…As Senate mulls 112 toll free number to report accidents, kidnappings, others
By Ignatius Okorocha
President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, on Monday said that the National Toll-Free Emergency Bill presently before the National Assembly would establish a channel and put in place a structure to guarantee swift security response to Nigerians in times of emergencies.
This is as the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy has already activated plans to have a minimum of one Emergency Communications Centre in every state of the federation.
Lawan made these known in an address delivered to declare open a one-day public hearing on two bills by the Senate Committee on Communications.
The bills are: Nigerian Postal Service Act (Repeal and Establishment) Bill, 2021; and the Nationwide Toll-Free Emergency umber (Establishment) Bill, 2021.
According to the Senate President, the bills under consideration by the National Assembly, when eventually passed and assented into law, would bring about significant improvement to the country’s messaging systems.
Lawan said: “It is a great pleasure to be involved in this important public hearing, organised by the Senate Committee on Communication on Tertiary important Bills.
“The Bills are on the Nigerian Postal Service Act N127 (Repeal and Establishment) Bill, 2021 and the Nationwide Toll-Free Emergency Number (Establishment) Bill, 2021, and are to improve our messaging systems.
“We cannot undermine the place of communication in our lives, considering it’s ability to help us pass information around, not only for the development of understanding and knowledges, but for us to carry out physical responsibilities for social progress.
“The Nigerian Postal Service Act is particularly in focus for its ability to strengthen the regulatory capacity of that agency, aside from enhancing its facility to meet the aspirations of the people.
“The National Toll-Free Emergency Number (Establishment) Bill, 2021 is equally very important for offering citizens the outlet to freely seek assistance, in case of emergency, or for the prevention of incidences.
“We underline the public service role of government in the two bills, in view of government constitutional responsibility to work for the security and wellbeing of the people.”
Earlier, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Communication, Senator Oluremi Tinubu (APC, Lagos Central) said the Nigerian Postal Service Act (Repeal and Establishment) Bill, 2021, seeks to unbundle the agency, whose responsibility would be the provision of universal postal services in Nigeria.
She disclosed that the bill makes provision for the administration and planning of a national post code system in line with global standards for efficient mail delivery.
According to her, it seeks to establish the Universal Postal Service Fund (UPSF) to be applied for the deployment of subsidized postal services and infrastructure.
Speaking on the National Toll-Free Emergency bill, the lawmaker said that the piece of legislation sponsored by Senator Ibikunle Amosun (APC, Ogun Central) provides for the establishment of a nationwide primary emergency telephone numbers reporting of emergencies to the relevant agencies of government.
“The bill goes further to saddle the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) with the responsibility of supervising, managing and implementing this bill and its provisions”, Tinubu added.
Sponsor of the bill National Toll-Free Emergency bill, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, who was represented at the hearing by his colleague, Senator Tolu Odebiyi, in his remarks said the bill when passed and signed into law, “shall make 112 the emergency number of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and this number shall be free and uniform throughout the country.
“The 112 emergency number will enable Nigerians to have access to emergency service agencies for quick and timely response to all forms of emergency situations such as road accidents, fire outbreaks, burglary, medical emergencies, and recently we have kidnappings, banditry and so on.”
According to Odebiyi, the availability of multiple telephone and helpline numbers in Nigeria are becoming impediments for people to get accelerated emergency response from emergency situations.
The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, who also spoke at the public hearing, commended the National Assembly over moves to unbundle the Nigerian Postal Service.
“What is more commendable in this bill is the fact that the bill plans to unbundle NIPOST by making a regulation to be independent of the operation. This is the global best practice.
“A regulator is not supposed to be the operator because the regulator could compromise.
“If a regulator is a player in the same market that he is regulating, there is a high probability that personal interest will not allow the regulator to regulate the sector effectively.
“So, what is most important in this bill as far as I’m concerned, is the fact that the regulator is going to be an independent body, and that regulator is not an operator.
“That will make the regulator to be very objective in regulation, and I think this is highly commendable to the National Assembly,” Pantami said.
On the National Toll-Free Emergency Number Bill, Pantami disclosed that the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy has already activated plans to have a minimum of one Emergency Communications Centre in every state of the federation.
The move to activate existing centres as well as create new ones, according to the Minister, was particularly in view of addressing the spate of insecurity across parts of the country.
Pantami, however, advised that the bill accommodate provisions for the establishment of the National Toll-Free Emergency Board, as against the creation of a separate agency, to be chaired by the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission.
“We feel the bill should expand more to make it a Board. However, we had a slight discussion with NCC on it.
“NCC proposed having Nigerian Toll-Free Emergency Communications Agency, while the Ministry feels it is better to make it a board. [And] that Board can be chaired by the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC.
“Because if we make it another agency, it might make it a little bit difficult to manage looking at the challenges of revenue generation and many more, and government is working daily to reduce the number of unnecessary agencies that are duplicating their responsibilities,” the Minister said.