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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Controversy looms as Akunyili, Maku battle over NCC


A new line of controversy is looming at the Ministry of Information and Communications over which of the two ministers should supervise the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

ITRealms Online gathered that the Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, may have taken over the supervisory function of the telecom regulatory house from Minister of State in the Ministry, Mr. Labaran Maku.

But information reaching us at the weekend indicated that the Minister of State, Maku, is not comfortable with the latest arrangement, which our sources said was not official yet because President Goodluck Jonathan was too busy to attend to such an issue for now.

Our sources also hinted that Mr. Maku may have threatened to resign if his functions are tampered with, citing an instance of what transpired between Prof. Akunyili and her immediate past Minister of State, Alhaji Ikra Bilbis, during the struggle for the cancellation or otherwise of the 2.3 Gega Hertz saga.

Equally, our sources recalled that it was in the heat of 2.3GHz controversy which has since proved NCC’s independence in discharging its duties by a law court following the insistence by one of the licensees, Mobitel Nigeria Limited, that the presidency under Musa Yar’Adua decided to delineate responsibilities afresh for the two ministers.

Noteworthy is that last year, the Presidency had via a memo of September 16, 2009, endorsed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, advised Akunyili, then, to adhere to statusquo of which NCC portfolio was directly under the supervision of Minister of State in the ministry.

This delineation gave birth to the minister of state being reinstated as the supervisor of telecoms, which include NCC, Nigerian Telecommunications plc (NITEL) and its subsidiary, the Mobile Telecom (MTel) and of course, leaving the senior minister with the supervision of post and information, comprising the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), Voice of Nigeria (VON), Nigerian Postal Services (NIPOST), National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), Nigerian Press Council (NPC) and Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON).

As at the time of going to press, Prof. Akunyili could not respond to our inquiries, but according to her media aide, Mr. Orji Ogbonia Orji in a telephone chat, last weekend with ITRealms Online, things have just gone back to the way it was before the two ministries of Information and Communications were merged, a few years back.

He also said that President Jonathan has reorganized the ministry and the minister (Akunyili) said that “its government’s decision and the operators have nothing to fear.”

For him, “It’s a normal government decision and there is no conflict at all between Akunyili and Minister of State, Maku. In fact, I am not aware of such development.”

Industry observers said that this development may break the camel’s back as far as Akunyili’s leadership in that ministry is concerned, considering her recent past controversial reputation, especially since assuming office as the Minister of Information and Communications.

ITRealms Online recalls that just few weeks after her posting to the ministry, precisely during her maiden stakeholder’s forum, she was reported to have displayed antagonistic tendencies which did not go down well with one of the telecom operator’s chief executive officers who had wanted to explain certain subject to her but she reportedly shouted him down.

This particular display forced others to decline further attempts and presumed her as ‘unapproachable’ until the controversy on the 2.3GHz surfaced about May last year till few months ago when a court intervened, declaring she has no right over the matter, which has since been transferred to NCC via the Communications Act 2003.

Assistant Director, Press, Minister of State, Information and Communications, Mr. Bassey Okon Etim, told Champion Infotel, “I am not aware, but would check if there is any memo to that effect, I would get back to you.”

Industry analysts noted that the issue is that Akunyili may have realized the obvious visibility of whoever is supervising telecom and particularly the NCC and decided to try her luck before this dispensation ends in the first quarter of next year.

Also, industry observers agreed that this line of thought could brew bad blood in the leadership of the ministry, while some others noted that since the Minister of State has a journalistic background, that he fits into being the spokesman of the government, but not while he is still a junior minister.

Probably realizing that she needed to be seen as being fully in-charge, Akunyili, analyst said may have initiated the move to exchange NCC with NAN, while still retaining her portfolio as senior minister in charge of information.

This attempt, analysts also said would amount to literally keeping the Minister of State in the dark and without any visibility except for reportage covered by NAN, just as they warned that this slant may jeopardize the current good relationship both are enjoying since the present dispensation.

ITRealms Online also gathered another school of thought, posited that except if President Jonathan approves of this latest scheming in the ministry, he may not find it funny with Akunyili, because it could amount to distraction, but those close to the Minister of State, Maku, said, he may not take chances of allowing such to happen now that he is in office, rather, may deploy his political prowess to ensure that he retains NCC as parastatal.


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