Beyond impressive statistics
•Telecom firms make wealth but leave a trail of complaints
It is cheering that Nigeria’s telecoms sector has witnessed an exponential growth in investment from a modest $500m at its inception in the country in 2001, to the over $32bn that it is today. It is equally cheering that the country today boasts 129 million active telephone subscribers, while over 50 million Nigerians have access to the Internet, compared to the 400,000 telephone lines in the country before the advent of the Global System for Mobile communication (GSM).
According to Eugene Juwah, Executive Vice Chairman of the sector’s regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), “Already, the telecommunications industry that started from its humble beginning in 2001 with a paltry investment of $500m now stands at over $32billion.”
The commission said it came about the figures during a recent anti-corruption interactive session with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Juwah added that the commission is a toast of foreign investors due to the international approval it has been able to get as a result of its operations. That is not all; the NCC said Nigeria has a tele-density of 92 per cent even as the telecommunications sector’s contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product has shot up from 4.5 per cent to 8.69 per cent in the recent re-based GDP.
These no doubt are very impressive statistics. The issue however is whether the statistics have translated into high quality of service (QoS) for telephone subscribers. We are afraid the telecoms impressive statistics are like other posted statistics by government which are at variance with reality. The question of QoS has been a knotty one since the advent of GSM in Nigeria. Initially, Nigerians who had hitherto lamented the inefficiency of the Nigeria Telecommunications Ltd (NITEL) were ecstatic with the new experience that GSM offered: they could stay in the comfort of their rooms, shops or offices and make calls to anywhere in the world. This was quite an experience. But the euphoria began to die down when what telecoms subscribers initially regarded as teething problems that would disappear with time appear to have acquired the Nigerian character; they are here to stay.
Without doubt, GSM has revolutionised the way we live, work and even play. It is incontestable too that things are far better today than they were in 2001 in the telecoms sector. Telephone tariff has dropped from N50 per minute in the early days of the GSM in the country; we now have per second billing engendered by competition, etc. Even at that, the telecoms firms are not giving Nigerians value for their money. Call drops, apparently due to congestion in the networks, are as rampant as ever, just as subscribers get billed for text messages that are either not delivered or delivered days after they were sent, among many other headaches faced by telephone subscribers.
We understand some of the peculiar challenges faced by the telecoms firms, including power infrastructure, multiple taxation, the activities of vandals and ‘area boys’, etc. that constitute hindrances to their operations. But these and other challenges notwithstanding, the service providers still have to improve on their operations while the governments at all levels are also implored to address the issues. The telecoms operators can collaborate in some areas of their operations to reduce their overhead.
The role of the NCC in ensuring that subscribers get value for their money is important. Its Act 2003 saddles it with promoting the provision of modern, universal, efficient, reliable, affordable and easily accessible communications services.
We acknowledge the commission’s international approval, while this is important in the sector, local approval is also important. Indeed, it is what will ultimately confirm whatever international approval the commission might have garnered because the consumer is supposed to be king in all transactions. This cannot be said of the telecoms sector in Nigeria. It behooves the NCC to be more alive to its responsibilities in line with the expectations of the statute that created it.
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