By Ezechukwu Chidozie
The Senate, recently confirmed the reappointment of Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, for a second term of five years in office as the Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the country’s independent telecoms regulatory agency under the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. Danbatta’s reappointment by the President and subsequent confirmation by the Senate on July 21, 2020 is in line with the provisions of Sections 8, Subsections 1 and 4 of the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003.
Danbatta came on board as the EVC of NCC on August 4, 2015 following his appointment by the President. He was subsequently confirmed by the Senate on November 25, 2015. Danbatta’s second term begins today, August 5, 2020 following the Senate confirmation.
In the last five years, Danbatta has worked with his team at the NCC to address issues of telecoms infrastructure vandalism, high cost of Right of Way (RoW), which impedes the needed infrastructure expansion for boosting telecoms services delivery. Mltiple taxation, poor access to public electricity for a round-the-clock powering of telecoms infrastructure, perception issues with regard to the siting of telecoms towers and the connection to health concerns, among others have become a major challenge.
Nonetheless, Danbatta’s five years as the country’s chief telecoms regulator has been eventful, a development that has earned him consideration for reappointment by the President, confirmation by the Senate and commendations by industry stakeholders, who believe that his reappointment will help in consolidating the growth already recorded in the industry.
Riding on the implementation of his 8-point Agenda (2015-2020), a five-year blueprint, and despite economic recession, macro-economic and other industry challenges confronting the telecoms regulatory ecosystem, the sector remains resilient and healthy. The sector’s contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stood at 14.07 per cent in the first quarter of 2020. More Nigerians now have access to telephone services as the number of subscribers rose from 151 million in 2015 to 196.3 million subscriptions as at June 2020, while teledensity has risen to 102.88 per cent.
More importantly, we reckon that Danbatta-led NCC performed well to achieve and surpass the national broadband penetration target of 30 percent set for December, 2018. Available data show that broadband penetration increased from 8.0 per cent in 2015 to 41.27 per cent in June, 2020 with renewed focus by the Commission to achieve 70 per cent target by 2025, as contained in the new National Broadband Plan (2020-2025). Basic Internet subscriptions also witnessed a leap from 90 million in 2015 to 143.7 million as at June 2020.
The last five years of Danbatta also saw the licensing of more broadband infrastructure companies (InfraCos); increased consumer empowerment and protection; increased enforcement activities to rid the industry of pre-registered and improperly registered Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards. The period has also witnessed the leveraging of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to boost national security through the NCC’s 112 Emergency Number/Emergency Communications Centres (ECCs); efficient management of spectrum resources to provide more mobile broadband services to Nigerians and the strategic engagement with the Nigerian Governors’ Forum which resulted in the reduction of Right of Way (RoW) charges to N145 per linear meter to ease broadband infrastructure deployment, among several others.
While it is our considered view that, overall, the re-appointment of Danbatta will enhance stability and sustainability of the telecoms industry towards accelerating the accomplishment of the digital economy agenda of the Federal Government, it is not yet Uhuru. This is because, clearly, like Oliver Twist, Nigerians expect more from the Commission and this is why Danbatta needs to renew his commitment towards consolidating the gains and successes already recorded. This has become important within the context of COVID-19 pandemic, when demand for data, and telecoms services generally, is witnessing a spike across networks with the attendant data price and quality of service issues.
Now that Danbatta has secured a second term, there is a need for him to focus more on such critical areas as facilitating broadband penetration, consolidating spectrum trading to ensure maximum and efficient utilisation of available frequencies and continue with other bold initiatives to strengthen the telecoms industry and by extension the Nigerian economy.
It is hoped that at end of the second tenure as the helmsman of Nigeria’s foremost regulatory agency, Danbatta should have close to his chest a cherished legacy for which Nigerian’s will remember him.
*Chief Chidozie, a public affairs analyst, lives in Enugu.