The present Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, appears to be over-reaching itself on matters of telecom regulation. Its officials also appear to be biting off more than they can chew, negating relevant laws that clearly define the relationship between the ministry and the Nigerian communications commission, NCC.
The NCC is the independent regulatory authority for the telecommunications industry, established by Decree 75 of 1992 and reestablished by the Nigerian Communications Act 2003. It is responsible for the preparation and implementation of programmes and plans that promote and ensure the development of the communications industry as well as the implementation of the Government’s general policies on communications sector of the economy.
Prescriptions of communications Act
Although, the ministry plays a supervisory role on the commission, neither the NCA Act of 2003 nor the federal government’s gazetted Public Service Rules, prescribes that the commission should cede its independence to the ministry.
The Act only permits the minister to formulate and review the general policy for the Nigerian communications sector, even on this he had to ask the NCC to do so on his behalf by organising a public consultative process . Even in amendments of the policy, the Minister and the Council shall take into consideration the findings of the consultative process .
The minister is also expected to from time to time notify the Commission and or express his views on the general policy direction of the Federal Government in respect of the communications sector, even though the Commission is not bound to accept them.
The Civil Service Rule also toes the line of the Act. In clear terms, the rule in chapter 16, section 2(b) and (c) says: “A Board shall not be involved directly in the day-to-day management of a Parastatal. A Minister exercises control of Parastatals at policy level through the Board of the Parastatal only”.
But this appears not to be the type of relationship the current minister of Communications and digital economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami and his counterpart in the NCC, Prof Umar Danbatta are reportedly having.
Many industry stakeholders have described their relationship as almost a master-servant relationship which ruins the independence of the commission and erodes the gains made by the sector.
The minister is alleged to be breathing down the neck of the EVC and frustrating him from taking credit of his achievements since becoming the CEO of the commission in 2015.
He is being alleged to have compromised the independence of the commission by completely changing the structure and the reporting line of the management of the Universal Services Provision Fund (USPF), a body set up by the NCC to provide strategic funding to take telecom services to rural and underserved parts of the country.
The USPF is domiciled in the NCC building and takes directives and inputs from the various departments of the NCC in managing the affairs of the Fund. However, Pantami, has been accused of re-designating the USPF Secretary as Executive Secretary who now has executive powers and reports to him directly. This runs afoul to the Act establishing the Fund which designates the Head as Secretary.
Show of shame
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Meanwhile the effects of such sour relationship has started putting the country into shame and generally put the opportunity of increased foreign direct investment in danger.
The most recent, is the show of shame at the launch of NCC’s new complex in Abuja,last week. The minister was alleged to have breached protocol twice to interfere in the speech of the NCC’s Executive Vice Chairman at the event.
An eye witness, Mr Greg Ofor, said: “The Minister of communications and digital economy displayed the most shocking, unruly attitude and disrespect for the office of the Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC today at the launch of the digital economy complex. The way and manner the minister was hushing Danbatta while he was delivering his speech was bad enough. It was a total embarrassment.
“At a point, the minister took the microphone off the EVC’s mouth. As if that was not enough, he made the event a show of shame and lack of respect for the office of the President of Nigeria. The Minister broke protocol three times whilst the President, Commander in Chief was seated, to stop the Executive Vice Chairman from reading his speech. He timed him the third time to a point where Professor Umar Danbatta was to mention the achievements of the Commission – the ECC project, Pantami stopped him” he added.
High point of sour relationships in the sector was when the NITDA DG in his own address, claimed that NITDA mid-wifed the establishment of Emergency Communication Centres across the country.
However, the spokesperson to the Minister, Mrs Uwa Suleiman has long dismissed the account as misleading, explaining that “the President, attended the event on the invitation of the Minister, and it was paramount that his timing be strictly adhered to, as earlier agreed at the preparatory meeting in the Presidential Villa, that all speakers at the event will adhere to the time allocated to them and, limit their presentations to the responsibility(ies) assigned to them. The Minister regulated the speeches of both speakers; the EVC of the NCC and the Director General of NITDA”.
However, an industry practitioner, Mr Gerald Ndukuba said: “I will find it difficult to believe that the minister is envious of the achievements of the EVC, especially ,as it regards the complex, because the NCC Annex, Ombura isn’t a new project. The project was already standing tall and in use long before Pantami became the minister. He only renamed it and cannot take the glory of what Danbatta has turned the complex into since becoming EVC. I am only worried that this show of shame will not encourage foreign direct investors to come here and invest”.
Part of Danbatta’s address at the event also alluded to that fact. He said: “As part of its desire to further develop the communications sector, the NCC set up the Digital Bridge Institute in 2005 and the NCC-DBI hostel and recreational facilities as part of initiatives to provide favourable atmosphere for students. The Facility was confirmed and ratified by the Federal Executive Council at its 45th meeting held on November 22, 2006. The NCC-DBI hostel and recreational facilities were abandoned before completion and were redesigned and modified by the NCC Management in 2018 from a hostel to an office complex; and was later renamed the Communications and Digital Economy Complex in line with current realities and policy direction. The Facility provides office accommodation to the Honourable Minister, Communications & Digital Economy and four full departments of the NCC.
“The Communications and Digital Economy Complex sits on eight hectares of land at Mbora district of Abuja with two level basement floors and five floors from ground level. It has many facilities such as this 650-seater auditorium, offices, 300mutli-level car park spaces and an additional 200 within the premises. In the same vein, this beautiful facility has a crèche for nursing mothers, industrial kitchen, a gymnasium and other sporting facilities for squash, table tennis, swimming pool and sewage treatment plant. There are also six lifts, a central air conditioning system, fire alarm and detection system, fire fighting system, data and access control system, external street lights and CCTV control room and also five 800KVA generators and three dedicated transformers connected to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). This world class complex is the product of Mr. President’s effort in creating an enabling environment for the ICT sector in recognition of its value as an enabler for other sectors of the economy.
“The NCC has also facilitated the establishment of the Emergency Communications Centres across the Country. The establishment of the ECCs is in line with the Commission’s mandate under section 107 of NCA 2003,to promote and enhance public safety through the use of a particular number designed as the universal safety and emergency assistance number for telephone services generally; and encourage and facilitate the prompt deployment throughout Nigeria of seamless, ubiquitous and reliable end-to-end infrastructure for emergency communication needs.