By Nwobodo Chidiebere
The story cum revolution in the Nigerian telecommunications sector has been a successful one, ever since the berthing of GSM in the nation’s economic shores. Nigeria’s economy blossomed: jobs, innovations and wealth created as a result of the positive impact of telecom industry on the overall health of the economy. But these successes cannot be said to come without its attendant shortcomings. Before now, Nigerian telecom consumers were left in the cold. The lingering issues of unsolicited messages, drop calls, poor network service, and so on, have been the bane of telecom consumers in the country until recently, when the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) intervened majorly, to save the situation once and for all.
The launch of Nigerian Telecoms Consumers’ Year, 2017, by the regulatory agency—the NCC, came as breath of fresh air to telecom subscribers in the country. The Nigerian Telecoms Consumer Year project was conceived and designed by the NCC to focus on the challenges being faced by consumers in Nigeria and how to tackle them. The project was officially flagged off in Abuja on March 15, 2017, at the Commission’s Headquarters, followed by Lagos State on May 17, 2017. The aim of devoting 2017 as Nigerian Telecoms Consumers’ Year in the words of the NCC’s Executive Vice Chairman, Prof. Garba Danbatta: “The Year 2017 is dedicated to the Nigerian Telecom Consumer. Following a management decision, that compels NCC to seek to amplify the year’s activities towards ensuring that the consumer enjoys a customer experience that is enhanced and consistent in time and quality. In 2017, and even beyond, the Consumer will be our focus. NCC intends to inform and educate the consumer with the sole intent of protecting and empowering them to make right decisions,” he said.
If there is anytime Nigerians should believe government policy, it is now. The momentum, at which the NCC is pushing its campaign to sensitise telecoms consumers on its willingness to protect the interests and advocate better services for subscribers, has eroded any iota of doubt, that it is ready to march its words with actions. The choice of Lagos State as second city to flag off the Telecom Consumer Year initiative, was not an accident or coincidence but strategic in the Commission’s quest to reach out to telecommunications subscribers as fast as possible. The focus of the Nigerian Telecom Consumer Year project was not meant to protect the consumers’ interests alone, but drum it into their consciousness of their inherent rights and privileges, as one of the major stakeholders in the telecom sector.
Lagos State, apart from being the economic capital of Nigeria, it has all the necessary stakeholders needed by the NCC to make this campaign a success. Lagos State being the replica and combination of United States’ Silicon Valley and Wall Street, it serves as the headquarters for most of the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), Internet Service Providers (ISPs), financial institutions, Nigerian Media, big and small scale businesses and millions of active subscribers. So, there is no other better place to launch the campaign after Abuja—being the seat of government activities, than Lagos. The ‘Centre of Excellence,’ being the unofficial headquarters of Nigerian print media, is well-positioned to serve as the take-off base in the Telecom Consumer Year Initiative, knowing the rightful place of Nigerian media in sensitising the telecom populace.
According to the Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Prof Garba Danbatta, who quoted the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, in the first quarter of 2016, Lagos voice subscriber base stood at 19.04 million, representing 12.8% of the country’s subscribers. In the same quarter, Lagos State accounted for 12.62 million internet subscription or 13.65 per cent in the country. “The State is a home to many of the key players in the telecommunications sector, so it is understandable that it has been selected as the flag off city, after the major event in Abuja.”
On the Telecoms Consumer, “The NCC 2017 Year of the Nigerian Telecom Consumer is remarkable because the consumer is centre stage. We must also remember that these consumers together have made all the success stories we speak about possible in the telecom industry today. The rates at which consumers receive telemarketing and unsolicited messages from mobile network operators and internet service providers would reduce drastically, as consumers can now activate ‘Do-Not-Disturb’ short code using the 2442 toll and forwarding unresolved complaints to NCC using 622 toll-free lines,” Prof. Danbatta said.
Speaking in the same line of thought, the Executive Commissioner (Stakeholder Management) Mr Sunday Dare was quoted as saying: “It (the year) was significant because it was the first time the NCC will single out the consumer and dedicate a year of activities towards safeguarding the rights, protecting the interests, and empowering the consumer to make informed decisions—but above all, to place the consumer atop the stakeholder ladder of the NCC. The telecoms consumer is one of the key stakeholders in the stakeholder ladder of the Commission. With a base of over 154 million subscribers, the Nigerian consumers dominate the African telecommunications landscape.”
The good news is that the Nigerian Telecom Consumer Year project has begun to yield desired results. It is encouraging that barely two months after the national campaign was flagged off, there have been progress report in the activation of the ‘Do-Not-Disturb’ short code using designated 2442 facility. More than one million telecom consumers activated the ‘2442 Do-Not-Disturb’ code since the launch of the exercise two months ago, while more subscribers reported their unresolved complaints using the NCC’s 622 toll-lines in the same period. On a personal note, with the assistance of this code, I have been able to stop all the unwanted messages that hitherto plagued my lines. Furthermore, the robotic calls that used to bombard my phones—mostly during the odd hours of the day, have become history; courtesy of these designated codes provided by the regulatory Commission.
The two months of implementation of this Telecom Consumer Project, can be adjudged a huge success; going by the gains recorded so far. The era of crass impunity of Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and Internet Service Providers (ISP) has come to an end, and a new season when telecom subscribers will be treated as kings and queens, is gradually emerging. Nigerian Telecom Consumers will no longer be at the mercy of Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) henceforth.
In 2016 alone, it was stated that telecom consumers in the country spent a whooping sum of $6.6 billion on telecommunication services. It will be inhuman and unprofessional on the side of MNOs, not to reciprocate with improved quality of services. One of the mandates of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is to make sure that telecom services rendered to subscribers will be commensurate with the bills they pay. Nigerian telecom consumers should seize this opportunity provided by the Commission to resolve all the challenges they face in utilising telecom services.
– Chidiebere writes from Abuja