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Danbatta’s quest for fairness



The saying that the world is a global village can only be true for countries who make telecommunications a priority and invest enough to meet communication needs. In Nigeria, those in the communication sector know this and with experts like Professor Umar Danbatta at the helm of affairs, things can only get better. Interview by Chima Akwaja

NCC is in the forefront of providing guidance to all our operators…
The Central Bank of Nigeria regulates the financial sector, the Federal Inland Revenue Service regulates the tax sector of the economy. So, these are autonomous institutions established by law. What is happening between MTN concerns the regulator, you know, in charge of the financial sector and it also concerns the Federal Inland Revenue Service but we know that a development of this nature will definitely send riffles of fact into other sectors of the economy, especially bearing in mind that the MTN is a licensee of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), it is dominant in the voice segment of the market. So, we are intervening in the same way we have been intervening before, to ensure that the stability of the industry, I’m talking about the telecommunications industry, the resilience of the industry is not inferred in any way by recent developments in Nigeria. This is what we have been doing before, even before this issue came up.
NCC is in the forefront of providing guidance to all our operators, big and small on what to do during crisis of the nature that we have in our hands. MTN has been in touch with the NCC and NCC will now divulge in our strategy for amicable resolution of the matter.

Direct investment has been on a steady rise…
I must say the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) from where we get most of the reliable information we provide to the public, to the media about the performance of the industry in terms of contributions to the gross domestic product (GDP), in terms of actual contribution to GDP, is yet to provide the information in terms of contribution, in terms of investment, foreign direct investment into the sector, including portfolio investments.
The NBS gives this information on quarterly basis. Also, the NBS gave the figure because this is in percentage terms but the actual figure is between $4bn and $5bn per quarter, so that is the percentage contribution to GDP in dollar terms. Now, the foreign direct investment (FDI) has been on a steady rise, an average of about one to two percentage points per quarter.

The communications industry as a whole is very important…
We need enabling policies and institutions that will target the weaker groups, including women and children because there’s no discrimination when it comes to putting enabling policies and institutions in place, special attention is given to them. Of course, in the policies that we have put in place, there are policies in place in the country. I’m giving you a list of the elements of digital transformation ecosystem.
We normally look at the industry in its totality, what is the situation in the industry. So, the communications industry as a whole is very important, what do we need to do to ensure access to telecommunication services to unserved and underserved areas of the country, including the served areas where we have 50 per cent of households and individuals having access only? So, even the served areas, we still have some work to do and then when you talk about underserved areas, we have about only 10 per cent of the same target figure in women, children and people living in those communities.

The NCC is in the forefront of massive capacity building…
We target universities, tertiary institutions, we target the schools and colleges and we also target our intervention communities, outside the schools and outside the universities. The other element of the digital ecosystem is infrastructure. I think we are really conversant with what the NCC has done recently- issuing licences to infrastructure companies to deploy broadband infrastructure in seven zones of the country. These licences have been issued and I believe the licences are busy about to mobilize and start deploying this much needed infrastructure for which there is a subsidy that the NCC will be paying.
We want to make sure that we are around to provide succour to the infrastructure companies because the deployment of infrastructure is most times capital intensive. So the licence was made because we are not about to make any money out of the licence. The whole essence is to ensure the deployment of the much needed infrastructure takes place very soon. In addition to making the licence, the NCC will be paying subsidy.

In Nigeria, you find the population of women is in the majority…
We don’t see women as physically disadvantaged. In Nigeria, you find the population of women is in the majority so, when you don’t target women and the physically disadvantaged persons in the country, you are ensuring exclusivity in the way and manner that you empower citizens. This has been emphasized by the ITU. I believe the ITU plan 2013, 2018, emphasise inclusiveness, in addition to growth and sustainability in the provision of telecommunication services.

Access to the regulator is facilitated 24/7…
These are the usual conditions we normally fix to other entities that are licenced. So, having made those conditions, the approval for the transfer of shares was conveyed to MTN for the shares of Visafone. Then, subsequently, MTN went to ask for the transfer of Visafone’s 800 MHz spectrum. Of course, you are aware that MTN is a licencee of the Commission and there are competition in the issues involved.
Our operators feel that the spectrum should not be given to MTN without the recourse to auction because they may be interested in the same spectrum. So what we decided to do and I’m sure you’re aware about this, was to conduct a public inquiry because the Act empowers the commission to conduct public enquiries from time to time. We may conduct public inquiries from issues like this, issues concerning the utilisation of spectrum resources.
MTN participated to make a very strong and conducive case for the spectrum to be given to them and our operators in the country made arguments against the spectrum being given to MTN. The NCC will come up with a position but there’s a consolation to MTN.

Mobile money service penetration is very low in Nigeria…
With a population of about 190 million, one per cent translates to a little under two million people. So, it’s not inclusive. I have it on good record that about 40 per cent of the Nigerian population remains financially excluded. The reason for the very low penetration of mobile money service is because, in our country, it is bank-driven. The banks drive this, you know, the mobile money service and the banks rely on telecommunication companies.
They leverage the infrastructure of telecommunication companies to drive the service, not only the service but also the operations. So, it would appear that they do not have the capacity to do this very well and the telecommunication companies expressed desire to join.
I believe the Central Bank of Nigeria is equally disposed to working with operators jointly with the NCC and to that extent, we even have a joint committee that is very carefully studying the situation and I think, feedbacks I’m getting from the CBN is that very soon the Telcos will be licenced to drive money mobile service in the country.