Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Waiting for NBC, NCC merger

Features of the week:

As the nation warms up for end of another democratic dispensation come May 29, one thing stakeholders have been waiting for is the merging of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), reports REMMY NWEKE.

ON Tuesday, August 29, 2006, the federal government inaugurated a task force charged with the responsibility of developing a blueprint to restructure the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry in the country.

The task force went into action and came up with sub-committees, consisting of those charged with the terms of reference of identifying areas of modern innovations in the sector, that “enjoy common mode of operation with a view to ascertaining and stating the implications and viability of establishing a common regulatory regime for such mode of operation.”

Members of this task force were drawn from the Computer Professionals (Registration Council) of Nigeria (CPN), Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) and Nigeria Internet Group (NIG) as well as the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) among others; from where the sub-committees emerged.

Investigations by our correspondent based on the final report made to the government was for the creation of new ICT Ministry, although the committee was yet to submit its final report before the recent restructuring of ministries was announced, leading to the merging of the Information and Communications ministries into one in the last quarter of 2006.

Speaking on this, stakeholders noted that although the government has taken a step, but that was not their expectation as there is a clear-cut line between the dissemination of government information and communications as a distinct structures, just as it is different from Information and Communication Technologies.

And for this to be actualised, the implementation structures such as NCC and NBC, required to be seen as one to avoid duplication of ideas and regulations.

Currently, while NBC is in charge of broadcasting licenses in the country, NCC is in charge of telecommunications, which nowadays has transcended mere provision of voice telephone lines by incorporating transmission of data and voice through online broadcasting, also known as pod casting via the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) among others.

Stakeholders endorse plan to merge NBC, NCC
Hence, it was not out of place when the umbrella body of core Information Technology (IT) groups known as NCS, during its 2006 awards’ nite in December, expressed support for ICT and called for merging of NBC and NCC, as well as support for convergence regime.

What the nation needs now is an ICT ministry borne out of convergence, according to the NCS president, Dr. Chris Nwannenna, who expressed the support of the group for the on-going reforms of the present administration, adding that the recent restructuring of the Ministries of Information and Communications does not augur well for the nation without the merger of these two government agencies.

He pointed out that NCS believes strongly that the answer to the nation’s aspirations for ICT development would be actualized through the ICT ministry.

He said that the new ministry as proposed should comprise NCC, NBC and NITDA, insisting that NCS is still “of the view that an ICT ministry would be the best for the country.” Just as he lamented the inability of the government to wait for the final report of the task force inaugurated last August before announcing the restructuring in the ministries of Information and Communications.

Dr. Nwannenna, who also is the chief executive of Condata Systems Limited, told our correspondent, that though the details of the current restructuring has not be made available to the public, he does not believe that the task force report was taken into consideration in making the decision, even as he maintained that convergence is the way to go now.

NIG, ALTON drum support
Other industry organizations drumming up support for NBC, NCC merger include the Nigeria Internet Group (NIG) and Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) to mention a few.

They described the proposal as a welcome development and timely so as to boost the ICT sector as well as place the nation among its contemporaries of ICT evolving countries.

Commenting on this, ALTON chairman, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, told Champion Infotel that his group endorses the plan as long as it is properly done and devoid of unnecessary politicking.

“We have seen what the NCC has done and the future of broadcasting and communication has become one in our environment and it is good to work ahead,” he asserted, insisting that practically if it is properly done, there is no doubt that ALTON would definitely support it.

For NIG president, Mr. Lanre Ajayi, who expressed optimism that other stakeholders would idealistically support the initiative to merge NBC and NCC, said, he believes that almost everybody would be disposed to the convergence of these institutions.

He pointed out that any thing contrary to the merger would see the two institutions functions over-lapping.

“Don’t forget you can now watch TV on the Internet and listen to radio also on the Internet,” he declared, stressing that it is simply logical that NBC and NCC should merge for a better developmental result.

NIG also insisted on the merger of NBC and NCC, saying that convergence of the Information and Telecommunications Technologies is real.

It also said that in the recommended merger, NCC, as a name should be retained, stressing that communications embraces both telecoms and broadcasting.

In addition NIG which was founded in 1995, called for the merger of relevant ministries into the ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) being agitated by NCS.

“It’s now possible to use a mobile phone to listen to radio, use as a phone to browse the Internet and watch television,” Mr. Ajayi explained.

The group in a position paper made available to our correspondent on the restructuring of the telecommunications, broadcasting and Information Technology (IT) industries, noted that nowadays, with video and audio streaming over the Internet, “every one and anyone can be a broadcaster to a global audience.”

NIG stressed that if the technologies are converging, it’s just “natural that related institutions should converge,” hence it recommended that all the ICT related institutions converge under the same ministry which they suggested the name of ‘ICT ministry.’

Nweke’s optimism
During his first official visit to telecommunications operators in Lagos recently since assuming office as the Minister of Information and Communications, Mr. Frank Nweke Jnr, expressed optimism that the merger would soon come to fruition and the federal government’s determination to move the industry forward would ensure that NBC and NCC become one organ.

He disclosed that the federal government is gearing up towards actualization of this dream due to convergence, although he was not specific on the date as at when the merger would be concluded, yet industry watchers had predicted that this would be before May 29, when the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo is expected to handover power.

Adducing reasons for government’s plan while on a visit to Mike Adenuga Towers (MAT), Victoria Island, Lagos, Mr. Nweke Jnr, said the merging of NBC and NCC into an entity has become necessary following the similarity of concept and convergence of ICT.

In addition, he said the proposal would further strengthen the adaptation of technologies by Nigerians.

Equally, the Director, Information Technology (IT) unit at the newly restructured ministry of Information and Communications, Mrs. Ibukun Odusote, while lauding the step by the federal government, said in Lagos, recently, that the emergence of the ministry is a political move, which is still in the papers as no actual implementation has taken place structurally.

She believes that the NBC and NCC merger has become imperative, even as computation of government process, would help stem corruption in the land and precisely in the public service sector and as matter of fact, it’s facing stiff opposition.

As being anticipated, the only thing left for this Obasanjo administration in the country is to correct itself in the understanding of what is ICT and Information and Communications aspect of the government.

This step would begin with the merger of NBC and NCC, followed by the redefining of the new agency roles, bearing in mind that there is a great difference between the evolution called ICT and government propaganda machineries known as ‘information’ ministry.

Although every tide seems to favour the NCC as the agency to absorb NBC, this, industry watchers, believe is based on the level of development NCC has brought to the lives of the ordinary citizens through its programmes and policies, even as this is expected to increase with the merger, especially on the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

So, the earlier we realize this fact, the better for proper structuring of the government agencies and growth of the country technologically.

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