By Emma Okonji
Disturbed about the frequent summons received from different committees of the National Assembly (NASS), which negatively impact on the ability of the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of telecoms operators (Telcos), to focus on their operations, the telcos, under the aegis of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), have dragged the NASS members to court. In the suit, the CEOs are seeking judicial interpretation of the oversight functions of the lawmakers on telecommunications operations.
Chairman of ALTON, Gbenga Adebayo, who made the disclosure at the weekend in Lagos, said they were compelled to approach the court, after several dialogues with the National Assembly members failed. According to him, telecoms operators have engaged with the lawmakers severally to make them understand that the frequent summons by its various committee members are distorting the workflow of the CEOs, who are being summoned to discuss the same issue that other committee members had hitherto summoned them for, and the committee member had always refused to listen to them. Adebayo said the incessant summons by the committees indicate the overlapping functions of the different committees, which he said must be addressed in the law court.
“The NASSâ€™ insistence on attendance of CEOs at such session is without consideration of these CEOs reasonable schedule conflict or the fact that other senior management staff may be better versed and suited due to the nature of their job roles vis-a-vis the subject matter of investigation,” Adebayo said.
ALTON, at its general meeting held on Friday, 20th October, 2017, resolved to seek judicial interpretation of the oversight functions of the members of NASS on telecoms operations. Based on the outcome of the meeting, ALTON engaged the services of a law firm, which eventually filed a case at the Federal High Court in Abuja to challenge the powers of the lawmakers over telecoms operations in the county.
Citing duplication of efforts by the Committees, ALTON said its members were summoned by both the Standing Committee on Telecoms and the Ad-hoc Committee on Operational activities of Telecoms Equipment and Service Providers, both investigating loss of revenue to the federal government. The committee on telecoms is also investigating loss of jobs, which the committee on labour had also summoned its members in respect of.
The Committee on Telecoms also served summons for investigation by its Adhoc Committee for Value Added Services and Committee investigating locally manufactured skills.
According to Adebayo, some of the requested information border on information within the purview of specific government agencies which the NASS could easily request the agencies to provide, such information as evidence of tax remittances to government since inception of members operations, which could date as far back as sixteen years; or confidential information which members should not be obliged to provide.
ALTON has therefore asked for the court to determine the extent of the NASSâ€™ oversight functions as it relates to private companies and particularly, telecommunications companies being private companies; the specific nature of information which the NASS can lawfully request from private companies including telecommunications companies, and whether it includes companiesâ€™ confidential information and information within the purview of government agencies; specific nature of directives that can be made by NASS pursuant to the outcome of their investigative activities. ALTON is also seeking for an order restraining the NASS from serving any further summons on telecommunication companies, pending the determination of the action.