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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Challenges before ATCON

Features of the week:

Members of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) weekend, elected some crop of new officers to lead them for the next two years. REMMY NWEKE examines in this report the challenges before the new leadership.

After several postponements, ATCON eventually held its annual general meeting corresponding with a general election, leading to the emergence of new set of executives.

All things being equal, the new executive would remain in office until 2008 when another election is expected.

The election conducted under the eagle eyes of the chief executive of Telecom Answers Associates/The Executive Cyberschuul, Mr. Titi Omo-Ettu-led five-man electoral committee were made up of Mr. Aliyu Odusu of General Telecom, Mr. Akinlabi Osugun of Siemens Nigeria, Mr. Chukwudi Ebere Nweke of Best Communications and Ms Ifeoma Nwokike of Mobile Telecommunications Limited (MTel).

Outcome:
The outcome of the election saw the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC), Teledom Group, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem-led executive mounting the saddle of leadership.

His election came after a tie with major contender for same position, Chief Chima Onyekwere of Linkserve Limited, of which they initially scored 18 votes apiece.

But following a repeat of the voting process, Dr. Ekuwem came top with three votes to make a difference over the 16 votes scored by Chief Onyekwere.

Also elected into the Ekuwem’s team is Mr. Bayo Banjo of Discom as the first Vice President, Mr. Gerry Ekesinai as second Vice President and Mr. Babajide Odekunle who was returned unopposed as the national secretary.

Mr. Banjo also contested with Mrs. Nkoli Muoka of EiL Telecom and won with 26 votes against 10, while Mr. Remi Okunlola, formerly coordinator, Consulting Group who initially sought nomination to the national secretary position but had to withdraw for a higher stake in the first vice president, prior to Banjo’s nomination, eventually lost out following another tactical withdrawal he made at the last minute.

Equally in the new executive of ATCON that emerged weekend is Mrs Adeyinka Adeyegbe who was returned as Treasurer, while Messrs Sunday Gbenjo, Yinka Okoture, and Akinbiyi Oloko were elected as sub-group co-ordinators for the Customer Equipment Dealers, Consulting and Manufacturing in that order, while Chief Ezekiel Fatoye of MultiLink retained his position in the Licensed Telephone Operator among others.

ATCON:
Established on December 10, 1993, ATCON has as its objectives to bring together under one umbrella, all companies in the field of telecommunications and auxiliary services for the purpose of achieving meaningful development in the telecommunications industry in Nigeria.

ATCON would strive to actively promote organized private sector participation in the expansion of the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure, so as to encourage professionalism and evolve adequate training programmes for the personnel engaged in the industry.

As well, it speaks formally for the members of the group and co-operate with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in ensuring effective and efficient co-ordination and regulation of telecommunications services in the country.

Mysteries:
And as the new exco adjusts themselves into their respective positions, there seems to be an avalanche of challenges awaiting them including those members with divergent views on several issues in the sector.

Top on the agenda would be the following to logical conclusion the mysteries surrounding the death of the group’s immediate past president, Chief Charles Alaba Joseph, who was murdered in active service, last September 15.

Also to ensure that the foundation, which came out of late Chief Joseph’s burial contributions with a balance of N428,000, which the immediate National Executive Council (NEC) earmarked for the institution of a foundation with the approval of his family, takes off as expected.

Taxation and NICOMM:
Worthy of note is the need to resuscitate ATCON members’ interest in its annual international telecommunications seminars, workshops and exhibitions under the aegis of Nigerian International Communication (NICOMM), in addition to positioning itself as an international event.

According to the Vice Chairman African Global Systems for Mobile (GSM) Association, Mr. Ogugua Chioke, these agencies see telcos especially GSM operators as elephants that needed downsizing from all ramifications; be it installation of mast and laying of pipes across the roads.

Vibrancy:
As much the kind of vibrancy being enjoyed by stakeholders as the industry deregulate should be sustained if not further pushed up to ensure its membership evolves modern technologies in their deployment of services. This would no doubt place the country in leapfrogging state rather than trying to catch-up with the rest of the world.

“Our approach will be to use this strategy to influence government policies to ensure a fair and transparent competing environment,” Onyekwere declared.

Taking this step, therefore, would amount to encouraging its members to take interest in the body politics of the nation and its day-to-day running to eschew what is being experienced now whereby foreign IT bill, for instance, is being renamed for the nation’s environment without due process and thought.

Opitimising ULR:
This, to a very large extent would move the industry and nation generally forward, especially now that the Unified Licensing Regime (ULR) is here with us; its viability would depend on ATCON’s involvement and activeness of its members in making good use of this option, which for a long time has been clamoured for by stakeholders.

Then, come the issue of interconnection, which must be put to rest to shun bickering among members while that of indebtedness by members must be brought to a roundtable to be resolved once and for all, whereas telcos should thrive to keep to deals made afterwards.

Education and SMEEIS fund
Education of stakeholders via seminars and workshops should not be taken for granted but seriously to avail them especially members of ATCON the opportunity of tapping first hand the values attached to the ULR and the need to reintegrate their operations to become comfortable to today’s Nigerian telecommunications end-users.

Thereby encouraging those who still shy away from belonging to ATCON to take the front row in its activities.

According to him, fund would be driven from the Small and Medium Enterprises Equity Investment Scheme (SMEEIS) which is worth billions of Naira but are lying untapped and made up of 10 per cent after tax deductions from enterprises in the country.

Facilitation of soft-loans would also be a bold effort at made-in-Nigeria facilities to be used in the industry during this tenure as promised, even as working towards establishing a good percentage of SMEIS funds to be zoned to telecom industry would be an added value.

As such, stakeholders fora made up of ATCON, NCC and banks should be organized for the co-option of these agencies, while stimulating modalities for partnerships. Most especially tapping into its patronship of Mr. Jim Ovia of Zenith Bank International and member of Nigerian Bankers Committee.

Broadband availability:
ITRealms Online recalled that Dr. Ekuwem also said that his passion for affordability and availability of broadband, drove him to contest for the top-most position, therefore ATCON should be able to tap from his experiences in broadband-based Information and Communication Technology (ICT) deployment, which he declared should form part of the fundamental human rights of the citizenry.

Repositioning
The Ekuwem-led team should continue from where the immediate leadership of late Alaba Joseph and Alhaji Adamu M. Yahaya stopped, as noted by the re-elected national secretary, Mr. Odekunle in his report of the NEC for the last two years, so as to make ATCON the envy of other sub-regional telecommunications organizations by strengthening its secretariat both with relevant manpower development and positioned as authority at various levels of telecommunications.

Thereby increasing the revenue of the group from its present mere cash at hand of N112,671 as at March 31, as well as increasing its membership from just 36 as purportedly accredited during the election.

Conclusion:
Like the late president Joseph canvassed and which was further stressed by Mr. Odekunle in a tribute to his late boss, “While we are pursing a Unified Licensing Regime, let us also reflect on the potentials of having a Unified Telecommunications Industry” so that even if nothing else, for the sake of Charles Joseph and stakeholders at large, backed by his able first vice president, Mr. Bayo Banjo, Dr. Ekuwem’s team expects loyalty of stakeholders as the new president hopes to live up to expectation, promising an open-door leadership, and plans to co-opt his rival during the election, Chief Onyekwere, to ensure that progressive steps are taken in reformation of the group and Nigerian telecom sector in its entirety.

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