On August 21, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari, in his second tenure as president, swore in Dr Isa Pantami as the minister for communications alongside 42 others who took up different portfolios in federal ministries under his administration.
Not long after Pantami’s inauguration, the minister championed a rechristening to the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, in pursuit of his digital economy plans.
It is worth noting that on assumption of office, Dr Pantami made his mandate clear — to ensure that the ministry plays its role well as a ‘supervisory ministry’ to agencies under its leadership. And then, went ahead to deliver targets to these different parastatals.
For instance, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) was directed to end the issuance of unregistered, pre-registered, and partially registered SIM cards, reduce the cost of data, and also ensure that telecom operators comply with the maximum 2% Call Drop Rate (CDR) directive.
To this effect, NCC was handed an ultimatum to enforce the deactivation of improperly registered SIM cards. And this resulted in over 2.2 million SIM cards getting blocked according to a report submitted by NCC’s executive vice-chairman. The commission, however, attributed this success to the cooperation of regulators and telecom operators. Meanwhile, MTN notified some users of the need to undergo the registration process again earlier in August possibly to forestall a situation of this kind.
Subsequently, other directives have been issued to the NCC which require compliance from telcos, but it cannot be said that these orders received the same positive reactions.
Particularly, there have been cases where telcos, under the aegis of the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), have expressed dissatisfaction with and sometimes disregarded these orders for certain reasons.
It should be noted that ALTON’s President, Gbenga Adebayo, when in a meeting with Pantami in his early days in office, raised issues surrounding Right of Way (RoW), infrastructure vandalism, taxation, levies, and a need for a national digital policy, all of which Pantami said he was aware of.
We consider some of these orders as well as the reactions that trailed them.
Telcos and USSD charges
In October, MTN Nigeria, one of Nigeria’s major network providers, was instructed to halt its intended USSD charges for bank transactions. Although this has been a long practise among other telcos, MTN adhered as soon as the order came. However, neither NCC nor banks admitted to being involved with it even as other network providers continued with the charges.
Reduction of data cost
In the first week of November, Pantami ordered the reduction in the prices of data packages within five days from when the directive was given. Apparently, this order was on the basis that Nigerians spend so much on data but get little value for their money. Even though the outcome of a previous investigation into subscribers’ complaints about data depletion reflects that it is not a case of illegal deduction but an increase in mobile applications, updates, and other data-consuming services.
ALTON in a retort stated that the order is counter-productive considering the high operating cost telcos face. ALTON’s chairman was of the opinion that if this directive was something to go with, there’d have to be a good framework that relieves telcos of the huge investments they make to run their businesses in the country. Even with an extended deadline, nothing signals compliance so far.
Deactivation of automatic voicemails
In what Pantami described as an attempt to defraud Nigerians, he ordered the termination of automatic voicemail service. According to him, it is only a way to indirectly exploit subscribers who are supposed to activate the voicemail option at their discretion.
However, Adebayo, while admitting that NCC is ALTON’s regulator, said that the voicemail service was a basic system feature that did not require the government’s intervention. And as such, the body is not willing to comply with the order.
And NIPOST also had its share…
Away from telecoms, the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) also received a mandate to improve service delivery and increase coverage across the country.
In November, Pantami compelled NIPOST to stop cash payments in its offices nationwide and revert to the use of points of sale terminals and bank tellers. The minister said this was in line with President Buhari’s anti-corruption agenda.
To a large extent, this order received a huge acceptance from Nigerians on Twitter. But it is quite obvious that the agency is barely prepared to carry out the directive. And this points to the possibility of not achieving nationwide compliance anytime soon.
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