In this article, CHIMA AKWAJA looks at the critical role the telecommunications industry is playing as guided by the regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), to keep the network at its optimum and ensure that the government, businesses and consumers are kept connected during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.
According to the second quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Report for 2020 released few weeks ago by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the Nigerian telecommunications sector was the top performer among all sectors of the economy, turning out impressive figures which kept the engine of the economy running during the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic lockdown.
Figures from the NBS showed that the Information and Communications sector contributed 14.06 per cent to total nominal GDP in Q2 2020, higher than the rate of 13.83 per cent recorded in the same quarter of 2019 but higher than the 10.31 per cent it contributed in the preceding quarter.
N2.3trn Telecom Contribution to GDP
Telecommunications and information services under the information and communications sector grew by 18.10 per cent in Q2 2020 from 9.71 per cent in Q1 2020 and 11.34 per cent in Q2 2019, thus, contributing N2.3 trillion to the GDP in the second quarter of 2020.
While the entire ICT industry recorded 17.83 per cent in the second quarter, the 14.06 per cent contribution of the telecoms sub-sector was unprecedented – far and above oil and gas, and other non-oil sectors.
These impressive statistics were as a result of the multi-stakeholder approach always adopted by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in dealing with telecommunications industry issues. During the pandemic full lockdown, the Nigerian telecom regulator adopted some measures which reduced to the barest minimum network outages which other mobile network operators (MNOs) lacked in other parts of the world.
While mobile operators in the other climes were hit by heavy network congestion and inadequate spectrum to contain the deluge of network traffic caused by over reliance on mobile networks for millions of people doing remote working and others relying on voice and data, the NCC introduced fresh measures to contain network congestion among Nigerian mobile operators.
Mitigating Network Challenges
In a proactive step to mitigate the challenges, the commission swiftly responded by taking some major decisions to mitigate any unforeseen challenges that may cause serious disruptions in service delivery to the consumers throughout the period of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Executive vice chairman, NCC, approved resource sharing by operators throughout the period of the pandemic. These include fibre optic cables and other resources in the event of cable cuts and other unforeseen developments.
The commission also ensured that the service providers met the needs of their teeming consumers by securing Right of Passage (RoP) for all telecommunications officials and staff for easy movement during the lockdown. This was to ensure ease of movement to service base stations and other telecom facilities and equipment, among others.
The NCC also rallied mobile network operators to come up with information and communications solutions that supported the fight against Covid-19 pandemic through provision of billions of naira data to subscribers of major network, free data while browsing for Covid-19 information on websites of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and World Health Organisation (WHO) as well as toll-free lines and toll-free calls on national emergency lines.
Commending the efforts of the NCC at mitigating the Covid-19 pressure on telecom networks as well as the impressive role of the telecom sector in the second quarter GDP report, major telecom bodies said it was due to the effective regulatory framework provided by the commission.
Proactive Regulatory Framework
Cchairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators (ALTON), Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, hinged the growth on investor-friendly policy and regulatory environment championed by the leadership of the NCC, commitment of all stakeholders, consistent investment in network maintenance and expansion, and sacrifice by sector operators.
President, Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria, ATCON),Olusola Teniola, said: “ the Telecoms industry has remained bullish owing to the quality of leadership at the helm of affairs at the commission,” adding that the NCC had become a reference point in telecom regulatory ecosystem in Africa and beyond.
The president of National Association of Telecoms Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMS), Adeolu Ogunbajo, said the proactive regulatory approach of Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta has helped make telecoms “the oxygen that keeps economic activities afloat during the lockdowns and consumers are appreciative of the fact that the commission, working with its supervising Ministry, didn’t allow the consumer to suffer serious disruption to quality of service and quality of experience.”
Removing Network Obstacles
Meanwhile, Danbatta, has urged mobile network operators to sustain the quality of service delivery and the quality experienced by consumers, adding that the commission is working with the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy to resolve the problem of high cost of Right of Way (RoW) with the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF).
Danbatta spoke recently at the first edition of the Virtual Telecom Consumer Parliament (V-TCP) hosted by the commission in Abuja with the theme: “Impact of Covid-19 on Telecoms Service Delivery.” The TCP is NCC’s flagship forum for in-depth engagement with service providers to discuss issues of contemporary interest affecting consumers of telecom services in the country.
“The commission is hopeful that with the reduction in RoW, which will automatically result in reduction in capital expenditure (CAPEX) by the network operators, telecom companies will sooner than later reciprocate the gesture by making their services more affordable to Nigerians,” he said.
According to Danbatta, regulatory efforts have also resulted in a presidential approval directing security agencies to protect information and ommunication echnology (ICT) and telecom facilities as critical national assets. He said this has helped to safeguard telecom infrastructure for the greater role telecom has to play with the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic.
Laurels for Covid-19 Role
Just last week, for the relentless work the commission is doing to keep the telecom network at its optimum, two non-governmental organisations honoured it and the EVC/CEO with the three awards for their critical roles in keeping Nigerians and businesses connected since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
Two of the awards, ‘Human Rights Telecoms Defender’ for the EVC and ‘Human Rights Guard’ for the commission were presented by Wheel of Hope Human Rights Foundation (WHHRF). The third award, ‘Icon of a Greater Nigeria’ was presented to the EVC by the Youth Coalition Against Corruption (YOCAC), a coalition of Nigerian youths from all walks of life.
Chairman, WHHRF, Jide Abdulazeez, said the presentation of the two awards by the Foundation was in recognition of “the leading role the commission has been playing in sustaining access to telecoms services throughout the period of the lockdown, following the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.”
He added that the role of the NCC in making the 112 Emergency Numbers available to Nigerians to report COVID-19-related cases and other emergencies; as well as its efforts in consistently protecting the rights and privileges of telecoms consumers, through effective resolutions of service-related complains, are part of the reasons the commission was considered worthy of the awards.
In the same vein, national coordinator, YOCAC, Dahiru Umaru, said: “The Icon of Greater Nigeria Award conferred on the EVC is in recognition of his leadership qualities and achievements which have engendered quality regulatory supervision of the telecoms industry by ensuring that telecom consumers are not unduly short-changed, especially during the critical stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
According to him, the commission has been contributing immensely to the growth of the Nigerian economy by ensuring robust telecom infrastructure, making it possible for Nigerians to leverage social media and other digital platforms to ventilate their views against corrupt practices in order to ensure good governance in the country.