Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Lessons for MPs on ICT4D

Recent happenings at the National Assembly indicated that Legislators in the country need some lessons in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for a sustainable development, writes REMMY NWEKE.

OVERTLY, learning has been described as a continuous process, by various experts, but then, it is not for those who should know in a given subject to goof. Hence, information is regarded as one of the essentials of learning, and as such a key and anybody who does not have the requisite information or key thereof, may not be allowed to enter the dome, such as a nation’s legislative house; be it at the local government level, state or even national where there exist two chambers of lower and upper houses.

Probably as part of a New Year resolution, a Member of Parliament (MP) at the lower chamber of the National Assembly (NA), who also is the chairman, Information and National Orientation at the House of Representatives, Hon. Dino Melaye, recently expressed determination to make an inroad politically as he commenced this year’s legislative session with a call for a probe of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and re-organisation of the telecom regulatory organ, which fundamentally belong to him as a Nigerian and a legislator.

He also adduced some reasons to include among other things that NCC has become a branch for the telecom service operators in the land instead of a distinct regulator and protector of the Nigerian consumers, in addition, the man at the helm of affairs has purportedly exceeded the public service age limit of 60. He alleged as well that the nation lost an estimated N1.7 billion due to the five-year pioneer status granted Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) operators; still he accused NCC of being at the root and apparently an evidence that the Commission under Ndukwe has somewhat become operators ‘unseen’ hand against the populace.

These allegations formed part of Melaye’s intended proposal to the house and was shared with the media during a parley, barely 24 hours before the motion was to be made at the floor of the house.

Subsequently, the lower chamber aborted Hon. Melaye’s plans to raise his motion claiming that he breached the House Rule by calling a press conference over his intention. In response to this, Melaye came up with the claim that NCC has infiltrated the lower chamber with incentives not to allow the motion.

NCC in its response, said “We are not afraid of probe,” especially from the National Assembly, because it is constitutional, according to the Chief Executive Officer, NCC, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, while fielding questions from newsmen on the allegations in Lagos.

Ndukwe also said, that looking back since his assumption, there was nothing to be afraid of even as the National Assembly has the right under the constitution of this country to probe any government agency as it may deem necessary, including NCC.

His office, Ndukwe noted, is a political appointment and as a matter of fact there are other more elderly professionals holding various positions in government as at today, insisting that he would remain in office as long as it pleases Mr. President.

He revealed that before now, there had been a similar petition bordering on the above claims by Melaye to the Presidency, of which the Secretary to the government had since clarified that he had the mandate of Mr. President to complete his tenure.

On the allegation that NCC bribed members of the House of Representatives, which was why Hon. Melaye was not able to table his motion as proposed, Dr. Ndukwe said that such a thing never happened as he was out of the country most of the period on official assignment and wondered who would have authorized such ‘a useless venture’ in the first place, because NCC hold honourable members in high esteem and will not even think of such thing in the first instance. He maintained that nobody in the commission would attempt to embark on such a journey of bribing anybody, especially the members of National Assembly.

“So, who do you even bribe and leave the other,” he wondered, appealing to those opposing the current stand of the commission under his leadership to exercise patience as very soon, the second term of his office will be over. “Then, we shall see the person who will do the magic the self-styled apostles are asking for.”

By end of March 2010, Ndukwe is billed to have completed his second term in office, even as at the end of January 2009, Nigeria telecom subscriber has clocked over 64 million, while over N300 billion was made by NCC into the federal government’s coffers via various licenses in the last eight years.

Reacting to the recent news making a round in the telecommunications sector over the allegations by Hon. Melaye, the managing consultant of information technology-driven EDP Audit & Security Associates, Mr. Christian C. Ekeigwe, illustrated what the experience was like at the ‘dark age’ of telecommunications in Nigeria.

Ekeigwe recounted an ordeal before the transparent liberalisation in an online forum, Naija Information Technology Professionals and noted that his first mobile phone line was the 090 series, which cost about N300,000, despite waiting for weeks to be activated after payment. Eventually, he had, at least, eight NITEL land lines, which cost was put at about N150,000 each, even as they were acquired after an earlier one could not be fixed.

“I had to have a NITEL contractor on retainership and a staff whose job was to show up at NITEL Ikeja office every day, either report fault, pay bill, reconcile accounts, follow up, among other things on full time; just to have windows of uptime with any of the NITEL lines,” he said.

And looking back at the recent development in the nation’s telecommunications industry, Ekeigwe celebrated how easy it is now to simply pay for any of the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) 3G Internet access charge while on transit at Abuja Hilton, which took less than five (5) minutes.

“That was my backup to the Hilton Piano Bar hot spot and RJ45 cable in my room at the hotel, plus Blackberry if I chose to have one ....” he stressed, saying that it is now really a great time to be alive in Nigeria, thanks to God for the enablement for communications technology, then former President Olusegun Obasanjo, although most Nigerians may not like him, but he was instrumental to that technology change, thus deserves the credit as well as Ndukwe for steering the boat well.

Ekeigwe noted also that before the true liberalisation of the industry which commenced at the current democratic dispensation, Internet was luxury, while having access for checking electronic mail was a status symbol. Invariably, NITEL staff were gods to be honored to make a simple call.

“Put simply, Nigeria was in a communications Dark Age,” he recalled, pointing out that as a victim of that dark moment, he empathize with the NCC’s Executive Vice Chairman, Ndukwe over the allegations.

“Let us assume he has made mistakes, I forgive him for there is no man walking the face of the earth without mistakes, not when you had to work at such a hectic pace to move a society from stone age to civilization. Ndukwe deserves our respect,” he advised Nigerians.

For Dele de Oracle, a member of the forum, Ndukwe should have focused attention on the allegations at hand and not achievement. Stressing that Ndukwe should have realized that Nigeria is a country where hardwork sometimes is not honoured and develop to the point of envy.

As said by Dele, introducing age to the discussion shows that some people might have personal issues against him, while on the tax holiday, he said the government committed blunders because the citizens do not see the gains of such tax holidays, hence there is need to raise eye-brows.

“They (citzens) still pay through their nose while some of the monies made by these companies are not re-invested in the country, but carted away,” Dele bemoaned.

Another stakeholder, Mr. Ndubisi Obiorah posited that a Nigerian paid about N300,000 for 090 back then, was not out of extravagance, because an average handset back then was about N100,000, just as the cheapest Motorola was going for about N96,000.
Reminding Nigerians in diaspora that MTS which offered this handsets then was also a monopoly and sold the analogue handsets at hiked prices.

“Even as at 1998, analogue Multi-Links cellphone that operates only in Lagos area was about N138,000; this was the successor to the 0-9-0 scam perpetrated by NITEL and MTS,” he said, noting that in some offices they were not lucky like Ekeigwe as at the 1990s because any new NITEL line went for about N200,000 plus attendant bribery and most office had a dedicated staff whose job was to massage NITEL officials’ egos and palms every blessed day.

He recollected that back then, “NITEL never sent bills; they simply tossed your line to induce you to come in and pay. Any hungry NITEL technical staff could toss your line at any moment and thereby forcing you to bribe him to restore it. Plus you would beg and plead with the almighty NITEL worker to accept your bribe and restore your line.”

Today, Obiorah noted that it is amazing nowadays to see the same NITEL begging people to take landline at N9,000. “I shudder when I recall the horrors of those dark days ... Abeg, kudos to Ndukwe and his team for liberating Nigerians from the bondage of NITEL.”

Obiorah equally argued that it is worrisome that Hon. Melaye should accuse NCC of the decision of the federal government that existed before the coming on board of the current administration at the agency and even get personal.

He emphasized that pioneer status is implemented by the Nigerian Investment Promotions Commission facilitated by the Federal Ministry of Finance, even as the tax holiday granted telecom operators, in this regard were not restricted to few companies in the sector, but enjoyed by the other sectors of the economy.

“It was an incentive to attract investors when Nigeria needed them most. It is most unfortunate that the Hon. member would turn around to suggest that the chief executive of NCC would be held responsible,” NCC spokesman, Mr. Reuben Mouka had retorted. Explaining that pioneer status, that is, tax holiday, is an investment incentive which is offered to virtually any foreign investor on application since the 1970s, thus, nothing new.

Yet another Nigerian ICT enthusiast, Mr. Ayobami Oladejo, opined that EVC Ndukwe had to kill two birds with one stone. “He defended his honor and at the same time set the record straight for all to see,” Oladejo said, concurring that Ndukwe may not be a saint as no other person is, but he obviously will go down in history as a successful regulator.

“He who must throw the first stone should ask what legislators and other arms of government are doing to ensure telecoms operators are liberated from the use of generators to power their base stations? Or NCC will be the agency to do that too?” he wondered, stressing that if the infrastructure is wrong, then, ‘there is always a price to pay.”

Above all, what the Melaye experience has showcased is what the likes of a telecom trainer, Mr. Titi Omo-Ettu would describe as the ‘nonsensical ignorance’ of most of our legislators at all levels of government.

Industry observers see that episode as a very big minus for an occupant of the post of a chairman on Information and National Orientation like Melaye. Although he has his fundamental right to comment or even seek for probe of any government agency, but its more noble to make such request based on correct and current information given his position and moreso, now that the like of DaarSAT is transmitting Parliamentarian sittings live on satellite.

One expects Melaye and company to have been grounded on their interested subjects, may be hire one expert to do the home work for him or at best appoint one special advisor on information for himself or even the committee he presides over and it is highly anticipated that there is available fund for research and development, if not at the National Assembly, there are some from democratic institutions internationally.

This leaves one to wonder on the kind of information he as the presiding officer of the committee must have been feeding his colleagues with when he cannot devote a little time to find out the correct information as in the issues surrounding pioneer status.

Therefore, it is advocated that the two houses at the national level should urgently embark on ICT retreat for its members and if possible make it an annual event, so as to enable them get more acquainted with the issues in motion and push developmental clock forward by facilitating legislations that can engender growth across board.

ITREALMS Online ... delivering news for ICT4D

1 comment:

Sidik said...

I agree there is still cause to worry about the level of development of our telecommunications sector. Notwithstanding that we have achieved over 50.24 teledensity from 0.42, in 1999, we are doing very wrong by world ICT development standards.For our information, we should be aware that ITU is more development-oriented, while we are more growth focused. There is a point where seemingly growth without development starts to become a negative.For example Nigeria rates very low in the recent ITU ( World ICT density) report because our GSM mono service is not enough to raise our density, as we have little or nothing to show in fixed/fixed wireless telephone lines, Broadband internet connectivity whether cable or wireless or satellite, and access to computer hardware is still very basic. We must be able to tell ourselves the truth. For those who find it difficult to look Dr. Ndukwe in the face and speak the truth, they are the real sycophants who are holding us and him hostage. Much has been done by NCC, but by comparative standards to smaller and less endowed African countries, we have much more to do. We mustn't celebrate just yet. Politically in Africa, we are 'giants', but as for real ICT development, we are trailing coutries like Morocco, Tunisia, South Africa and many more smaller countries, whose mention here will be embarrassing to many us and we may lose our appetite for breakfast ,lunch or dinner. The shock will more for those of us who pompously think, Nigerians have got everything made as far as broadband internet is concerned. I was speaking to a member of Social Science faculty at the University of Lagos Akoka, Lagos early December 2009, and I almost dropped dead when he told me that UNILAG as a whole shares 11MB bandwidth. Therefore you were not sure of connectivity unless everybody was asleep. I was ashamed beyond words.How do students and teachers conduct research;How do you access the e-books that are easily available to read online? There I was on my computer with a 26MB download bandwith and a whole university shares 11MB. It is a national shame. As far Broadband Internet in Nigeria is concerned, I score Ndukwe an F. If you think i'm wrong and he deserves better, then justify it.