Eugene Juwah, NCC CEO
Following the approval in principle secured by the Ministry of Communications Technology on the merger of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), industry operators have called for caution and painstaking effort in the implementation of the new policy in order to make it worthwhile, reports Emma Okonji
Nigerians have continued to react to last week’s approval of the merger between the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). While some have hailed the decision of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approving the merger plan, which they said was long overdue, others have called on government to thread softly on the matter to avoid a situation where the merger plan will cause more harm than good particularly to the nation’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. FEC had last week Wednesday gave its approval for the merger of NCC and NBC following a fresh issue raised by the Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson. THISDAY gathered that the approval was given in principle, awaiting a new policy that will guide and strengthen the new body that will emerge from the merger. The minister presented the issue at the FEC meeting, where the approval was given. Although the call for merger began few years before the creation of the Ministry of Communications Technology in July last year, industry stakeholders clamouring for merger strongly felt there was need to merge the two government agencies since the technologies, which the two bodies control, were fast converging globally.
Need for Convergence
Their argument was that since NCC regulates telecommunications and NBC regulates broadcasting, there was need to collapse the two agencies into a single regulator since a subscriber could carry out both communications and broadcasting functions from a single mobile device. The telecoms consumer can use a single mobile device to communicate by making and receiving phone calls and also use the same device to broadcast data information as well as photographs from one mobile phone to another. The issue of convergence led to the call for merger of the two agencies. On assumption of duty as the Minister of Communications Technology, Johnson saw the need for merger and she went ahead to press it on government for approval, until she got approval last week. Some Nigerians who saw the approval as a new beginning for the ICT sector said it was a welcome decision. President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Lanre Ajayi, who spoke with THISDAY, said the merger was a welcome development that would help the industry to grow rapidly, just like in other economies. According to him, “technologies are converging and the regulators of such technologies need to converge as well. With a single technology device, people could listen to radio commentaries, watch television, make calls, watch and stream videos online among others.”
It is just appropriate that NCC and NBC merge into a single large regulator, in order to move the country forward, he added. Addressing the issue of name change for the new body, Ajayi said, “there is nothing special in the name, what matters is the body and its’ regulatory functions and the ability to regulate the telecommunications industry.”
Need for Caution
President of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, however, asked government to thread with caution over the planned merger. Adebayo said the merger could dismantle the successful structures and frameworks of the two agencies that were built over the years, if not handled with caution.
According to him, the two agencies had been very successful in their philosophies and agendas as government regulatory bodies and that any attempt by government to collapse the two bodies would definitely disrupt their structures and ideologies that have proved to be successful over the years. “It is true that technologies are converging and that technology regulatory bodies should also converge, but my worry is about how government will address the issue without bringing in sentiments and politics, because there had never been any known successful merger carried out by government in the past,” Adebayo said.
His fear again was on the role of the Ministry of Communications Technology that is directly supervising NCC and the role of the Ministry of Information that is directly supervising NBC after the merger. Both NCC and NBC have been very successful in their regulatory functions until recently when there were observable traces of clashes of interests in their regulatory roles resulting from convergence of modern technologies, which is fast becoming a global trend. In order to avoid clashes of interests, coupled with the determination to have a free flow of technology convergence, through seamless regulation, stakeholders of the industry started calling for the merger of NCC and NBC.
The Nigerian Communications Commission is the independent national regulatory authority for the telecommunications industry. The commission is responsible for creating an enabling environment for competition among operators in the industry as well as ensuring the provision of qualitative and efficient telecommunications services throughout the country. Over the years NCC has earned a reputation as a foremost telecoms regulatory agency in Nigeria and Africa.
The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is a government body empowered to regulate the broadcasting industry. The commission is responsible for advising the federal government on the implementation of the National Mass Communication Policy with particular reference to broadcasting as well as cable licensing and all terrestrial radio and television services.
The commission is also responsible for undertaking research and development in the broadcast industry, upholding the principles of equity and fairness in broadcasting and establishing and disseminating a national broadcasting code while also setting standards with regards to the contents and quality of materials broadcast.