‘ Telecoms Has Contributed to 8.5 Per Cent GDP ’

Peter Igoh, chairman, Board of Directors, Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, discusses the achievements of the commission in the following interview with Anayochukwu Agbo, general editor, and Tony Manuaka, associate editor

 Peter-Egbe-Igoh,Chairman-Nigeria-Communication-Commission-(20)As the chairman of NCC, what is your assessment of the telecoms sector since 2001?

We have seen a lot of changes in the telecoms industry in Nigeria from 2001 to now. By 2001 we had just about 400,000 telephone lines; and the teledensity then was about 0.4 per cent. But by April 2014, we had 129 million active lines; and the teledensity now is 92 per cent. Now the telecoms sector contributes 8.5 per cent to our GDP. Globally, from 2001 to now, Nigeria was for five consecutive years, ranked the fastest growing telecommunications country by the International Telecommunications Union, ITU. That means a lot for this country. The urge is to retain what we have now and keep improving on the achievements.

Within the lifetime of your board, could you specify some of the developments that have taken place?

A lot have taken place. We have something we call ECC – Emergency Communication Centres. The NCC was, let me use the word commanded, to establish one in every state capital in this country. They are very expensive projects. Of the 36 states in Nigeria, about 25 are ready. Those that are not ready, maybe the acquisition of land took some time, maybe the land given to NCC was not suitable, and some are waterlogged areas and so on. The two pilot projects have been commissioned; that is Awka and Minna. Abuja has not been commissioned but if you dial 122, Abuja will respond. The aim is to serve the emergency needs of this country. If you go to any of these emergency communication centres, you will see a police office; a fire brigade office, paramedicals and all the stakeholders are represented there. If there is a problem anywhere, for instance between two towns, maybe an accident, and from that point you dial 112; the nearest communication centre to you will pick your call. They will find out from you what the problem is and they will in turn call the nearest hospital or police station. Whatever is the problem, they know the nearest people to come to your aid. That is one big area where we have actually made a big contribution. If you have seen the structure of NCC, we have an arm called USPF – Universal Service Provision Fund. That arm was created by the Act that established NCC. And whatever NCC earns, it pays 40 per cent to that fund. What they do is to take communication to the rural areas – the under-served and un-served areas. And their activities are all over this country. We also have SAP – School Access Programme. And there is another one we call TI-AP – Tertiary Institution Assess Programme. The School Assess Programme is also called School Knowledge Centres. They provide ICT for secondary schools, they build and equip ICT laboratories, provide the cooling system, standby generator, and a V-SAT that links the building to the Internet. For the tertiary institutions, we are also gave them 110 customised laptops and Internet Cloud. The radius varies. We have provided this to so many tertiary institutions nationwide.

So what role is the board of directors of NCC playing in this revolution that is going on in the telecoms industry?

The board of NCC controls the policy of government. The board also deliberates on how to improve on what the NCC already has on ground. The board regulates the activities of the stakeholders, the service providers and so on. It is the board that deliberates on all the policy matters. New ideas are deliberated on by the board before they go to management for implementation. We have a lot of activities that by law management cannot handle. Such matters go to the board for deliberations and approval before they send it out to the management.

Are there some specific areas where the board has made some interventions that have impacted visibly on the telecoms industry?

Let me continue with USPF because that is a major area. With the intervention of the board, the USPF can now build what we call BTS – Base Transmitter Stations, what you call masts in the rural areas. The service providers know that if they spend money in building these masts in the rural areas, they will not make money because of the limited number of subscribers in those areas. We now called on the USPF to build these masts in the rural areas and called on the service providers to go and co-locate. In other words, you may have two service providers, sharing one mast. In that case, they cannot say no because they do not have any reasons. Again, I was telling you about what we now call School Knowledge Centres. This board did not start it. What this board has done is to expand and increase the numbers in all the states. The board agreed that the three being built in each state should be doubled to six. It is, again, a project that has made a lot of impact. If you go to the rural areas, you will find some of these schools. They use the V-SAT not the Internet Cloud and NCC will normally subscribe for the first three years for the school. Before now, they would repair a classroom and put in the facilities but from experience, we have seen that it is not too much for NCC to put up a new building and equip it. This has of course jacked up the amount that is involved to about N130 million to N137 million per laboratory. The benefiting schools don’t pay. We have had opportunities to visit some of the schools in the rural areas.

How about the spread?

The spread is very good. When we came in the mode of allocation varied a little bit. We preferred that these should be given more to community schools than the government secondary schools or federal government colleges. About 80 per cent to 90 per cent of schools that have benefitted are in the rural areas. By the time you go round to see these projects in the states you will see that NCC has contributed a lot to the government’s transformation programme. You will not believe that USPF also built high-tension powerlines from the nearest town; they will take some kilometres to the rural areas so that the community there can now benefit. They need this to service their computer centres and other projects available to them. Apart from that, what the board has done is to increase the magnitude of their projects. That also means increasing their budget every year.

In all these that the NCC has done, which one touches you the most?

When you talk of ICT in schools, it touches me because that is the area I have devoted the better part of my life.

Nigeria was declared the fastest growing telecoms country in the world for five consecutive years. Why do you think Nigerian should celebrate this?

It is not a small achievement. Apart from Nigeria, I have not heard of any other country that was declared the fastest growing for five consecutive years by the ITU. Even the world is celebrating it. No country in the world has achieved that for three years.

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