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Ike Ekweremadu

By Kokumo Goodie, Lagos, Nigeria

The deputy president of Nigeria’s upper legislative chamber, the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, has flayed the recent ‘crude’ show of power by two agencies of the Federal Government, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA).

He argued that it was unnecessary and promised that the National Assembly would do something about the relevant laws that set up the agencies.

NESREA had sealed the premises of MTN’s base transmission station (BTS) at EFAB Estate, Mbora District in Abuja. NCC unsealed the station, after which NESREA went back to seal the infrastructure again, also slamming a fine of N5 million on the telco for reopening its base station.

The senator who spoke at the weekend in Lagos at the Beacon of ICT Distinguished Lecture/Awards Series held at the Eko Hotels and Suites, lamented that Nigeria, as a nation is not yet where it ought to be in the ICT development pyramid despite the huge progress recorded in the last one decade of liberalizing the telecoms sector.

“ We as a nation are no longer where we used to be in terms of ICT development; while we have made tremendous progress far beyond what was imaginable even ten years ago, the truth remains that we are nowhere near where we ought to be, given our abundant potential, especially in terms of human resources.”

“We just have to redouble our efforts at ICT development to be able to reap bountifully from its potential,” he said.

Ekweremadu  said efforts must be all-encompassing to galvanize Nigeria’s ICT resources and create favourable environment for the industry to flourish, adding that challenges such “as multiple taxation and unlawful levies, environmental concerns, infrastructural deficits, anti-competition conducts, teledensity/urban-rural dichotomy in ICT penetration, cybercrime, and data protection/right to privacy concerns” must be collectively confronted headlong by all well meaning patriots.

The lawmaker also identified weak regulation as a major challenge confronting the industry. “There is also the major issue of weak regulation, including inter-agency regulatory overlap/multiple regulation, which has left Nigerians short-changed even as it brews confusion and bad blood among the regulatory agencies.”

“In the telecoms sub-sector, for instance, there has been inter-agency rivalry between the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) and the National Environmental Standards and Regulatory Enforcement Agency (NASREA) over the regulation of telecoms infrastructure.”

“Indeed such issues should not arise and should be checked. You can be rest assured that the National Assembly is taking note of this and other challenges and will continue to provide the necessary legislative framework to strengthen the Nigerian ICT industry,” the deputy Senate president assured.

Speaking on ICT, he said its role in the society is as overwhelming as it is all-encompassing, stressing that it has not only had extensive social impacts, oiling social relations, it has proved to be Nigeria’s hope of economic survival, providing jobs, direct foreign investments, among others. Importantly, he added, it has become a tool of governance, political communication, and advocacy for change and development.

“In fact, from the role of ICT in the Arab Spring or uprising outside the shores of Nigeria to the socio-economic and political impacts it has registered in Nigeria, ICT has shown that it practically rules the modern world and will do so for a very long time to come,” Ekweremadu said.

According to him, while ICT plays great roles in the security of lives and property, it has proven to be a very bad servant when it enters the wrong hands urging stakeholders and the government to ensure that ICT is used profitably in security terms.

“In particular, at a time like this (with Boko Haram’s multiple bombings), those doing business in the industry have a task to ensure we deploy ICT effectively and rapidly towards bursting the terror and crime syndicates menacing the nation,” he said.

He disclosed that members of the National Assembly are also making efforts to ensure that ICT knowledge and use permeates even the remotest corners of the country, arguing that besides attracting ICT projects like computer centres to his own constituency as a senator, the Ikeoha Foundation, which is his constituency outreach platform, is undertaking robust ICT training programmes for graduates from the South East of Nigeria.

“We have resolved to train some graduates in rudimentary and advanced ICT applications, depending on their current level of ICT knowledge and field of study. This is to boost their chances of employment and also enable them to set up their own ICT businesses,” he said.

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