ICT Marred by Retrogressive Policies

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Stakeholders in the Information and Communications Technology sector are disappointed that the policy direction of the Muhammadu Buhari administration in the last one year has been inimical to the sector’s growth, writes Emma Okonji

Nigerians voted massively for the All Progressives Congress (APC) during the presidential elections last year because they needed a change in government that will better their lots. Muhammadu Buhari, who was the APC presidential candidate and his running mate, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, promised Nigerians a positive change. Hence, votes were cast in their favour. But one year down the line, Nigerians have started singing a new song, calling on Buhari to deliver on the actual change they needed, through policy formulation and implementation that are friendly to the masses.

Nigerians in the ICT sector are beginning to groan under the leadership of the present administration, and they are calling for a new policy direction that will complement the gains of the ICT sector.
Most industry stakeholders who spoke with THISDAY about the impact of Buhari’s administration on the ICT sector in the last one year, were quick to condemn his policies, insisting that nothing significant has happened in the sector in the last one year. They blamed the situation on what they described as the retrogressive policy formulation and implementation of the Buhari’s administration.

The Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ATLTON), Gbenga Adebayo, and the former President of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Lanre Ajayi, came down hard on the government, faulting its policies on the ICT sector, which they said are inimical to the growth and development of the sector. They called on the president to change his anti-ICT policies and come up with policies that will enhance development in the sector.
Although both industry leaders spoke the minds of the majority of stakeholders, but some of the stakeholders said it is premature to assess the impact of Buhari’s policy on ICT in just one year.

Impact of policy on ICT
In the assessment of Adebayo nothing significant has happened in the last one year, saying that there has been no clear government policy to assist and inspire industry players. According to him, the current government is rather coming up with policies that are stringent to telecoms growth and could stifle development in the sector.
Another industry stakeholder, Lanre Ajayi, is of the view that ICT expectations were not met in the last one year, blaming the situation on poor policy formulation and implementation of the present administration.

“We expected a better broadband penetration in the last one year, but this was not met, because no better progress was recorded in broadband penetration in the last one year, even though broadband is key to ICT development of any nation,” Ajayi said. According to him, many Nigerians in the rural communities do not have access to broadband, despite the fact that broadband is key to business growth, both in the urban and rural communities of the country. Ajayi, however, said he would not blame the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu for the failure in the ICT sector in the last one year, because he is just six months old in the telecoms industry, having been appointed by the current administration in November 2015.

Spectrum auction

Using the analogy of the 2.3GHz and the 2.6GHz spectrum licences, which government brought up for auction in February 2014 and May 2016 respectively, Ajayi concluded that the investment climate in Nigeria is becoming unattractive, based on wrong policy formulation and implementation by government.
Bitflux, which won the bid for the 2.3GHz spectrum in February 2014, paid $23.25 million to win the auctioned frequency licence, but could not roll out immediately because of harsh business environment. In the 2.6GHz spectrum that was supposed to be auctioned last month, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry regulator, could not carry out the spectrum auction because only one bidder indicated interest. According to Ajayi, the fact that only one bidder indicated interest showed that investors were beginning to be scared of the Nigerian business climate for wrong policies.

Multiple taxation

While blaming the situation where all manners of government agencies at the federal and state levels impose taxes on telecommunication operators, Ajayi said the scenario would not only force telecoms operators to hike cost of telecoms service offerings, but would also scare investors who may have interest to invest in the country’s ICT sector, from investing.

Condemning the recent proposed plan by the National Assembly to hike communications services tax also known as ICT Tax, Adebayo said it would prevent millions of Nigerians from having internet access.
He said the bill would threaten Nigeria’s ability to achieve its goal of 30 per cent broadband penetration by 2018 and would undermine the socio-economic progress spurred by increased connectivity.

The Communication Service Tax (CST) Bill 2015, currently before the National Assembly, will require consumers of voice, data, short message service (SMS), multimedia message services (MMS) and pay TV services, to pay a 9 per cent tax on the fees paid for the use of these services. The tax will be collected in addition to the 5 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT) that consumers already paid when they purchased devices and communication services, as well as the 12 per cent custom import duties paid on ICT devices, and the 20 per cent tax levied on SIM cards.
Adebayo, who described the bill as anti-people, blamed the Buhari’s administration for formulating policies that are harsh to industry development.

MTN’s N1.04 trillion fine

Ajayi also knocked Buhari’s administration for the manner in which it handled the MTN fine that was imposed on the telecoms company in October last year, by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). According to him, the NCC was in a hurry to impose a whopping N1.04 trillion fine on a single company that has contributed so much to the country’s GDP in terms of job creation and employment. He said he expected the Buhari led government to handle the matter in a better way, but explained that he was surprised at government’s position that the fine be paid in full. Ajayi said the fine was outrageous in the first place and could ground the operations of MTN, if compelled to pay. He warned that the action of Buhari’s government over the fine since it was imposed on MTN last year, could send wrong signals to foreign investors who want to invest in the country, and called on government to think of better ways of reaching amicable resolution on the matter.

Other views

Although the performance of Buhari’s government has come under heavy criticism, some stakeholders have different views. For instance, a member of council, Computer Professionals Registration Council of Nigeria (CPN), Mr. Rogba Adeoye has said it is too early to assess the impact of Buhari’s administration on ICT in the last one year. According to him, delay in the budget approval and implementation affected every sector of the Nigerian economy, including the ICT sector. He said with the 2016 budget approval, Nigerians would begin to see positive changes across all sectors, including the ICT sector.
The Chief Executive Officer of Teledom Group, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, said the delay in the appointment of ministers that are supposed to drive policy implementation in various sectors of the economy, contributed largely to the slow development in the ICT sector. He commended the minister of communications, for his passion and commitment in driving the ICT sector, since his appointment late last year.

“The minister is committed to developing the ICT sector. Few months after his appointment, he has visited several parastatals under his ministry to find ways of mutual collaboration that will drive the ICT sector. He has held stakeholders’ consultative forum in Ibadan, Oyo State. The Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umaru Danbatta was also newly appointed by the Buhari’s administration and he has shown great zeal with his eight point agenda to move the ICT industry forward, and should be given the chance to do so,” Ekuwem said.

Way forward

Most of the stakeholders have advised that the Buhari’s government should focus more on deepening broadband deployment in the county in order to meet and surpass the 30 per cent penetration level by 2018. They also want government to develop polices that will remove all forms of bottlenecks and promote ICT development in the country.