Govt not doing enough to address challenges
By BiztechAfrica – Sept. 17, 2013, 8:59 a.m.
Otunba Biodun Ajiboye is the Chairman, Logica Group, which organises the annual Nigerian Telecoms Award and the Nigerian Development Lecture (NITDEL). Ahead of this year’s edition of the award, to be held on September 21 in Lagos, he speaks with KOKUMO GOODIE on the challenges facing the telecoms industry and the inadequate industry support he is getting for his annual events.
KG: As one of the earliest players in the telecoms industry, what is your assessment of the industry 12 years after its liberalisation?
OBA: Twelve years after the liberalisation of the industry, it has been a bag of mixed blessings. While the sector has helped to grow the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) substantially and placed Nigerians in the driving seat of most of the telcos, it is still bedevilled with some lapses that have retarded harnessing its full potentials to the optimum.
Some of these lapses range from the issue of right of way to multiple taxations/regulation, vandalism of telecoms equipment, and failure of government to declare telecoms infrastructure as Critical National Security Infrastructure. These are the issues we are still battling with as an industry and I am not impressed about the way the regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is going about solving these problems as well.
This is our society. NCC should appoint people within the society that can solve these problems, engage the government and the society and get these problems solved once and for all. I don’t know how far the committees handling each of these challenges have gone but I do know that government has not done enough in solving the problems of the telecoms industry.
The companies are groaning. Look at the volume of destruction caused to infrastructures last year as a result of the insecurity in the country. The operators are complaining and government should wake up to solve all these problems to the benefit of Nigerians who are telecoms consumers. But without mincing words, I feel that the Federal Government is not showing the level of serious it ought to have shown. That goes to show the importance it attaches to the telecoms industry. There is an urgent need to solve some of the critical problems facing the players which subsequently affect those of us who are consumers of telecoms services.
KG: What is your assessment of the industry?
OBA: I have always assessed the performance of the industry. I assessed it when it clocked five, I assessed it at 10 and I have been faced with the same challenge to assess the industry at 12. As a player in the industry and someone involved in the ICT media, I will say the industry is growing faster than the people. There are issues everywhere. The industry does not appear to carry every segment of the society along. This has not engendered the needed development. The ICT media has suffered the greatest neglect. That is why the industry is growing and the media is not growing. The individuals that constitute the ICT media are not growing. If they are not growing at the rate the industry is growing, then we would have a problem, which we are already having. I do not see any reason why you want to grow the industry without growing the media alongside. But that is what has happened clearly.
Regulation does not seem to have the required level of upsurge. Regulations should be growing at a higher rate than the industry. What I am saying now is that I see the industry in three compartments: operators, media and the regulator/government. On the side of government, all I see is the roll-out of policies over policies without effective policing. Though the Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, has tried, she could do more. She should not forget in a hurry that her tenure at the ComTech Ministry is time-bound.
KG: What impacts has the role of the group you head (Logica Media Group) had on the industry over the last one decade or there about?
OBA: Sometimes, when I look back, I feel that the industry has not been fair to us because when we started Telecoms Award in 2004. There was an existing award but we felt that we could complement the existing evaluation platform. That was NITTA by Nkpe Abang. The industry didn’t particularly take us seriously. The best they did was to look down on us, which is still in their attitude towards journalists today. But today Nigerian Telecoms Award has become the biggest evaluation platform in the industry, it has remained most credible for nine years. But has anybody cared to know at what cost we have been able to get it on and on? Most of the time, we finish the award and there is not dime to say to ourselves this is what we have gained.
And, this is an event that has brought the industry into the international consciousness which have been attended by many prominent Nigerians too numerous to be mentioned such as former President Olusegun Obasanjo, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; former miltary president, General Ibrahim Babangida (retd.), as well as other past presidents of West African countries and other African.
What other platform do we have that sells telecoms to the world aside the Telecoms Awards and a few other operating from the fringes. The NCC should put the awards on its website as a mark of the recognition it has brought to the industry and the country.
KG: What are the challenges your organisation face organising this annual telecoms fiesta?
OBA: First of all, this may sound as if we are blowing our trumpet but I challenge anybody to tell us another event in the telecoms sector either by private individual or by government institutions that has attracted as many dignitaries as the Nigerian Telecoms Awards. Over the last 10 years, it has attracted the crème de la crème of policy makers and captains of industries both within and outside the country. So, there is really no gainsaying the fact that that we really have positioned ourselves positively in the industry and notably too.
Sponsorship has been a major problem. Each time they ask why money is needed to host such an international affair, I tell them that when such an event is held in the United Kingdom (UK) or the United States of America (USA), it is the players that put money on ground to buy tables for several pounds US dollars to make it happen.
Nigerian Telecoms Award should be something that foreign investors are looking forward to attending every year. So, since the operators are afraid to put money on the table in support of the award, we have continued to struggle to keep it going.
KG: The media is not speaking with one voice when it comes to awards. Don’t you think this may have informed operators’ lacklustre attitude to sponsoring the event?
OBA: There can never be a unified award. Logica has the licence as an advertising agency, a publishing outfit and a media company. Everywhere in the world, it is the media company that organises such industry evaluation. Of course, to objectively evaluate the industry, we need a platform such as the Nigerian Telecoms Awards. How do you expect the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) or Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) to evaluate themselves?
It is important to note that you can’t evaluate yourself as a player in the industry. Everywhere in the world, it is the media, as it is the case with British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Cable News Network (CNN), which evaluates objectively. This is because, as the fourth estate of the realm, it is the media’s watchdog role to monitor the daily performance of the industry, its players and the regulators. That is why we are independent and we can never have a single unified award in the industry because the moment we get unified, we get infiltrated. And, the moment the process gets infiltrated, it loses credibility and objectively.
KG: What are your commitments to the industry going forward?
OBA: We are not saying we are tired of holding the event. Interestingly, year in year out, you know we have a lot of products. We came into the industry with a number of products: We have the Telecoms Fiesta and Exhibition, Lecture, Awards and the Beauty Pageant tagged Miss Telecoms. We can’t get tired. We are going to have the Osun State Governor, Ogbeni Raufu Aregbesola and the Chief Executive Officer of Airtel, Segun Ogunsaya delivering the lectures this year. It may interest to know that the Telecoms Development Lecture (NITDEL) is even growing stronger while the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Eugene Juwah, is going to be the chairman of the occasion. What this means is that the industry sees the lecture as a platform to express itself.
The objective of the lecture is to bring politics and business together and the purpose is telecoms’ contribution to the society. If the industry supports the platform, it could grow bigger to harness Africa. NCC has no businesses not supporting this kind of forum because we should even be collaborating with the NCC to do this kind of event. Because the NCC is not created as an event management entity, it has to partner with oragnisations like Logica Group.