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Monday, January 31, 2011

INEC’s voters’ registration exercise 2011: Understanding the role of Information Technology

Remmy Nweke: The year 2011 began for a lot of Nigerians on the controversies surrounding the decision and readiness of the nation to have credible elections enshrined in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

This follows the award of contract for the132,000 Direct Data Capture machines to be used in the registration of voters nationwide, which commenced January 15 and due to end last Saturday, January 29, before the National Assembly held sessions last week to endorse a shift by one week, according to proposition of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)- led Prof. Atahiru Jega, the chairman of INEC.

Noteworthy is that INEC awarded three firms the contract to supply the 132,000 DDC machines, namely Zinox Technologies Limited - 80,000 units at $1,771.73 per unit. While Messrs Haier Electrical Appliances Corp Ltd was awarded 30,000 units at $1,699.60 per unit and Avante International Technology Incorporated got 22,000 units at $1,699.60 per unit; which brings the total figure to about N34.5 billion when matched with the exchange of 1 United States Dollar to N150, which precisely amounts to about N34,517,640,000 billion.

Expatiating on this development, the Chief Press Secretary to INEC chairman, Mr. Kayode Idowu, in a press statement made available to newsmen to announce the award of the contract, noted that a unit cost is inclusive of all taxes and charges, while the machines were to be delivered in 35 days from the date of award, which became public on November 7, 2010 of which reports have it should elapse on December 12, 2010. Although some instances of public holidays in both Nigeria and China culminated in moving this date forward before December 20.

As at this time, only Zinox was said to have met the deadline while Haier was reportedly made some supply, whereas Avante’s supplies were missing till date.

Idowu also explained that the reason for Zinox’s contract sum to be slightly higher was because the company being a Nigerian firm is expected to pay the Value Added Tax (VAT) to the government.

Apart from the controversy on the total cost of conducting the General Election come April 2011 worth N87.7 billion, including the procurement of the DDC machines, INEC succeeded in getting the National Assembly to approve another N6.6 billion for the one-week extension; to cushion the effect of accessories supply for the DDC machines, logistics, and stipends for officials made up of 240 members of the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) and some 900 other key personnel.

Although the first two days of the voters registration exercise suffer set back due to some obvious challenges linked to the inability of INEC to organize capacity building for the 240 NYSC ad-hoc staff.

Despite the fact that it was rumoured initially that INEC would deploy members of the National Association of Computer Science Students (NACOSS), which report said is over 5,000 nationwide.

Preempting discrepancies in the deployment of the DDC machines, one of the contractors, Zinox, obviously in the spirit of Nigerianness, took a decision outside the contract to recruit and deployed a total of 74 supporting staff to ensure that INEC has smooth seal with the on-going voters’ registration using the Direct Data Capturing (DDC) Machines nationwide.

It would be recalled that voters registration exercise commenced countrywide last Saturday, with DDC machines which is running on Linux operating system supplied by a different entity.

Computer experts, however, attributed the slowness of the machines to the kind of operating system. An operating system (OS) which is an interface between hardware and user as being responsible for the management and coordination of activities and the sharing of the resources of a computer, which acts as a host for computing applications run on the machine.

While Linux is an operating system that was initially created as a hobby by a young student, Linus Torvalds, at the University of Helsinki in Finland. Linus had an interest in Minix, a small UNIX system, and decided to develop a system that exceeded the Minix standards. Linus began his work in 1991 when he released version 0.02 and worked steadily until 1994 when version 1.0 of the Linux Kernel was released. The kernel, at the heart of all Linux systems, is developed and released under the General Public License (GPL) and its source code is freely available to everyone. It is this kernel that forms the base around which a Linux operating system is developed.

The Group Corporate Communication Advisor, Zinox Technologies, Mr. Echika Ezuka told Business Champion that the deployment of 74 supporting staff to aid INEC was simply an act of patriotism as that was not part of the contract to supply 80,000 DDC machines, which was completed almost a week before the registration commenced.

He explained that Zinox had deployed two (2) Information Technology (IT) engineers for each of the 36 States and Abuja.

“These 74 support personnel were not part of the contract but a gesture from Zinox to ensure that the DDC technology does not overwhelm the INEC operatives,” he said, stressing that Zinox has caused to be published full page color advertisements in all national dailies designed to give vital tips, with graphic details on the DDC machines beginning from, Monday, January 17, 2011, just two days into the voters’ registration exercise.

He noted that the exercise started nationwide with INEC assuring Nigerians that it had the capacity for an effective voters’ registration, even as he highlighted the fact that the DDC machines, the technology backbone for the exercise had a shaky start in some areas due to the inability of INEC personnel (NYSC ad-hoc staff) to install the machines appropriately.

“The first problem was related to the capacity of INEC personnel to install the equipment properly. In most places the personnel adopted a trial and error strategy that was time wasting and frustrating,” he said.

Additionally, he said that the problem was related to slow finger scanning arising from the way that INEC calibrated its software to achieve high quality finger print, stressing that INEC has given its word that both problems would be fully addressed in full course.

He expressed the belief that as the exercise continues INEC staff began to master the DDC technology, most of these challenges began to disappear paving the way for a hitch free exercise.

Commenting on the on-going voters’ registration exercise with DDC machines, former President of the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), Deacon Ojinta Oji-Alala urged Nigerians to be patient with the technologies.

According to him, technology driven processes require practice and experience to get it right.

Ojinta who reviewed the exercise by midweek of the first week, said that he was confident that it would succeed but required the public, the governments and the officials of INEC to remain focused on the objectives of achieving a free and fair election through the exploration of modern technology.

He appealed to the public to show resilience through maturity, patience and effective participation, emphasising that the finger printing process has become a challenge and the way to get about it was for the INEC officials to follow strictly the guidelines provided by INEC and the equipment manufacturer as well as tips published by the likes of Zinox.

He warned that excessive dirt, sweat and grease might affect the effectiveness of the scanners, asserting that “Everyone who goes for scanning must ensure that their fingers are dirt free.”

Oji-Alala further urged the INEC operatives to ensure that the scanners are always placed on a flat surface while scanning and should never be cleaned with chemicals as this will damage it.

Based on his understanding, INEC calibrated her software to achieve high quality finger prints and this resulted in slow scanning. Insisting that there is nothing wrong with the actual Direct Data Capturing (DDC) hardware, either the laptops produced by Zinox or the printers from Hewlett Packard (HP) for the exercise.

He pointed out that Zinox being an indigenous computer manufacturer deserves commendation for supplying 80,000 out of the 94,000 DDC machines that INEC has so far deployed for the exercise, noting that its natural for Nigerians to blame even software problems on the hardware branded Zinox.

Speaking on Kaakaki programme on African Independent Television (AIT) monitored in Lagos, the Chairman, Zinox Technologies, Chief Leo-Stan Ekeh declared that no amount of manipulations by evil doers or theft of the Direct Digital Capture (DDC) machines, which earlier began at the Airport with the messing of pallet containing 20 DDC machines, would influence the outcome of 2011.

This, he said, would amount to a mere waste of time for the perpetrators as it would not in any way affect the outcome of the 2011 elections.

He explained that the data being collected by the DDC machines would still be merged and evaluated at the backend of INEC prior to insertion in the database servers. This, Ekeh said, would give the ample time to discover and remove the likes of double registrations among other irregularities eventually.

He maintained that Zinox met with the deadline for supplying of 80,000 DDC machines, days before the curtain was drawn, while attributing the delays experienced at the registration centers the software, which was Linux, an open source.

The scanners, for example, he said, were calibrated by INEC to achieve a high resolution of the finger prints and this led to initial delays that INEC has swiftly rectified. Enlightening that the DDC equipment are installed out there in the dusty harmattan and the hot sun; conditions Zinox boss said wear down most electronic appliances.

He pointed out that these machines were allowed to run up to 10 hours at a stretch on batteries, which is an unusual contraption in most parts of the world, while batteries are supposed to be back-ups but here they are the main supply of power because of the peculiar energy situation in the country.

He further said that the set of hardware were of the highest international quality with the extra strength to stand the rigors of the Nigerian setting.

While commending INEC for being passionate about producing a credible voters’ register for the country, Ekeh said that Nigerians should support the growth of local institutions by being patient and totally cooperative.

He said that Nigerians must support INEC and help all the patriotic efforts that INEC has put in place to materialize. He said that Nigeria has derived invaluable benefits from the fact that the Nigerian company, Zinox, was the first to deliver of the 3 companies contracted to supply the DDC machines. He said that thousands of Nigerians have acquired new competencies in Information Technology and logistics through the assembling and distribution of 80,000 machines. He said that the hundreds of Youth Coppers engaged by INEC for the registration would form a new crust of IT savvy manpower in Nigeria in spite of their shaky start. He urged Nigerians to show appreciation for the tireless hours of work that fellow Nigerians are contributing to nation building by being supportive and not negative.

Mr. Leo Stan Ekeh expressed deep gratitude to the governments and people of Nigeria for the opportunity given to his company to show that Nigerians can also perform to match world class standards. He urged all to take advantage of the learning opportunities embedded in the voters’ registration to bring about a new Nigeria in education, power, and governance. Above all, he said, that this should be a reversal point for all those who are skeptical of Nigerian competence in enterprise management.

For the President, Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), Prof. Charles O. Uwadia on the on-going Voters Registration exercise by INEC, recalls that on Friday 19 November, 2010 during which NCS intimated the nation through the media about its concern in the way and manner INEC went about the very important task of applying IT for the 2011 elections.

They specifically expressed worries about a number of steps and activities taken by INEC among which were the appointment of an ICT Consultant /Adviser the Commission’s chairman who is not a registered IT professional in the country, to NCS and to the IT education regulator, the Computer Professional Registration Council of Nigeria (CPN), specification for contracting three firms to deliver 132, 000 units DDC machines for the forthcoming compilation of fresh voters registers and other electoral process for 2011.

They were precise in observing that two of the contracting firms Messrs Avante and Haier were not registered with CPN as required by law.

“They are not registered with the Computer Professionals Registration Council of Nigeria (CPN).

With these acts, it was clear to us that INEC had downgraded the critical issue of Computer Professionalism as regulated under Computer Professionals Registration Council of Nigeria (CPN) Act 49 of 1993,” he Uwadia decried.

Additionally, NCS said that the manner of conducting training for personnel who were deployed to manage or handle the DDC machines for just two days prior to the exercise was not professionally acceptable to the society.

NCS, therefore demanded that all INEC’s personnel carrying out core IT professional duties in the Commission as matter of urgency should be registered professionals as stipulated in Act 49 of 1993.

“That all persons to interface and operate the DDCM must be trained and certified by professional institutions registered by CPN,” he said in addition to the fact that “all contracting firms who are not registered with CPN should have their contracts revoked.”

Subsequently, NCS said that only registered members of the Computer Profession should be considered for jobs involving computing machinery and called on INEC to redress the identified lapses within one week; failing which legal action would be instituted by NCS against the Commission.

They insisted that INEC must be transparent and fully unfold its strategies for deploying IT for the entire electoral process so that professionals could offer advice where necessary.

Above all, the issue of capacity building for the NYSC ad-hoc staff was supposed to be overtaken by deploying members of NACOSS, on what went wrong as being projected prior to that is undoubtedly a slap on the nation’s education given the number of the NACOSS membership, of which most of them are certified computer literate.

And allowing professional under NCS and CPN room to contribute their quota is key to its success as it was gathered that over two letters written to INEC chairman in this regard has not received any response let alone action. Of course not with unrecognized IT Adviser, who from all intents and purpose should think that NCS has come to take his job.

A stitch in time saves nine as we journey into the General Elections in April.

ITREALMS Online ... delivering news for ICT4D

Juwah tells operators ‘It’s no longer business as usual’

The Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Eugene Ikemefuna Juwah, recently met with newsmen in Lagos and responded to some industry issues. Senior Reporter, REMMY NWEKE, was there for ITREALMS ONLINE and reports that Juwah spoke on a number of issues including on incentives for mobile operators for conducting registration of Subscribers Identification Module (SIM) card among others.

Excerpts.

What would be the direction of NCC under your leadership?

I am aware that most of you have been seeking to speak to me individually on the focus and direction of the Commission under my leadership. I also have been eager to speak to you but as you may be aware, there are issues that needed more urgent attention since my assumption of office.

You know that shortly before I arrived, a totally new structure was introduced in the Commission. On arrival, I needed to be properly briefed, and I needed to galvanize and stabilize the workforce.

So, I took time to interact with the staff at different levels to acquaint myself with the on-going activities and programmes of the Commission, and mobilized the senior management to focus on the new direction of the Commission under our leadership.

Can you lead us into some of the issues that confronted you on assumption of office?

Part of the issues that confronted me on arrival is the delay in the approval of the 2010 Budget of the Commission. While working with the National Assembly on that matter, we worked hard to ensure that we promptly submitted our 2011 budget before September 30, 2010.

The issue of Quality of Service (QoS), also became very urgent and I promptly set up a Task Force to focus on the matter. This was the focus of the first meeting I convened with the CEOs of operating telecom companies on October 8, 2010.

One of the major achievements of that task force was the fast tracking of the regulation on QoS which has been longstanding. With this regulation, every service provider will now be held properly accountable by telecom consumers and the regulator.

SIM card registration:

I also need to mention to you that another important issue which needed my immediate attention was SIM Card registration for which we immediately published the draft regulation for industry consultation. We sort to manage a situation where SIM cards were still being sold in the streets, several months after the Commission set the May 1, 2010 date for operators to commence registration. We want to ensure that all new SIM cards are registered by the operators as mandated and we expect them to render regular account of the numbers registered.

We are now finalizing arrangements to commence registration of all existing SIM Cards from February 2011.

Having said these, I need to share with you, the major focus of the NCC under my leadership and this will guide our short, medium and long term actions, programmes and projects.

What is the new focus for the Commission?

Given the circumstances, exigencies and urgencies required to achieve spread of basic telephony services in the country, the Commission’s focus in the last ten years was directed at growing teledensity with the massive deployment of mobile telephony.

The result of this was the current impressive statistics of over 80 million active lines and more than 110 million connected lines. Teledensity is now above 53 per cent. So, it is safe, therefore, to say we have achieved appreciable voice mobile telephony penetration.

While sustaining this growth, I wish to indicate here that in the next five years, our regulatory focus shall be directed at six key areas: (1) Consolidation and Integration of mobile Wireless Services; (2) Fixed Line and Broadband Deployment for National Development; (3) Enhanced Competitive Market, Enhanced Choice for the Consumer; (4) Vigorous Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement of Regulations and Directions; (5) National Connectivity for Accelerated Growth; (6) Enhanced International Relations;

Can you expatiate on some of these key agenda?

On consolidation and integration of mobile services, the current mobile network in Nigeria is not fully optimized. The nation can derive more value from an enhanced and optimized mobile network, especially with an improved Quality of Service.

The Commission will encourage the upgrade of mobile networks to include 3G data overlays for the implementation of application services including but not limited to mobile payment, estate agency and other entertainment services using the Internet as a plank.

We want to achieve this by implementing the key performance indicators for quality of services that can be possibly monitored independently by the Commission with zero tolerance for non-compliance.

Such wireless network will also deliver enhanced and integrated services to such other national projects such as the Emergency Communications Centres being implemented by the Commission in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja.

What of the fixed line and broadband deployment for national development?

It has been said that Nigeria missed a great opportunity for her inability to massively deploy fixed lines when other development-focused nations of the world did.

While it is true that mobile phone has attained high penetration and usage, for many homes, businesses and companies, there still exists a yawning need for basic fixed line access with its numerous advantages. Also, the premium nature of mobile services contributes to the issue of its affordability compared with fixed lines.

This has led to some despair in many circles about the ability of this nation to catch up with the robustness of a fixed network complemented by mobile. As a matter of deliberate focus, we shall strive to bring fixed lines back to homes, schools, offices, and businesses.

To achieve this, plans for massive deployment of broadband infrastructure will be explored by the Commission.

We are therefore currently working out the details on how to implement this desirable project which would bequeath the nation with an accomplished and robust telephone network for national development.

This means that the nation will expect more licenses coming out from the Commission, while investors are being informed of new opportunities that the Nigerian market present.

Can you give us the number of licenses so to expect before the end of this year?

No, as it is we cannot say categorically that this is the figure or number of licenses to expect from the Commission until the process takes off and even concludes. But be assured that more new licenses will be issued this year.

Most of the industry groups like the Association of Telecom Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) and Association of Licensed Telecom Companies of Nigeria (ALTON) have severally noted that registration of SIM cards by the operators is a diversion of their competence and resources. So, they were expecting incentives for their members, especially the operators in this regard?

As far as the Commission is concerned there is no incentive for any kind for the SIM card registration. Before then, there was a meeting at the office of the National Security Adviser to the President and all the operators where invited. In fact, it was only chief executive officers (CEO) meeting; if you are not a CEO, you are not allowed into the meeting and the modalities where spelt out and they know it and there is nothing like incentives for them for now.

As a follow-up, the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) operators are dying is NCC planning any form of bail out for them?

NCC has chosen the path of technology neutrality and CDMA is a technology and business decision. So, for now, there is no bail out for any operator using any form of technology. They have the opportunity or option to deploy any other technology which they think is more favourable to their business decision.

On the enhanced competitive market, enhanced choices for the consumer?

There is need to enhance the competition in the market place today. Competition brings about the best in all the operators. Competition also breeds best atmosphere for the consumer.

Enhanced competition in the market and availability of choice is a statement of intention to fight for the interest of the consumer. Cost has always been the greatest complaint of the average consumer in Nigeria.

We shall make efforts to ensure that costs continue to drop. In a true competitive environment, there is no reason why prices will not drop. When you have true competition, prices will drop. We will continue vigorously pursue programmes that will deepen competition and bring down prices, such as introduction of more operators and programmes such as number portability. We want to address this through strategic actions aimed at improving competition and accountability of the service providers to the consumers of their products and services.

In this regard, we shall improve on some areas of outreach between the service providers and consumers to ensure that consumers are fully aware of their rights. Such issues like deployment of more customer care centres by the operators, as subscriber bases increase, will be pursued with more vigour.

On vigorous compliance monitoring, enforcement of regulations and directions?

We have observed a major lapse in the disposition of the service providers towards compliance to regulations or directions issued by the Commission. This is as a result of a combination of factors, including sanctions for none compliance that are not commensurate to the degree of breach. This is prevalent in spite of the fact that same service providers are fully consulted during the processes of formulation of the regulations.

In some cases, factors attributable to the harsh operating environment have put the regulator at the long end of wielding the big stick. It would therefore appear that the service providers have taken this soft approach towards enforcement and compliance to regulations for granted in the discharge of their responsibilities to the nation, the Commission and the consumers.

We need to state clearly that it will no longer be business as usual. As we move into the next focus of regulation with emphasis on compliance, the Commission under us, will give a lot of emphasis on compliance monitoring and strict enforcement of extant regulations and directions. Since these regulations were products of wide consultation, it is incumbent on the Commission to see to their full compliance.

A lot of consumer issues prevalent in the industry today are as a result of tardy compliance to regulations instituted by the regulator. The situation must change and all the stakeholders in the industry will need to inject a new corporate governance approach towards compliance to existing regulations and directions.

Why NCC set up Compliance department?

To give a push in this aspiration the Monitoring and Compliance Department recently set up by the Commission is being equipped with the human and material resources needed for effective performance of their jobs in line with the new focus of the Commission. Regulations and directives of the Commission will not only be obeyed, but seen to be obeyed.

In cases where regulations are not equipped with adequate sanctions to compel adherence or recompense, we are going to look at those regulations with a view to effecting reviews as quickly as possible.

How do you intend to achieve the national connectivity for accelerated growth?

One of the key milestones in the measurement of the attainment of the vision statement of the Commission is in the reduction of distance to access to telecommunications services for every Nigerian.

Achieving national connectivity through deployment of fibre rings across the nation and cascading broadband and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure will form our road map in promoting availability and access for national economic and social development.

The programmes and projects of the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) secretariat, the Wire Nigeria (WIN) project and the State Accelerated Broadband Initiative (SABI), will form the plank for this major focus aimed at accelerated access provisioning in Nigeria. These projects will be restructured to give them more verve to achieve these objectives within realistic timelines. General roll out of broadband access will be encouraged as we focus in this area.

Essence of open access model?

We are currently working with some international consultants to implement a structured approach for a regulatory framework for optic fibre deployment including an exploratory review of the relevance of the “open access model” to Nigeria.

The “open access model” is a framework for infrastructure sharing where fibre optic cable carriers share the infrastructure used in the deployment of their fibre cables. This model can be designed to bridge the gaps in broadband deployment through central deployment to mid and small sized operators at subsidized pricing. The model provides services to operators on a fair and non discriminatory basis.

Without a robust national connectivity, the nation will not derive maximum benefits from the availability of major submarine fibre cables with landing points in Nigeria, and many others expected to land in the nation’s shores. This is why that Commission will intensify efforts to achieve appreciable national connectivity in the next five years.

How to enhance international relations?

Under our administration, we shall give more vents to our international relations and interactions. The benefit of this focus translates in the attraction of investments, projects and good image to the country.

With our population and positioning in Africa, the visibility of our country, especially within the international telecom decision making bodies and organizations need to be enhanced. In this direction, we will reconstruct our approach to international telecom relations with a view to sharpening our visibility and playing in the main stream of international relations for the Commission and country.

It is also in this direction that our delegation met recently in Mexico at the 10th Plenipotentiary Meeting with the Secretary General of the International Telecommunications Union, ITU, Dr. Hamadoun Toure, for the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI) in Nigeria to be conferred the status of Centre of Excellence.

Our roles in such sub-regional bodies like West Africa Telecommunications Regulatory Assembly (WATRA), will be enhanced as the pioneer of such organization as we now have some Nigerian companies rolling out services across the Nigerian borders.

The role of NCC under your leadership?

What I have tried to do here is to give some few areas of focus. This is by no means the complete portfolio of our focus. You know our role is to also advise government on major issues in telecommunications and ICT development. We shall continue to work with government as a major stakeholder.

You may be aware that the Ministry of Information and Communications is currently reviewing the National Telecommunications Policy. Some of our programmes will be guided by the recommendations of the new policy when it is launched.

There are some ideals with which this Commission is known, such as transparency, openness, fairness, firmness, and forthrightness. We will continue to cherish those ideals because they are an integral part of the credo of the Commission.

Appeal to stakeholders?

I also want to use this opportunity to request your support for all the programmes and activities of the Commission.

We will continue to work with the media as a partner in achieving our goals because you form a critical stakeholder in our regulatory activities. I will also request you to be very objective in your coverage of the industry.

So, I invite you to share in our aspirations to create awareness among all our stakeholders, especially the consumers of telecommunications services in the country.

ITREALMS Online ... delivering news for ICT4D

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Juwah unveils six-point agenda

•Declares zero tolerance for non-compliance

The Executive Vice Chairman (EVC), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Eugene Juwah has unveiled a six-point agenda expected to moderate his tenure as the helmsman of the commission.

He was quick to declare his regime’s zero tolerance for non-compliance of regulatory directives.

Addressing newsmen in Lagos at the weekend, he said that the agenda would form his leadership strategies to guide major focus of short, medium and long term actions, programmes and projects during his tenure.

Juwah noted that NCC in the last 10 years was directed at growing teledensity with the massive deployment of mobile telephony, which resulted in an impressive statistics of over 80 million active lines and more than 110 million connected lines.

“Teledensity is now above 53 per cent. It is safe, therefore, to say we have achieved appreciable voice mobile telephony penetration,” he declared.

Hence, he said, NCC would be working towards sustaining this growth, but the next five years, under his leadership and regulation will focus on six key areas, namely consolidation and integration of mobile wireless services; fixed line and broadband deployment for national development; and enhanced competitive market as well as choice for the consumers.

Additionally, Juwah outlined three other areas of focus to include vigorous compliance monitoring and enforcement of regulations and directions, national connectivity for accelerated growth, enhanced international relations.

Speaking further on consolidation and integration of mobile services, he said, currently mobile networks in Nigeria are not fully optimized.

“The nation can derive more value from an enhanced and optimized mobile network, especially with an improved Quality of Service,” he said, stressing that the Commission would encourage the upgrade of mobile networks to include Third Generation (3G) based data overlays for the implementation of application services including but not limited to mobile payment, estate agency and other entertainment services using the Internet as a plank.

“We want to achieve this by implementing the key performance indicators for quality of services that can be possibly monitored independently by the Commission with zero tolerance for non-compliance,” he asserted.

Equally, he said, such wireless network would also deliver enhanced and integrated services to such other national projects such as the Emergency Communications Centres being implemented by the Commission in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

On fixed lines and broadband deployment for national development, Juwah pointed out that Nigeria missed a great opportunity due to her inability to massively deploy fixed lines when other development-focused nations of the world did.

“While it is true that mobile phone has attained high penetration and usage, for many homes, businesses and companies, there still exist a yawning need for basic fixed line access with its numerous advantages,” he said, underscoring the fact that the premium nature of mobile services contributes to the issue of its affordability compared with fixed lines.

This, Juwah said, has led to some despair in many circles about the ability of this nation to catch up with the robustness of a fixed network complemented by mobile.

And as a matter of deliberate focus, NCC has decided to bring fixed lines back to homes, schools, offices, and businesses, highlighting that to achieve this, plans for massive deployment of broadband infrastructure will be explored by the Commission.

“We are therefore currently working out the details on how to implement this desirable project which would bequeath the nation with an accomplished and robust telephone network for national development,” he said.

As a result of this, he said Nigerians should expect more licenses coming out from the Commission, while investors are being informed of new opportunities that the Nigerian market presents.

On the enhanced competitive market and choices for the consumer, the NCC boss told newsmen that there is need to improve the competition in the market place today.

“Competition brings about the best in all the operators. Competition also breeds best atmosphere for the consumer,” he said, maintaining that enhancing competition in the market and availability of choice is a statement of intention to fight for the interest of the consumer.

“Cost has always been the greatest complaint of the average consumer in Nigeria,” he acknowledged.

While on the vigorous compliance monitoring and enforcement of regulations and directions, Juwah said NCC has observed a major lapse in the disposition of the service providers towards compliance to regulations or directions issued by the Commission.

“This is as a result of a combination of factors, including sanctions for none compliance that are not commensurate to the degree of breach. This is prevalent in spite of the fact that same service providers are fully consulted during the processes of formulation of the regulations,” he explained.

He sounded a note of warning that it would no longer be business as usual as the NCC moves into the next phase of regulation with emphasis on compliance.

“The Commission under us will give a lot of emphasis on compliance monitoring and strict enforcement of extant regulations and directions. Since these regulations were products of wide consultation, it is incumbent on the Commission to see to their full compliance,” he asserted.

On his agenda on national connectivity for accelerated growth, Juwah hinted that one of the key milestones in the measurement of the attainment of the vision statement of the Commission is in the reduction of distance to access to telecommunications services for every Nigerian.

“Achieving national connectivity through deployment of fibre rings across the nation and cascading broadband and ICT infrastructure will form our road map in promoting availability and access for national economic and social development,” he said.

Juwah further said, under his administration, would give more expression to international relations and interactions, saying he hopes the benefit of this focus would translate in the attraction of investments, projects and good image to the country.

To this extent, he said, NCC at the recent 10th Plenipotentiary Meeting in Mexico, had a session with the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Dr. Hamadoun Toure, for the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI) located in Abuja and campuses scattered across the country to be conferred the status of Centre of Excellence.

He submitted that the aforementioned is not by any means the complete portfolio of his focus in the coming years, adding that the role of NCC is to advise government on major issues in telecommunications and ICT development as pertains to the country.

“We shall continue to work with government as a major stakeholder,” he pledged.

Remmy Nweke:
ITREALMS Online ... delivering news for ICT4D
MTN Nigeria Communications Limited recently in Lagos launched a new product tagged magic number and two other offerings. REMMY NWEKE who was there writes that the game of price war may have begun.

Penultimate week, MTN Nigeria Communications Limited made a show of its latest products with top on the agenda being the unveiling of its ‘Magic number’ and two other products.

The magic number, according to MTN officials, makes it possible for customers on the network to pick a given number of interests for free calls. Also, they launched two other pocket-friendly packages comprising MTN Talk-On and MTN Family and Friends.

These products, MTN said, come with tariff structures that bring true value to over 35 million subscribers on the network.

The Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Ahmad Farroukh, who was represented at the occasion by Mr. Bola Akingbade, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer, described the triple offer as a change that is coming to every MTN customer which could be experienced in a tangible way.

He explained that the true value inherent in the tariff discount is that every customer could enjoy the unbeatable value of the MTN Magic Number.

“Every customer can make free on-net calls to and from one number for 30 whole days and nights,” he said.

MTN Talk-On, he said, ensures both conversations and purse strings remain unbroken, stressing that this is because it offers the lowest first minute call rate in the market and an incredible 25k per second for the rest of the day.

Equally, he said, for most customers who may want to keep valuable relationships on the front burner, “MTN Family & Friends is just perfect. This is because with MTN Family & Friends, a customer can make calls at 20k per second only to six registered numbers including one international number and one number from another network.”

Farroukh also said that a customer could still take pleasure in free midnight calls to all MTN numbers, noting that there are no hidden charges or access fees of any sort, adding that the trios are offer of a true value for money.

“It means instant connections to your loved ones and call rates that are first-of-a-kind, never-done-before in the history of telecommunications in Nigeria. From absolutely free calls to and from your loved one on-net, to the lowest first minute call rates, you will once again receive from MTN, the value you deserve – transparent rates without hidden charges or access fees,” Farroukh said.

He pointed out that since 2001, MTN has been committed to offering “true value, the kind that enriches your life in tangible ways, the kind that continues to inspire us to set the pace in Nigerian telecommunications as we have done for 10 years now.”

MTN believes, he said, believes that true value also goes beyond offering the lowest rates in the telecoms market.

“True value includes the most extensive nationwide coverage that serves over 35 million Nigerians in 2, 394 cities, towns and villages. It includes the widest 3G network coverage translating to affordable, high-speed internet services wherever business and pleasure take you. It includes 292 CSR projects sites in all 36 states of Nigeria including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and myriads of sponsorship initiatives in sports, music and several fields of
endeavor,” he said.

Noting that today, it also includes revolutionary tariff plans, underscoring the fact that
revolutionarily they would significantly enrich customers’ treasured relationships and change the face of Nigerian telecommunications once.

Looking back at the inception of MTN in the Nigeria telecommunications scene, the MTN boss reassured customer of improved service delivery.

For lots of industry observers, this triple product launch is the beginning of the journey towards marking its 10th anniversary a favourable one for subscribers on the network with a commitment to always offer this kind of value, the kind that enriches lives and ensures the service that every customer would desire to have.

Speaking further, the Chief Marketing Officer, Bola Akingbade who launched the services on behalf of Ahmad Farroukh, the company’s Chief Executive Officer, Magic Number alongside the other true value packages reflect a desire by MTN to enrich the lives of its customers.

Commenting, the company’s General Manager for Business Intelligence, Mr. Ibrahim Abba Gana explained that from the company’s assessment of calling patterns across telecommunication networks, the operator made a number of key findings which it is now converting to benefits for customers.

For instance, he said, the vast majority of subscribers on the network, comprising up to 80 per cent of subscribers do not call for more than a cumulative one minute every day. “That is, counting the entire number of calls they make in a day together with the entire duration of these calls, the vast majority of telephone subscribers do not call for more than one minute in a day, comprising several calls of a few short seconds only,” he said.

He said that this implies that some class of consumers who incidentally make up the bulk of the customer base of telecommunication operators are ordinarily shortchanged by tariff plans which charge them high tariffs in the first minute in enticing them to enjoy subsequent low tariffs.

“A tariff plan for instance that says that you must pay 60 kobo per second for the first minute before you begin to enjoy tariffs of 20 kobo per second will not benefit this customer segment, because their daily calls seldom exceed two minutes anyway,” Baba Gana said.

But for MTN, he said, what would ordinarily benefit this class of telecom consumers to which majority of Nigerians belong is to provide an opportunity to make calls at very low rates right from the onset of the call, from the moment the call is initiated.

Additionally, Abba Gana said, in considering the calling patterns, MTN had discovered that for most consumers, there are particular numbers to which calls are made on a consistent basis over a long period.

He cited another instance by saying that a man may make regular calls to his wife or partner and vice versa over a consistent period. Indeed such calls, he said, qualify to be a special one which could be made enjoyable with cheaper call rates or entirely free which MTN has chosen.

The Magic Number, MTN officials said is a reflection of the need to add genuine value to customers’ lives by providing them with an avenue to keep in touch with people who are special in their lives at practically no cost.

On how the Magic Number works, he explained that subscriber simply registers the number of the one special person in his life, beginning with the payment of an access fee of N250 and for one month, he or she is able to call that special person for free.

Literally, what this means is that such a person paid only N250 for a one-month call.

Besides, Baba Gana pointed out that special person would be able to call the other for free in the course of the whole month, despite the fact that both subscribers enjoy the free calls benefits of the Magic Number, only one subscriber needs to pay the token access charge of N250.

He emphasised that Magic Number will help to forge closer family affinity in providing people with a means by which to remain connected to each other, freely.

It was not entirely surprising that Magic Number, few days after is eliciting a lot of excitement among telecom consumers in the country.

On MTN’s Family and Friends, officials said at the occasion that this avails customers to simply identify a total of six special numbers, with each of these numbers; the originator would be able to make a call at 20 kobo per second from the very first second of his call.

Out of the six numbers, four should be MTN numbers, and one international number as well as a number from another network. Noteworthy is that at 20 kobo per second an equivalent of N12 per minute, this offer looks very enticing and qualifies lately as very cheapest call rate in the Global System for Mobile (GSM) communications sector in MTN network in recent times.

Though other operators have proclaimed a 20 kobo per second tariff, this only begins to apply after the first minute, which entails that calls are charged at about 60 kobo per second.

Nevertheless, as it is now obvious, the majority of subscribers do not spend more than one minute on the phone on a daily basis and so may actually be victims of a shortchange at the moment.

While customers on MTN’s Family and Friends tariff plan could enjoy themselves with the Magic Number, thereby bringing the number of available relations to engage to seven.

On the third new package which operator named MTN Talk On, which implies it was designed for the upper echelons of the society; people who need to use their phones at length on a daily basis.

In the MTN Talk On, subscribers enjoy a 50 kobo per second tariff for the first minute and thereafter 25 kobo per second. Again subscribers who subscribe to this offer also enjoy the benefit of the Magic Number., which they could choose a Magic Number each month, pay a N250 access charge and call and be called for free from that number for a month.

As we journey into the 10th year of telecom revolution in the country, the expectation has continued to rise from telecom operators as competitors consistently find avenues of bringing tariffs on downward slope.

The bottom line is that which way one may be looking at it, customers’ better days are just nearby.

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Ekeigwe tasks accountants on technology adaptation

Information Technology (IT) audit expert, Mr. Chris Ekeigwe has identified technology as a big challenge to the accounting profession in the country, urging Nigerian accountants to adapt to technology.

This, he said, is to avert accountants’ extinction due to lack of knowledge, just as his firm has disclosed plans to host an empowerment session, tagged Finance Accounting and Audit Technology Conference (FAATech) confab in May this year.

Ekeigwe, who is the chief executive officer, EDP Audit & Security Associates, also said, at a media session weekend that this is more evident because there are software packages that could be installed to take the place of accountants and do even better jobs.

“This is because it’s now possible to put a package or application up to do all the work of an accountant and get non-accountant to manage it, who over time could master process, while you get better results,” he said.

According to him, about 70 per cent of all the frauds committed in banks nowadays were facilitated through technology, stressing that this is so merely because the accountants in those banks have been left in the dust; hence their inability to manage what happens.

“You can’t compete in digital age without technology know-how. You can’t be auditing a bank manually,” he lamented.

Ekeigwe noted that for adequate digital auditing at this era, accountants need to have what he described as electronic eyes to be able to monitor and know where things have gone wrong.

Presently, he said that Nigeria lacks sufficient accountants equipped with the technology wherewithal, even as he wondered how such an accountant would cope in a computerized bank or telecom environment.

Professionals like accountants, he said, needed to be convinced that they require knowledge to survive, asserting that in an information age, wealth is essentially digital.

“So, we need to take technology approach, which means that people have to invest in themselves if we must succeed. We must invest in knowledge,” he said.

Additionally, Ekeigwe enjoined Nigerian professionals, especially accountants to begin the process by investing in the infrastructure that would make the technology change to happen.

It is in this regard, he said, that EDP in effort at proffering solution is organizing a workshop, which he tagged ‘Finance Accounting and Audit Technology (FAATech)’ conference to be hosted in Lagos in May, this year.

As said by him, FAATech 2011, has compelling motivation and message for finance, accounting and audit professionals in the country, stressing that the professions must reverse their technology incompetence, take their rightful position in information systems ecology and lead technology in organisations.

“Or risk being relegated to tawdry professions or to obscurity at the margin of society,” he said.
This, he said, should be of a serious concern to be addressed with a sense of urgency.

FAATech, Ekeigwe pointed out, seeks to galvanize finance, accounting and audit professionals, leaders and institutions to focus them on technological adaptations vital to their survival, compete and prosper in the digital age.

“We intend to catalyze and motivate positive behaviour towards strategic technology competence for finance, accounting and audit professionals,” he said.

Maintaining that the clamoured change here, goes beyond word processing and spreadsheet skills, Ekeigwe noted that those are not strategic empowering technologies because they have been commoditized.

“The urgency of the times demands that we take necessary developmental steps to inject and entrench strategic technology competences in the profile of the finance, accounting and audit professionals now,” he said.

Ekeigwe concluded by citing the former vice president of United States, Al Gore, who said that nobody competes in capitalism without capital, just as “we cannot compete in the information age without technology competence.”

The future of accounting as a profession, Ekeigwe said, depends much on the degree to which accountants become technology competent and called on professionals to stand up to the technological challenges of this time.

Remmy Nweke:
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‘Opera to increase presence in Nigeria’

Web Evangelist, Opera Software, Mr. Zi Bin Cheah has revealed that the company plans to increase its presence in Nigeria, reports CHARLES OKOH.

He said apart from ranking as the second highest user of Opera Mini in Africa and eighth globally, the nation is a market to watch.

Cheah who was speaking recently in Lagos, said African region is an important and growing market for Opera Software.

He also said in the year up to December 2010, Opera Mini page views in the top 10 countries of Africa increased by 365 per cent, unique users increased by 176 per cent and data transferred increased by 331 per cent.

“So it will continue to be a focus. We are also looking at ways to increase our presence in Nigeria. Nigeria is the second highest user of Opera Mini in Africa and 8th globally and certainly a country to watch,” he said

Cheah said the Opera Mini, which is a browser on the mobile phone has grown on a year to year growth from October, 2009 to October 2010 by more than 200 per cent on number of users, page views and number of data transfer.

He also said apart from helping Nigerians to develop some innovative mobile ideas, they also want to come to Nigeria and understand what is going on in the market.

“Nigeria is one of our top markets so we did a study called state of the mobile web where we captured our markets in different countries with regards to the mobile web. We realized some interesting facts from the reports about Nigerians. We observed that Nigeria has the highest search-related pages amongst our biggest markets. So what it means is that Nigerians, probably, they are the people that like to search the most using our browser that is why more than 35 per cent of the pages Nigerians browse are search-related,” he said.

Cheah said the study also found that both Nigerians and Americans tend to save the most when they use the Opera Mini.

“What I mean by saving cost is that Opera Mini is a browser that does compression. For example, if I go to CNN.com Opera Mini will not download CNN.com directly from CNN.com server. It will go to Opera Mini server, fetch the pages from CNN server and compress it by 80 to 90 per cent. From that perspective the user would save money and data,” he said.

On the relevance of Opera Mini with the coming of broadband in the country, he said Opera Mini would become more popular because it is not just on mobile phone but also on computer, game devices, TV set up boxes, four wheel drive TV screens amongst others.

“We are really the browser on every device. So, when broadband becomes more available we would see more users on more devices and that make us happier and also we believe that as broadband picks up mobile browsing would continue to grow very strongly,” he said,

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Facebook harvests N228.3bn from investors

Leading social network medium, Facebook has raised $1.5bn (N228.3bn) from investors, valuing the world’s most popular social networking site at about $50bn, writes CHARLES OKOH with agency report.

About $1bn of the total came from overseas clients of Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street investment bank handling the share sale.

The remaining $500m came from Goldman itself, and Russia’s Digital Sky Technologies.

Facebook said it could have raised more money from the oversubscribed offer.

Facebook’s chief financial officer, David Ebersman said its business continues to perform well and they are pleased to be able to bolster its cash position with this new financing.

“With this investment completed, we now have greater financial flexibility to explore whatever opportunities lie ahead,” he said.

The company said that it had “no immediate plans” for the proceeds from the fundraising, but would “continue investing to build and expand its operations”.

It added that it would begin filing public financial reports on April 30, 2012.

The New York Times reported the Goldman and Digital Sky Technologies investment earlier this month.

At $50bn, Facebook would be worth more than eBay and Time Warner.

Meanwhile, Mark Hevnenwas reported as saying that Facebook wants a better mobile experience for more people on its platform.

“We want people to have a great mobile experience no matter what type of phone they carry. Smartphones have offered better features for sharing with friends but aren’t used by most people around the world,” he said.

Last weekend, he said, Facebook launched a new mobile application to bring Facebook to the most popular mobile phones around the world.

“The Facebook for Feature Phones application works on more than 2,500 devices from Nokia, Sony Ericsson, LG and other manufacturers, and it was built in close cooperation with Snaptu,” he said.

The application he explained provides a better Facebook experience for most popular features, including an easier-to-navigate home screen, contact synchronization, and fast scrolling of photos and friend updates.

“We also wanted to make it available to as many people as possible. Similar to Facebook.com site we’ve worked with mobile operators from around the world to let you try this without paying for any data charges,” he said.

According to him the project is a 14-mobile operators led offering which has free data access when using the new Facebook mobile application during the first 90 days after they launch.

During the next few months, Facebook, he said, plans to make the application available through more carriers in other countries so end-users who could have a great mobile Facebook experience no matter what device they may use.

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SIM card registration: 11m subscribers covered so far

Almost eight months after the commencement of Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) card registration, Nigeria has recorded an estimated 11 million subscribers.

This is coming as the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), has advanced plans for takeoff of its own SIM registration come February this year.

The Executive Vice Chairman (EVC), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Eugene Juwah made this disclosure in Lagos in an interactive session with the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) media.

He also said that top on his agenda at NCC is the issue of Quality of Service (QoS), which paved the way for his setting up of a task force on quality of service as soon as he resumed at the commission.

According to him, one of the terms of reference for the task force on QoS was to discuss how the quality of telecom services could be improved for the benefit of Nigerian subscribers.

Juwah noted that this was the focus of the first meeting he convened with the chief executive officers (CEOs) of operating telecom companies on October 8, 2010.

“One of the major achievements of that task force is the fast tracking of the regulation on QoS, which has been longstanding,” he said, stressing that with this regulation, every service provider would now be held properly accountable by telecom consumers and the regulator.

Another important issue which needed immediate attention on his assumption of office, Juwah said, was SIM Card registration for which NCC immediately published the draft regulation for industry consultation.

“We sort to manage a situation where SIM cards were still being sold in the streets, several months after the Commission set the May 1, 2010 date for operators to commence registration,” he said.

NCC, therefore want to ensure that all new SIM cards are registered by the operators as mandated and expect them to render regular account of the numbers registered.

He pointed out that NCC is now finalizing arrangements to commence registration of all existing SIM Cards from February 2011.

Business Champion recalls that on Thursday, July 29, 2010, the Nigerian Senate, at a sitting in Abuja, confirmed Dr. Eugene Ikemefuna Juwah as the new Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

This follows the controversy that trailed his screening by the Senate Committee on Communications, which resulted in disbanding due to purported irregularities and poor screening.

Juwah’s confirmation brought to an end the four–month search for replacement of Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, the erstwhile chief executive of the Commission whose two-term tenure ended in March, 2010.

In addition, Juwah was confirmed alongside other nominees for the vacant positions of two commissioners at the telecom regulatory agency board, namely Mr. Peter Egbe Igho, a retired Permanent Secretary from Benue State who replaces Alhaji Ahmed Joda as Chairman, Mr. Okechukwu Itanyi, former Deputy Governor of Enugu State, who replaced Mr. Stephen Bello as Executive Commissioner, and Alhaji Mohammed Bintube from North East who took the place of Mr. Patrick Kentebe as Commissioner.

Dr. Juwah, with about 30 years hands-on experience as a telecoms engineer is seen by the Presidency as having the necessary credentials to manage Nigeria’s telecom regulatory agency and maintain its international reputation.

The Delta State born telecom expert with a doctorate degree in Systems Engineering from the University of Manchester, England, served as a Member, Subcommittee for Telecommunication Sector Liberalization and Restructuring in Nigeria in 2002, the committee that laid the solid foundation for the liberalization of the industry and enactment of the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003.

Equally, with his 30 years telecom experience in Nigeria spanning from the early 1990s when he managed the network operations of MTS Firsts wireless’ ETACS mobile telephony to the late 1990s when he superintended over the deployment of CIL, till the early 2000 when he managed the deployment of Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) network, which gave rebirth to MTS, Dr. Juwah is seen to have traversed the entire Nigeria’s telecom industry.

Knowledgeable in digital exchanges, base station, data communication and subscriber access networks construction and operations, Dr. Juwah has played coordinating roles in the set up of an ETACS, GSM and CDMA Mobile Networks in Nigeria at various times in Nigeria.

This was in addition to his roles in practical pricing, billing, interconnection, licensing and regulatory affairs and network fraud control within the Nigerian environment.

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