general of NITDA would attest to the fact that his organisation was one of the least empowered with nebulous responsibilities, a situation which constantly pitched him against the NCC. Could the unfolding scenario in his ministry be a cherished opportunity to weaken other parastatals for the ascendancy of NITDA?
This particular Bill is outrageous and annoyingly duplicitous, a grotesque mirror image of the original already in existence. The National Assembly should be wary of all contraptions that come in the name of Bill, including this ostentatious manifestation of ignorance, arrogance and avarice. The only place for the Bill is the trash which should be heading to the incinerator, after which the ashes should be blown in the wind, as a lasting evidential ignominy and escort for those who don’t mean well for our nation.