As Okoh Aihe noted, the Nigerian Communication Commission has never lacked vision nor run short of strategy to properly superintend the telecommunication industry. It can be taken for granted that the Commission as spearheaded by the acclaimed Professor of telecommunications of Umar Garba Danbatta will surmount all its challenges and take the industry to its Eldorado.
However, in spite of competence, capacity and commitment of Prof. Umar Garba there were whisperers that the newly appointed Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) would need a special magic wand to help Nigeria overcome its race against time on broadband penetration target. Such pessimism could, however, be forgiven, especially in the context of the nation’s unpalatable history with critical policy targets.
The National Broadband Plan (2013-2018) had envisaged 30 per cent broadband penetration by December 2018. It was measly 8 per cent in 2015. Then providence brought Prof Danbatta to the scene, as President Muhammadu Buhari picked him from several others contenders to finish the job. And it turned out to be one of the best decisions the President made. By the end of November, 2018, the penetration stood at 30.9 per cent meaning, a total of 58,965,478 were connected to the internet through 3G and 4G networks out of 108,457,051 internet subscribers in the nation’s telecom networks. For once, Nigeria was saved the blushes of ruing missing another vital target.
For those who don’t know, however, this notable happy-ending story is also a story of diligent implementation of a comprehensive roadmap, popularly known as 8-Point Agenda, which the professor of telecommunications unveiled just few months into his new assignment. It’s not for nothing, therefore, broadband was deliberate made its flagship, and thus occupies its front burner.
If Danbatta’s blueprint was, however, globally acclaimed for its completeness and integrated nature, his approach also reveals a leader in tune with system model. Little surprise he has always seen broadband particularly, as a function of eco-system. This is in contrast with reductionists, who see it only from the internet speed perspective.
The Nigeria Academy of Engineering (NAE), while inducting him a Fellow of the apex engineering body last year hinged its decision partly on Danbatta’s unparalleled work on Nigeria’s broadband, confirming that the rare success was not a work of alchemy.
Undoubtedly apart from his quick action in setting up a crack team of broadband implementation early, Dnbatta, has ushered in a unprecedented regime of efficient management of scarce resource, spectrum.
From auction of six slots of 2x5MHz in the 2.6 GHz Band, to re-planning of the 800 MHz band for LTE, and to assigning of 2x10 MHz Spectrum to Glomobile for trial in the 700 MHz, the frenzy of activities is unmistakable.
And from regularization of 2x10 MHz Spectrum in the 700 MHz band previously assigned to MTN by NBC for the purpose of providing LTE services, to opening up 70/80 GHz band for both last mile and backhaul services, among other numerous spectrum managements, the impacts cannot be gainsaid.
While the list is, by no means, exhaustive, a landmark was also recorded by the Commission with the publication of Spectrum Trading Guidelines. The novelty attracted global commendations of international telecommunication organizations like GSMA.
Yet even more pertinent to our broadband is the fact that 6 infrastructure companies (Infracos) have been licensed to drive the deployment of infrastructure across the nation’s geographical zones and Lagos—while the remaining one is being processed. This, no do doubt, bodes well for the future of the industry.
However, while every single item on Danbatta’s agenda has brought something tangible to the industry table, perhaps one of the most remarkable feats of his leadership was dedicating the year 2017 as the Year of the Consumer of the industry.
When the campaign was flagged off, for instance, less than 500 subscribers had activated the 2442 Do-Not-Disturb code developed by the commission in 2016 to tackle the menace of unsolicited telemarketing. Yet as at 31st October 2018, no fewer than 16.5 million were on the Do-Not-Disturb and counting. The commission’s second layer complaint toll free line, 622 has also become a beehive of activities.
Similarly, the Commission has also issued a direction to service providers on Data Roll-Over, enabling consumers to roll over unused data for period of time, ranging from 1 day to 7 days, depending on the data plan, among other consumer- centric directives.
Again, another portion of the agenda that stood out was how Danbatta revolutionize stakeholder engagement of the agency. From Ogun State where he used his clout to ensure 47 base stations were immediately unsealed by Governor Ibikunle Amosun to Kano State where over 200 million was waived on levies, to Kogi State recently where 120 base station sites were reopened, Danbatta energy and proactive strategy are in display.
In the area of strategic collaboration, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by Danbatta and Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr Godwin Emefiele, with a view to boosting mobile money service penetration and financial inclusion in the country has also struck a chord. With this development, there’s permeating optimism that the country will be able to deepen the inclusion to 80% by 2020.
Nonetheless, the interagency partnership between the two giant regulators has also bore another fruit, saving a major service provider, 9mobile, from imminent collapse.
But as if he saw it coming, even before the debacle that led to the 9mobile takeover the Commission under Danbatta had made its Code of Corporate Governance for the telecoms industry mandatory.
Yet if the unmatched success in broadband penetration and consumer-centric initiatives of Danbatta era are some are some of the standouts, it’s safe to assume that the synergy with academia to boost telecommunications researches is the unsung hero. It’s to his credit that a new department, Research and Development, has been carved.
However, while the space won’t permit touching on some of the most notable accomplishments of Prof Danbatta as the NCC boss, one thing is clear, his surefooted start, taking some tough decisions, has helped to carve for him an immediate industry niche. Indeed mixing a no-nonsense reputation with so much flexibility is one of the hallmark of his leadership. The staffs of the commission and the entire industry is aware that there’s a fair, firm and forthright chief regulatory officer who is leaving no stone unturned in his match to take the telecommunication industry to the next level.
One of the things considered a herculean task in a country like Nigeria is getting organisations and businesses to be able to meet and surpass their set goals and targets for sustainability.
The failure to meet such goals is not normally associated with improper planning by those saddled with the responsibility of achieving those targets but, sometimes, as a result of a nexus of challenges within the operating environment.
This, perhaps, explains why the Federal Government in 2017 issued the Executive Order 001 aimed at entrenching the ease of doing business principle across all sectors of the economy.
In the public sector, for instance, meeting national economic goals often remains largely elusive. Efforts of the implementing organisations in a sector’s value-chain are often hampered by a number of challenges. These may range from poor funding, chocking regulations and facile implementation of projects designed to achieve those goals, among others.
In the power sector, the task of achieving certain level of power generation targets for the country annually for optimum economic performance has remained a mirage. Similar ‘deadlocks’ are obtainable in many other sectors where sectoral targets set for national economy are not actualised.
It is against this backdrop that the record achievement of the national broadband target of 30 per cent broadband penetration set by the Federal Government and which was spear-headed by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and under the leadership of its Executive Vice Chairman (EVC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, a professor of telecommunications engendering, deserves an applause and should be acknowledged by all and sundry.
Broadband or simply high-speed internet has been described by the World Bank as having the potential to accelerate the growth of a country’s economy, especially in developing countries such as Nigeria.
To give an accent to this, the Nigerian government instituted a national committee that came up with a target to increase broadband penetration in Nigeria, from 6 per cent, where it was in 2013 to 30 per cent by end of December 2018.
Interestingly, Prof. Danbatta, an erudite engineer and astute administrator came at a time broadband penetration was barely scratching 10 per cent threshold.
On assuming office, Danbatta-led NCC management quickly put in place a strategic vision plan anchored on its 8-Point Agenda. Curiously, the need to facilitate broadband penetration tops the agenda and this was pursued vigorously by Commission with close monitoring of implementation of each of the issues on the agenda.
Other issues on the auspicious agenda aimed at driving pervasive access to telecoms services and by extension, access to high-speed internet include improving quality of service, optimising the usage and benefits of spectrum, promoting investment opportunity and ICT innovation, facilitating strategic partnership and collaboration, protecting telecoms consumers, promoting fair competition and inclusive growth; and ensuring operational efficiency and regulatory excellence.
With thorough implementation of all these eight issues on the agenda, all culminating in improved and wider service access, the Commission did not only meet the 30 per cent broadband target but also surpassed it by December, 2018.
In fact, according to industry figures reported in the media, broadband peaked at 31.48 per cent in December, 2018. It has since continued to grow higher as broadband penetration stood at 32.43 per cent in January, this year while the Commission has also put the February broadband penetration at 33 per cent.
But the question may be asked as to what the NCC’s meeting and surpassing of the broadband target by the end of last year mean for the country. Also, it is also agitates mind to interrogate exactly the implication of the current steady growth in broadband penetration since beginning of this year.
It is important to put this in context. In Nigeria, most services in commerce, banking, agriculture, medicine, transportation, aviation and so on are becoming increasingly dependent on telecoms services, especially data/internet access. The cashless economy we are currently enjoying in Nigeria with the use different e-payment channels such as the Automated Teller Machine (ATM), Point of Sales (PoS), web-based payments, and mobile payment etc., is riding on telecoms infrastructures.
Banking services are Internet/data-dependent. Years before now, cases of poor ATM malfunctioning, inefficient online-transactions and so on were pervasive. Today, however, with increase in broadband penetration, banking experiences are getting better. In the past, cases of downtime are regular experiences in the banking industry. But with robust and deeper high-speed Internet facilitated by the NCC, downtime has becoming significantly minimal.
Today, individual bank customers can seamlessly transfer money from their mobile devices at the point of purchase to the sellers with instant credit notifications. Increase broadband access has, therefore instilled greater confidence in Nigerians regarding the use of electronic payment system.
In contrast, any downtime on telecoms networks also bring corresponding downtime in the activities of other individual telecoms consumers or other organisations that rely on data services for their daily functioning. A case that readily comes to mind was that of Kogi State government which, through revenue-generating agency, shut over 70 base stations in the state last year.
This ugly development which affected telecom service delivery to individuals, businesses and other organisations practically made it extremely difficult for electronic transactions and other Internet-dependent services to be conducted in the state when the telecom tower shutdown lasted. Urgent and responsible interventions by the NCC helped to rescue the situation that would have generated into a full-blown telecoms service outage!
Suffice it to say that telecoms and, more specifically, broadband service has become an essential backbone for all other sectors of the economy. The banking sector example, earlier painted, is similar when it comes to how broadband access has helped to transform each sector of the economy with improved productivity and efficiency.
Needless to say that Internet speed and access have increased significantly if compared to what it used to be some five, 10 years ago. The cost is also bound to reduce as time goes on.
In a latest report by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) while there has been an increase in broadband cost, as subscribers now pay for speed, Nigeria, Egypt and Rwanda are said to be three countries in Africa offering cheapest tariffs. As at the end of 2018, A4AI ranked Nigeria as the second country after Egypt with the lowest Internet cost in Africa.
While the expectation of Danbatta-led NCC is to achieve ubiquitous broadband penetration, which is an on-going concern, the actualisation and surpassing of the national broadband target of 30 per cent much earlier before December, 2018 speaks volume about the quality leadership, regulatory excellence and unflinching commitment which the country’s chief telecoms regulator has entrenched in the system.
It is noteworthy that the Commission was able to achieve the target in spite all the various challenges confronting the industry. This ranges from poor public electricity for service providers to power telecoms infrastructure 24/7; multiple taxation and regulations; delay in security RoW permits to licensees that wish to build more infrastructure; vandalism and equipment theft at sites, and so on.
This explains why the actualisation of this lofty broadband target of 30 per cent by the Commission, despite all the afore-mentioned industry challenges, should be commended and its leadership applauded for demonstrating a commitment that should be replicated by regulators in other sectors of the economy in meeting their various sectorial national economic targets, as NCC did. As telecoms consumer, I also hope that as NCC is providing more access, it will not relent in putting emphasis on initiatives that make end-user experience more exceptional so that consumers can get more value for the money spent on telecoms/broadband services.