The Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communication Commission, Prof. Umar Dambatta, was appointed the head of the Nigerian Commission about seven years ago. Since his appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Commission, under his watch, has recorded all-round achievements, leading to the repositioning of the Commission and the Nigerian telecom sector.
*BUKOLA OLANREWAJU, in this piece, reviews his leadership and successes recorded since coming on board. Excerpts:
Effective regulation is a significant factor in driving an effective economy. Just like policy formulation, right regulation ensures efficient running of industry-related matters and builds a formidable synergy between the regulators and the operators.
The Nigerian Communication Commission’s Exexutive Vice Chairman, Prof. Umar Danbatta, is an erudite engineer and outstanding nation builder per excellence and he has tremendously transformed the telecom sector in the areas of infrastructural development, consumer empowerment and satisfaction, job creation, standard information and communication technology revolution, research, rebranding of the telecom sector, staff welfare, cordial relationship with stakeholders, increase in active mobile broadband penetration, efficient monitoring and value driven usage for the provision of different types of services. To underscore the importance he attaches to telecom consumers, he declared “2017 as the Year of the Consumer”.
Danbatta who recently bagged Vanguard’s Regulator of the Year Award in recognition of effective regulatory achievements through cutting-edge initiatives also successfully piloted the affairs of the West Africa Telecommunications Regulators Assembly (WATRA) as the Chairman.
Appointed on 4th August 2015 as the EVC/ CEO of the Commission, Danbatta rolled out an 8-Point Agenda (Strategic Vision Plan 1)
whose diligent implementation has significantly improved the growth of the sector and the sector’s contribution to national GDP from 2015 till date.
The multiple award-winning professor successfully spearheaded the attainment and surpassing of Nigeria’s national broadband target in 2018, and he is currently among those leading the charge for the realization of the new national broadband target of 70% by 2025 after the country achieved and surpassed its earlier national target of 30% penetration in 2018.
Strategic Vision Plan (SVP)
Articulation of the Strategic Vision Plan (SVP 1) for the fiscal years 2015-2020 after due consultation with industry stakeholders was one of the key achievements of the NCC EVC.
The SVP 1 was focused on an 8-Point Agenda aimed at Facilitate Broadband Penetration, Improve Quality of Service, Optimize Usage and Benefits of Spectrum, Promote ICT Innovation and Investment Opportunities, Facilitate Strategic Collaboration and Partnership, Empower and Protect Consumers, Promote Fair Competition and Inclusive Growth and lastly, Ensure Regulatory Excellence and Operational Efficiency.
As a follow-up and based on the need to take the Commission to greater heights, a new Strategic Vision Plan (2021 – 2025) was unveiled on September 7, 2021, after taking cognizance of several notable advancements in the Nigerian telecommunications industry.
One important aspect of the SVP 2 is the implementation metrics put in place which provide for tasks to be done and the timelines under which they should be carried out.
The new SVP 2021-2025 has five visions namely: Organizational Renewal for Operational Efficiency and Regulatory Excellence; Facilitating the Provision of Infrastructure for a Digital Economy which fosters National Development; Promote Fair Competition, Inclusive Growth, Increased investment and Innovative Services; Improve Quality of Service (QoS) for Enhanced Consumer Quality of Experience (QoE); and Facilitate Strategic Collaboration and Partnership.
From less than $500 million investment in 2001, the investment profile in the nation’s telecoms sector hit $38 billion in 2015 when the current EVC, Prof. Danbatta assumed office and has further surpassed $70 billion currently. Nigeria has now become one of the fastest-growing telecoms markets in Africa, and one of the best places to invest.
Quality of Service
NCC has consistently addressed the quality of service delivery through effective monitoring of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and the development of KPIs for 3G and 4G to enhance the quality of service experience for telecom consumers.
The sector can now boast of having 218.6 million active telecom subscribers which have grown significantly from about 400,000 aggregate telephone lines in the country as of 2000, on the eve of liberalisation. This represents a teledensity of 14.7 per cent. Basic internet subscriptions grew from zero ground to 152.9 million currently while broadband subscriptions stand at over 88.2 million, representing a 46.24 per cent penetration as of November 2022.
To ensure the commission’s commitment to improving the quality of service for consumers, NCC, under Danbatta’s foresight and leadership, was the first telecoms regulator to embark on a trial of 5G technology in West Africa. Currently, NCC has issued a 5G spectrum licence to three operators.
Also, there has been a reduction in the cost of data by well over 75% from $11.15 in mid-2014 to $2.78 at the end of 2019. The average cost of data now has come down to around N500 from N1000 per Gigabyte of data, considering the fact that most operators now offer 2GB of data for N1000.
Contribution to National GDP
The telecoms industry has remained a major contributor to our national economy with the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry contributing 18.94% to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as of the second quarter of 2022, according to the latest data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
From this, the telecommunications sector alone currently contributed 15% to GDP as of the second quarter of, 2022 up from 8.5% in 2015 when Danbatta came on board.
Revenue Generation for Government
The Commission had remitted over N344.71 billion to Federal Government’s Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) as the revenue earlier generated by the Commission between 2015 and early 2020. According to NCC, this was from spectrum fees and operating surplus.
In addition, from the recent auctioning of 3.5Ghz spectrum to deploy a 5G network in December 2021 conducted by NCC, the commission raked in over $500 million which was remitted into the FG’s CRF, as prescribed by law.
Danbatta as WATRA Chairman
In just a year of taking the leadership mantle of the West African body of telecommunication regulators of 16 member states, Danbatta once again proved himself worthy of the position. The 16 WATRA member states are Togo, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Nigeria, Niger Republic, Mauritania, Mali, Guinea Bissau, Republic of Guinea, The Gambia, Cote d’Ivoire, Cape Verde, Burkina Faso and Benin Republic, Ghana and Liberia.
The achievements recorded under Danbatta’s one-year chairmanship include the deployment of an automatic external phone answer and routing system, completion of front-end and back-end development of the redesigned WATRA website, a joint development by WATRA, the Coordination Team, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission of a new organizational framework for roaming regulation implementation, reactivation of Niger participation in ECOWAS roaming regulation implementation through WATRA-ECOWAS Commission collaboration.
Other achievements of WATRA under Danbatta’s leadership include the re-translation of the WATRA constitution drafted and under review by Executive Committee, renewed engagements with ECOWAS on World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC) 2023 collaboration, joint conduct of the 2nd WRC2023 prep meeting, successful organisation of the 2-day technical physical meeting in Abuja on fraud and roaming tariffs for ECOWAS regional roaming in collaboration with ECOWAS Commission, kick-off of Digital Transformation of WATRA Operations and WATRA Operating Model review service being part of a $300,000 grant from the Nigerian government through NCC, Nigeria.
Major Disputes Resolution
In 2016, Danbatta’s intervention led to the reduction of the Ground Fee Rate imposed on IHS by the Ogun State government from N370 million down to N120 million, leading to the unsealing of 47 Base Transceiver Station (BTS). In 2017, NCC’s intervention led to the waiver of the N221 million RoW fee for MTN in Kano. Also, in 2018, Danbatta’s intervention in Kogi helped in the unsealing of 20 BTS hub sites.
Furthermore, there has been an increase in NCC’s stakeholders’ collaborations, especially with other agencies of government in resolving major industry issues. For instance, collaboration with the CBN saved 9mobile from going under thereby saving jobs and investment.
Also, reduction in the Right of Way to fast-track telecoms infrastructure deployment through the Engagement of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) et al.
Promotion of Research and Development
The NCC, under Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, created the Research and Development Department (R&D) of the Commission in 2016 to synchronise the various ongoing research activities and other development projects being carried out by the Commission; and to promote innovations in the industry.
NCC has committed over N500 million to R&D between 2016 and 2022, as research grants to academia, and startups and as the endowment of professorial chairs to drive innovations and local content development in the telecoms sector.
Prioritising and Protecting Telecom Consumers
In addition to declaring 2017 as the Year of the Consumer with consumer-centric initiatives aimed at protecting the rights, interests and privileges of the consumers, Danbatta introduced the Do-Not-Disturb (DND) 2442 Short Code.
The (DND) 2442 Short Code is for consumers to stop cases of unsolicited marketing messages on their respective networks. Around 30 million activations to date from 500,000 in 2015.
Danbatta also issued directions to the MNOs on data roll-over, forceful subscription of data services and value-added services (VAS). NCC has also produced the Revised Consumer Code of Practice Regulations at a Public Inquiry.
The Commission created a second layer complaint toll-free line, 622 for consumers to escalate complaints to the level of the Commission.
The Commission, under Danbatta’s watch, continues to drive increased consumer education through major outreach programmes across the go-poetical zones, on different issues can consumers have concerns such as cybercrimes to safeguard them online as well as creating awareness on telecom infrastructure protection. NCC is also strengthening consumer protection by revising Consumer Complaints and Service Legal Agreements (CC/SLAs) with the Operators to ensure prompt response to consumer complaints.
Effective Resolutions of Consumer Complaints and National Emergency
Through NCC Toll-free Number, between 2015 and 2019, 262,206 (95%) out of the 276, 112 complaints lodged by consumers were successfully resolved.
In 2020 alone. Also, of the total 11,327 complaints received in 2020, 11,288 (99.1%) were resolved. From 2021 through 2022, the Commission has always ensured the resolution of over 90% of total complaints escalated to the Commission by telecom consumers for resolutions.
Effective implementation of Emergency Communications Centres (ECC) through 112 National Emergency Numbers in 24 States and Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. Constructions of ECCs in other states are ongoing.
The ECC project, equipped with necessary IT tools and personnel, is a one-stop shop through which members of the public can access help from any response agency, stating that the centre is essentially aimed at enhancing the security of lives and property of the citizens.
The Commission under Danbatta watch has also constituted an inter-agency committee against electronic frauds to protect the consumers. Tackling and nipping in the bud call masking/refiling which is anti-competitive and considered a threat to national security
The Commission, in 2021, created the Center for Computer Security Incident Response (CSIRT) with the overall mandate to ensure continuous improvement of processes and communication frameworks to guarantee the secure and collaborative exchange of timely information while responding to cyber threats within the sector.
The NCC CSIRT is the Commission’s industry-specific intervention, whose objectives are aligned with the National Cybersecurity Policy and Strategy (NCPS) published by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA). The NCPS requires each sector to establish a computer incident response team that provides requisite services to the stakeholders and players within each sector.
Since its establishment in November 2021, the CSIRT has churned out a lot of cybersecurity advisories to alert consumers on identified cyber vulnerabilities while the Centre has also diffused similar information from Nigeria Computer Emergency Response Team (ngCERT). The essence of CSIRT is to ensure adequate protection for telecom consumers against cyber threats while online.
ICPC Ranked NCC as Ethically-Compliant Regulatory Agency.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is the most ethically compliant and integrity-driven regulatory agency of the year, according to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
In its recent report titled, ‘Ethics Compliance and Integrity Scorecard (ECIS)’, the anti-graft agency surveyed 352 ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). The NCC placed first with a score of 81.15 per cent, leading 24 other regulatory agencies assessed by the ICPC.