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Telecoms: Danbatta’s confirmation raises hope for sustained growth

The Senate, last week, confirmed the reappointment of the Executive Vice Chairman of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) after a thorough screening. Stakeholders are, therefore, optimistic that this continuity at the regulatory agency would help the industry sustain its growth trajectory. SAMSON AKINTARO reports

With last week’s official confirmation by the upper chamber of the country’s legislature, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta, has scaled the final hurdle to retain his seat as the head of the regulatory body for another five years.

While stakeholders had initially described his reappointment as a good omen for the industry, given the impactful leadership he has provided to not just the Commission but also the entire industry, his confirmation is seen as a boost to Federal Government’s digital economy agenda.

Screening and confirmation

The Senate confirmed Danbatta during its plenary on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, in Abuja, following the consideration of the report of Senator Oluremi Tinubu-led Senate Committee on Communications. Danbatta had, on Wednesday, July 15, 2020, appeared before the Senate Screening Committee and gave accounts of his stewardship as the country’s chief telecoms regulator in the last five years. The EVC’s appearance before the Senate followed his nomination for reappointment as the umpire for the telecom industry for another five years by President Muhammad Buhari on June 5, 2020.

Danbatta was appointed, in the first instance, for a five-year term in office as NCC’s Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, on August 4, 2015 and was subsequently confirmed by the Senate on November 25, 2015. During the screening, Danbatta, who demonstrated his deep knowledge of the industry, extensively discussed his scorecard since he assumed office as EVC of NCC on August 4, 2015, following which the committee members applauded him for his sterling performance and exceptional leadership qualities, which, they said, had helped in accelerating the growth of the telecoms sector.

Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe, a member of the committee, who represented the Chairman of the Senate Screening Committee, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, during the exercise, as well as other committee members, including Senator Sandy Onor, Senator Abiodun Olujimi, Senator Omar Jeff, Senator Kashim Shettima and Senator Bukachuwa, commended Danbatta’s impressive performance in piloting the affairs of the country’s digital ecosystem. Oloriegbe noted that the screening and confirmation exercise followed the provisions of Section 8 sub-sections 1 and 4 of the Nigerian Communications Commission Act (NCA), 2003.

Danbatta had told the lawmakers that the diligent implementation of NCC’s auspicious strategic Eight-Point Agenda, which he put in place when he assumed office in 2015, provided the basis for most of the Commission’s achievements in the last five years, especially in the areas of service availability, accessibility, and affordability.

The EVC reeled outstanding achievements under him in the past five years and provided relevant industry and macro-economic statistics to illuminate his efforts and strides in the areas of the sector’s contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Quality of Service (QoS) delivery, broadband infrastructure deployment, broadband penetration, effective spectrum utilisation, consumer empowerment, technology innovation as well as the Commission’s efforts with respect to curbing fraudulent Subscriber Identity Management (SIM) registration and 112 Emergency Number towards ridding the country of insecurity, among others.

Five-year record

Danbatta’s visionary leadership has been hinged on NCC’ Strategic Vision Plan (SVP) for the fiscal years 2015-2020, focused on the 8-Point Agenda, the effective implementation of which has led to impressive broadband penetration which rose from a mere 6.0 per cent in 2015 to 40.14 per cent in May 2020. Active Internet subscriptions also increased from 93 million to over 141 million currently during the period.

The number of active telephone subscribers also rose from 150 million in 2015 to 192.32 million in May 2020 with teledensity currently standing at 100.72 per cent, following the rebasing the teledensity to 91 per cent in March 2019. The increase in broadband penetration, Internet usage, number of access to telephone and several other initiatives by the Commission, especially in the areas of driving tech innovations, creating employment, promoting digital inclusiveness, have helped improve the sectors’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contribution from 8.50 per cent in 2015 to over 11 per cent currently, with a lot of digital activities taking place in all the sectors of the economy.

Through the painstaking implementation of the 8-point agenda, the country was able to achieve and surpass its broadband penetration target of 30 per cent by the end of December 2018, a feat that was commended by all stakeholders in the country. Various efforts of the Commission in licensing new spectrum bands, re-farming certain frequency bands, and driving initiatives for increased broadband infrastructure in the country have also been responsible for these feats. The passion for an aggressive drive for pervasive broadband penetration by the Danbatta-led administration at NCC is made manifest going by the fact that the need to facilitate broadband penetration tops the 8-Point Agenda. Also, Danbatta made it clear that from now on, access to broadband will become a fundamental metric for measuring development growth and development in Nigeria, as it will be central to the growth recorded in every other sector of the economy where telecoms would be driving services automation and digitisation. Danbatta made this clear early in one of his speeches: “Nigerians need robust and pervasive broadband connectivity more than ever before in today’s world where people can easily interact with an Automated Teller Machine (ATM), carry out activities around e-commerce, e-government, telemedicine, among others daily.”

Hope for the industry

The reappointment and confirmation of the NCC boss have generated positive reactions from the industry stakeholders. Specifically, two leading industry associations, which also serve as the advocacy groups for all players in the telecommunications industry, are beaming with hope as they eulogized the continuity at the regulatory body. According to the Chairman, Asso-ciation of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, the reappointment was a sure hope of attaining ubiquitous broadband penetration for Nigeria, especially in addressing the business challenges created by COVID-19 that has grounded global economies. Adebayo said: “We are very pleased about his appointment and confirmation for a second tenure and we congratulate Prof.

Danbatta as this is a testimony of his good leadership under which the industry has made significant progress and positive impact on our economy. “We are very delighted and we join other stakeholders in wishing him more success. We also thank the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy for his recommendation to Mr. President in securing his second term. Most of all, on behalf of our members, we thank Mr. President for re-appointing him for a second term. “We look forward to continuity of the stable regulatory environment.

We also look forward to a more robust regulatory and policy environment. The regulator needs to protect the smaller players and ensure they survive in the interest of competition and consumers. We know that his second term will bring about consistency for the progress of the industry.” Also, the President, Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON). Mr. Olusola Teniola, said: “The Association sees his recent reappointment by President Muhammadu Buhari, following the recommendation by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, as a reward for his dedication and determination towards changing the narrative of the Nigerian telecom industry landscape through the implementation of programmes and projects that were carried out under its supervising ministry and have been adjudged to be enhancing and improving the lives of Nigerians.

“We know that his recommendation is predicated on him being a technocrat, a professional and a promoter of human relations and human capacity who has over the years initiated and implemented successful policies that have a positive impact on businesses and Nigerians and we are very confident that he is equal to the task ahead.” Teniola pledged the commitment of ATCON members to work with Danbatta, NCC and, by extension, the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, to sustain and accelerate the growth and development of the Nigerian telecoms industry.

Last line

The reappointment and confirmation of the NCC’s helmsman for another five years is, no doubt, a right step in the right direction for the industry. In the next five years, all eyes will be on Danbatta as the industry expects him to consolidate the modest achievements of the past five years by focusing on broadband penetration, consumer protection and empowerment, efficient resource utilisation, and facilitation of fibre infrastructure deployment.

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