Communication minister warns service providers against poor service delivery
The Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, in an interview with Clara Nwachukwu, spoke on a number of issues vis-à-vis global and national trends on the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2017, which just ended in Barcelona, Spain. He, while defending the Federal Government’s protection of service providers in the face of growing consumers’ complaints, however, warned that operators risk losing their subscribers if they failed to improve on their services. Excerpt:
What is your take home from this Mobile World Congress?
I have had the privilege of going all over the world, and with all sense of humility and each time I go out, I see things, the state of development, I see my citizenship of Nigeria being diminished because it is as if while other countries are making steady progress, Nigeria has constantly stagnated particularly to scientific development, innovation and all of that.
The purpose of coming here as the minister, is to use the opportunity to meet with stakeholders, operators, innovators and manufacturers to try and encourage them to come and invest in Nigeria.
Only this morning, I met with the Swedish Minister of Communications and ICT, and my appeal is that they should send a trade delegation to Nigeria to come and interact particularly with government officials and businessmen with a view to bringing their investment in the area of ICT and electricity generation. This is because ICT depends on electricity for survival. If we develop or investments are brought in through the area of ICT and we don’t have electricity, it is like we don’t have anything.
I have discussed that with the Swedish Minister and also discussing with the Huawei Group, they have developed a lot of solutions particularly, today in Nigeria, and you will discover a lot of masts all over Nigeria. Each tower in Nigeria cost N40 million as at today, and apart from that amount, you also have to buy generator and buy diesel every day to power them, which makes it very difficult for operators to survive, so they now had to sell these towers to IHS and American Tower company.
From Huawei, there are a number of solutions to that which will not rely on hydro generated electricity; there are some on solar, which are simple and cheaper. There is a particular one, which can be used for security services among others. I am already talking to them to come to Nigeria and I offer that at no cost will this be to them. If they are able to bring this sample to Nigeria, I shall invite all operators in the telecoms sector so that they see these innovations for them to key in. For me, coming here is a working visit, with the purpose of using my office and persuasive ability to attract investors into the country.
We saw so many things here yesterday, which are planned for 2020 and we are looking at Nigeria that by 2050, can we get to this level?
For me, we can certainly not catch up with them because they started several years back, we are just starting. However, I can say confidently that the political will is there, what is required now is to find means of mobilising everybody in government and all other stakeholders to see ICT as a way to go in Nigeria if we are to make steady progress. No two ways to it. Because there are so many countries, which are not up to our status and they are doing well. But we have relied so much on money coming from oil and gas. If oil is still available in the future, it cannot match ICT because ICT is the greatest revenue earner and an enabler of every aspect of live, our doing business, the economy and even governance, among others. Nigerian must be alerted to that. We must sensitise ourselves and mobilise ourselves too.
Going by your plan to invite Swedish ICT Minister to Nigeria, we had that many times, but no corresponding dividends from them. What will be different this time around?
By the grace of God, I being the Minister of Communications today, I know what I am capable of doing and I know that I have a passion to do what is desirous for our development as a nation. I think in the past, so many people in government were feeling shy of going out to market Nigeria seek collaboration of the private sector; maybe because they don’t want to be seen as working for the private sector. For me as the public servant in the area of communication, I must be a servant of the public and that public includes the private sector, it includes investors, ordinary citizens and I think private leadership.
I already invited Hauwei to come to Nigeria to showcase their equipment, and I will ensure that it is at no cost to them. I will ensure that the entire private sector is mobilised to key into this because it is in the best interest of Nigeria’s development and progress.
ICT thrives on infrastructure availability and we all know that is our biggest problem in Nigeria. So, how are you going to get this done?
The journey of a thousand miles starts with a step. We cannot be complacent and say because infrastructure is not available; we would now stay at the back. The greatest infrastructure that we need is electricity. I know that Buhari’s Government is doing a lot to bring about transformation in the electricity sector. On top of this, I have also in the areas of ICT looking at generating electricity particularly from solar.
The industrialised world has done a lot to bring about inventions through solar energy electricity for society. I believe that with the little efforts I am making and I get support from stakeholders, we shall get there.
5G has been the buzz world in this conference, in Nigeria, we are still struggling with our 4G and the consumers feel that the government and the regulators are protecting the network providers despite the poor communication services they offer, what is the way forward?
Firstly, if you don’t protect the network providers, there will not be a network. So you have to first protect the hen that is laying the egg before you can have eggs. Having said that, I want to assure you that government is concerned about quality of service as much as the ordinary citizens. There is no poor quality of service that ordinary Nigerians suffer that I as a Minister of Communications don’t suffer. I too get unsolicited SMS, drop calls and all sorts and because we are part of it, we continue to work on all the providers of services for them to improve.
In fact, I have had cause to read the riot act to them. It must however be a case of carrot and the stick because we know in our conscience that the circumstances they are operating are also not particularly favourable. I have given you an example of electricity. It is only in Nigeria that service providers had to rely on their own source of power. They have to buy generator and all that. We must not shy away from admitting that is a negative contribution coming from the Nigerian state. Of course, efforts are being made by the government, and having said that, I can assure you that we shall continue to put a lot of pressure on them to improve on their services.
As a matter of fact, the fact that Nigeria now has five service operators means there will be competition among them and any one that performs poorly, of course would be doing so at the risk of loosing subscribers to other service providers. I want to assure you that we are concerned and we believe that this country will live up to expectations.
We have had infrastructure like NITEL, NEPA or PHCN and there are issues of maintenance?
Both NITEL and NEPA were government institutions. Now the policy inkling is that government has no business in business and that was why government divested from NITEL and co. What government is doing now is to serve as an enabler that enables the private sector to be able to take the leadership position in bringing about all these things we are looking at. That implies that we don’t have to get involved in the day to day running of those things. Government should be the provider of the right laws that would bring the required business lifting in the country.
Government is to provide proper regulatory environment to thrive and to also provide right banking and monetary policies so that they can come in even utilise our banking system for them to operate. My concentration is to ensure solar and other means of electricity enters into Nigeria and these symbolise the inventions Huawei have exhibited; I have seen several samples. I have equally seen samples from India. In India, they have manufactures products that are solar based but also providing networking and Internet support to rural areas.
Lagos State is using Solar in some areas for street lights but you will discover that the panel doesn’t last?
Well, I don’t know the contractor for Lagos State. But I know that several companies across the world are now investing in such infrastructure. The Lagos State example may just be one example from one company. I know that several countries are now investing in solar infrastructure. We need to test so many other alternative manufacturers to see what could be sustainable. But the most important is that what Lagos State has done is a starting point for us. There will continue to be improvement until we are able to get it right.
One thing we must thank our stars for is that solar is much cheaper and reliable than hydro generated electricity because with it, we could have solo equipment add to them and by so doing helping different com munities get connected. We are in sub-Sahara Africa where we have about 10 hours of sunlight most days.