The Association of Information and Communication Technology Stakeholders in Nigeria has criticised the move by the Federal Government to reduce the prices of data by mobile telecommunications companies.
The criticism of the move was contained in a statement by the President of AICTSC, Dr. Ibrahim Lawal.
The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, gave the directive on behalf of the Federal Government to the Nigerian Communications Commission to force telecommunication operators to reduce the prices of data.
But in a statement, Lawal said it was a wrong move.
The statement, titled: “Our reaction to the order by Communications Minister, Dr. Isa Pantami,” reads: “The Association of Information and Communication Technology Stakeholders in Nigeria (AICTSN) hereby condemns the order of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to force telecommunication operators to reduce the prices of data.
“On November 5, Dr. Pantanmi mandated the NCC led by its Board Chairman, Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye, to resolve the issue on the grounds that he had been inundated with complaints on data charges. But the Minister must know that he cannot issue a fiat in a country that runs a free market. The Federal Government must avoid undue interference as ill-thought declarations may scare business entities willing to invest in Nigeria.
“We are appalled at the posture of the Minister. Nobody is saying the Federal Government should not monitor companies but acting authoritarian will be counterproductive. Dr. Pantami claims that data prices in other countries are not high. However, we urge him to conduct a careful analysis of other markets, compare with ours and make findings to the public.
“We must not forget that companies have thousands of Nigerians on their payroll; we must bear in mind the huge direct and indirect jobs operators have created. Thus, it is unjust for the Minister to issue orders and deadlines without adequate consultations and utilization of diplomacy. Unless the Federal Government is at war with the private sector, AICTSN strongly advise officials to avoid sending wrong signals.
“We hope that Dr. Pantami is looking into the challenges affecting smooth telecom operations such as multiple regulation and taxation, vandalism of infrastructure, exorbitant charges imposed by state governments for laying of fibre, kidnapping of telecom staff who visit base stations for routine maintenance, cutting of fibre by those involved in road and related construction is also persistent.
“These are challenges Association of Licensed Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ALTON) has raised consistently but the Federal Government has not addressed. Again, it is inappropriate for Dr. Pantami to be issuing orders while refusing to specifically address the issues raised by NCC and the operators. We need to remind the Minister that the telecom sector has been deregulated since the National Telecommunications Policy was introduced in 2000.
“A post-liberalisation era is not malleable to arbitrary government directives; it is at best unreasonable populism. And it is this sort of arbitrariness that caused the wreckage of NITEL. The Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003 does not confer the Minister the power and authority he wants to exercise. He must allow the regulator to function as stipulated by the law. The Minister is already almost directly running the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), a department and special intervention fund under NCC which is a creation of the NCA 2003.
“Even the re-designation of the Ministry as Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy speaks to ignorance on the part of Dr. Pantami. The President was obviously misled. If the Ministry’s name has to change, the modification must be appropriate and reflect reality. Communications is not just about the economy, strengthening it is a component. So, ideally it should be Ministry of Communications and Digital Culture, that’s if any change was required at all because Communications is still appropriate.
“But importantly, why change a Ministry’s name when the infrastructure to support the change is not in place. NCC has proposed to government how to source funds to implement the Open Access Model to cascade fibre to all the 774 LGAs in Nigeria but Federal Government is yet to respond even though the Commission has already licensed the Infrastructure Companies (Infracos) that will handle the laying of fibre.
“So, why go to public to announce a change of name? What’s in a name when the conditions precedent have not been fulfilled? Can there be a flourishing of digital culture without robust broadband? These are the issues the Minister should address instead of hijacking the functions of the Commission and causing his Press Secretary to issue reckless statements.
“Dr. Pantami needs to know that the independence of the regulator accounted for the huge success that the telecom sector has recorded so far. The consolidation of the successes are now undermined by his actions. The President Muhammadu Buhari led Federal Government would have shot itself in the foot if it is perceived to be creating a hostile environment despite going round the globe in search of foreign direct investment.
“While we salute his determination to ensure that Nigerians get the best service at affordable rates, AICTSN urges Dr. Pantami to act as an office holder who would be remembered for being fair to all stakeholders, including industry players, regulators, partners and the citizenry. We remind the Minister that being the biggest country in Africa, Nigeria is consistently under the radar of the international community, analysts, rating organisations, among others. The world is watching!”