Despite Complex Environment, Future of ICT in Nigeria Looks Promising

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Ikechukwu Nnamani is the new first Vice President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, ATCON, and the Chief Executive Officer of Medallion Communications Limited. He talks about his plans and strategies to lift the nation’s Information Communication Technology, ICT/Telecommunications industry, sector challenges and way out, as well as the regulatory environment in this interview with Omolabake Fasogbon

You have just been elected as the first Vice President of ATCON, what do you intend to bring on board?
Yuring my time serving as the first vice president of ATCON, I intend to focus on activities that will strengthen the telecom and ICT industry in Nigeria by empowering members and growing their business. Beyond the current advocacy for member companies that ATCON has been known for, we will be introducing new programmes that will help strengthen members’ business and lead to a more profitable operating environment.
As a former member of the board of the association, what were your major achievements?
I contributed in promoting the various initiatives of ATCON. The last major assignment before assuming the new post is working on the committee tasked with developing the financial sustainability plan for the association.
Multiple taxation and right of way, amongst others have been some of the challenges hindering creativity and innovation in the sector, how do you intend to address these challenges?
I believe in engagement rather than confrontation in all matters where there are divergent views. I believe these issues have remained unresolved because the key stakeholders from the government side have not seen telecom and ICT infrastructure as a major socio-economic stimulant that will lead to not only revenue generation but also enhanced quality of life for the citizens. My goal in ATCON will be to help push this important fact to the decision makers in the various arms of government so they will have a rethink of the current approach of seeing telecom and ICT service providers as mainly a means to drive up IGR through taxes and levies. It has to be seen as a partnership where the government give the necessary support needed for rapid infrastructure development in the various levels of government  while the private sector reciprocates by deploying the necessary infrastructure for the good of all. In the long run government ,will generate more income while  ensuring that critical services needed by the citizens are provided.
Call masking has been a major threat to service providers and consumers. The regulator is also trying to solve this problem. As an expert, what is your advice the regulator?
Call masking mainly results from the termination difference between international calls and local calls.  The root causes of this problem must be identified to are not identified to find a lasting solution to it. So, the first area to explore is how to bridge the pricing difference so there is little economic incentive for call masking. Recall that in Nigeria when the termination rate for international calls was the same as local call, there was no issue as this. There is need to review the various calling patterns and packages from outside the country and align the local rates with the various calling packages so different call rates will apply. That will help reduce the economic incentive for call masking. There is also need to put in the right technology and solutions needed to curb the menace. There exists technology to help resolve this if properly implemented.
As part of NCC’s effort to curb the act, the body suspended six interconnect companies, including Medallion Communications, linked with the act, but recently lifted the ban after it traced the infraction to sim box operators. You were quoted by an online medium to have accused the regulator of not conducting its investigation properly, can you dwell more on this?
It is good to correct some of the misinformation out there with respect to happening in the issue of call masking in the country and the steps taken so far by the regulator. For instance, it is wrong to say NCC suspended the licenses of six interconnect companies. To the best of my knowledge it was not six companies that were suspended. Various penalties were imposed on different companies and the details of these were not made public by the regulator. The companies involved got their individual letters from the regulator and the details were not made public. So it is wrong to speculate on the contents thereof.  There has been a lot of inaccurate information published with respect to this matter in recent times. Sometimes publishing articles with captivating headlines could drive traffic to a story, but it is wrong to publish articles in a way that does not portray accurately the issue at stake or misquote those that grant interview. In the case of the matter you referred to with respect to our comment on how the regulator has handled the issue of its investigation into call masking, we never attacked the regulator. We simply declared our innocence of any involvement in call masking activities and stated that we followed due process in appealing the suspension and that upon review of our appeal ,the regulator lifted the suspension. In lifting the suspension, the regulator gave us areas of our operations to improve upon and these are simple improvements we can easily implement so we don’t foresee any future issues with the regulator with respect to this matter.
Many people see sanction as not been right to caution infractions in the industry. Do you share this view?
It depends on the infractions and how critical continued violation would affect the telecom industry. However in my view sanctions should only be imposed when the operator involved has been given adequate warning and opportunity to correct the infractions.

What is your view about the Nigerian telecom regulatory environment?

The Nigerian telecom regulatory environment is very robust. For a complex environment like Nigeria it is difficult to compare our regulatory environment with that of more well established telecom markets. The legal system also has direct impact on the regulatory environment hence a lot of credit should be given to the Nigerian telecom regulator for maintaining a vibrant telecom market.  While it is not possible to have a perfect regulatory system in any part of the world, we have to create regulatory policies that are in line with our operating environment and localised for our country.

Realising the internet penetration target of 30% by the end of this year would be a major headway in the industry, what is ATCON doing to aid this?

One of the factors militating against the achievement of this noble goal is the high cost of right of ways for implementation of fiber optics transmission network. As was previously explained, the association  intends to help tackle this matter by engaging the various agencies with a view to getting them review their requirements and financial expectation from operators. We will bridge the current disconnect between the various agencies and streamline the process of approval.

Asides being an executive of ATCON, You are also the Chief Executive Officer of Medallion Communications Limited, How do you combine these two tough roles?

My involvement with ATCON is viewed as a social corporate responsibility by Medallion. We see it as my contribution to the growth of the industry. I therefore devote as much effort that is needed to move the association forward and achieve the set objectives. Medallion is a carrier neutral infrastructure provider. There is a synergy in the vision and objectives of Medallion towards building a vibrant telecom industry and that of ATCON. Although it is tasking to combine my role in both organisations, I see it as being important and needed to be done.  My wealth of experience in managing an organisation like Medallion is very important in ATCON.