The Association of Information and Communication Technology Stakeholders in Nigeria (AICTSN) has faulted the order from the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, to directing the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to force telecommunication operators to reduce the prices of data.
The telecoms group urged the Federal Government to avoid undue interference as ill-thought declarations may scare business entities willing to invest in Nigeria adding that the Minister must know that he cannot issue a fiat in a country that runs a free market. The
“We are appalled at the posture of the Minister. Nobody is saying the Federal Government should not monitor companies but acting authoritarian will be counterproductive. Dr. Pantami claims that data prices in other countries are not high. However, we urge him to conduct a careful analysis of other markets, compare with ours and make findings to the public”, AICTSN President, Dr. Ibrahim Lawal said in a statement.
He said: “We must not forget that companies have thousands of Nigerians on their payroll; we must bear in mind the huge direct and indirect jobs operators have created. Thus, it is unjust for the Minister to issue orders and deadlines without adequate consultations and utilization of diplomacy. Unless the Federal Government is at war with the private sector, AICTSN strongly advise officials to avoid sending wrong signals.”
He called on Pantami look into the challenges affecting smooth telecom operations such as multiple regulation and taxation, vandalism of infrastructure, exorbitant charges imposed by state governments for laying of fibre, kidnapping of telecom staff who visit base stations for routine maintenance, cutting of fibre by those involved in road and related construction is also persistent.
According to him, its sister organisation, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ALTON) had consistently raised the issues but the Federal Government has not addressed them saying, “it is inappropriate for Dr. Pantami to be issuing orders while refusing to specifically address the issues raised by NCC and the operators. We need to remind the Minister that the telecom sector has been deregulated since the National Telecommunications Policy was introduced in 2000.”
The disclosed that the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003 does not confer the Minister the power and authority he wants to exercise stressing, “he must allow the regulator to function as stipulated by the law. The Minister is already almost directly running the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), a department and special intervention fund under NCC which is a creation of the NCA 2003.”
The statement explained further: “Even the re-designation of the Ministry as Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy speaks to ignorance on the part of Dr. Pantami. The President was obviously misled. If the Ministry’s name has to change, the modification must be appropriate and reflect reality. Communications is not just about the economy, strengthening it is a component. So, ideally it should be Ministry of Communications and Digital Culture, that’s if any change was required at all because Communications is still appropriate.”
On the recent change of the Ministry’s name, the group queried the changed noting, “why change a Ministry’s name when the infrastructure to support the change is not in place. NCC has proposed to government how to source funds to implement the Open Access Model to cascade fibre to all the 774 LGAs in Nigeria but Federal Government is yet to respond even though the Commission has already licensed the Infrastructure Companies (Infracos) that will handle the laying of fibre.”
The statement said that Pantami needs to know that the independence of the regulator accounted for the huge success that the telecom sector has recorded so far and that President Muhammadu Buhari led Federal Government would have shot itself in the foot if it is perceived to be creating a hostile environment despite going round the globe in search of foreign direct investment.
AICTSN urged Pantami to act as an office holder who would be remembered for being fair to all stakeholders, including industry players, regulators, partners and the citizenry.