The newly elected President of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria, Mr. Ikechukwu Nnamani, speaks about his plans to achieve better service quality for subscribers, among other initiatives. Emma Okonji presents the excerpts:
You were recently elected as the next President of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON). How do you intend to run the telecoms association in the next two years?
It was a good day for the association because the election that brought me to the helm of affairs of ATCON, was well conducted and it was peaceful and transparent. First, I must commend our immediate past president, Mr. Olusola Teniola for a great job he has done in taking the association to the current level. A lot has been achieved in the last four years when he was at the helm of affairs. The new Exco will continue with the great work that the former exco did. Most of us in the new exco were members of the former exco and we operated in various capacities, which means there is legacy knowledge of the operations of the association. We also have some new members among the recently elected executives and so they will inject new ideas into the association and make it stronger.
Having been elected, what are the key agenda you are bringing on board?
The new exco will address three main areas: strengthening the secretariat for more efficient service delivery; strengthening the membership for growth and strengthening the telecom and ICT space for better service delivery to the subscribers. We will modernise the operations of the secretariat to be in line with present day realities for efficient and cost effective operations. The COVId-19 pandemic has revealed that organisations should be structured for remote operations when it becomes impossible to work in a physical office location. We will be upgrading our secretariat infrastructure to ensure operations and meetings can happen remotely including future Annual General Meetings (AGMs) if needed. We will also ensure the secretariat staff are well trained and equipped to be able to handle the changing and progressive nature of membership and the industry in general. About two years ago, we developed a financial sustainability plan for the association and so far the implementation of the plan has made the association financially stable and in a good place financially. We will continue with the implementation of the plan. We will place a lot of emphasis on signing up new membership for the association and also ensure we have events and activities that promote the businesses of our members. We will engage with the various regulatory and government agencies both at the state and federal level to ensure our members’ needs are met and that there is enabling environment for the efficient and cost effective delivery of telecoms and ICT services in the country. Our engagement will be firm but not confrontational to ensure success. We will also encourage corroborations among our members so that there will be harmony in the industry and progress for all stakeholders. We will be introducing some new membership benefit packages to ensure our members get the best value for their involvement in the association. Our engagement will ensure that new classes of service are introduced to the subscribers at affordable rates while not compromising on the quality of service
Can you tell us more about ATCON and its roles in the Nigerian telecoms landscape?
ATCON is the premier telecom and ICT association in Nigeria with membership of over 160 companies at the moment. We currently have new requests for membership being processed. Our class of membership cuts across eight types of service providers namely telecom operators, equipment vendors, value added service providers, infrastructure service providers, equipment manufacturers, internet service providers, telecom and ICT consultants, and FinTech/e-Commerce operators. We have over the years, engaged with the relevant stakeholders in the country to move the telecom and ICT industry forward. Our interventions have helped advanced the telecom and ICT services in the country, consistently leading to increase in the contribution of telecom and ICT to Nigeria’s GDP over the past decades. Recent financial report indicates the telecom and ICT industry contributed N2.3trillion, which is about 14.3 per cent to Nigerian’s GDP in the second quarter of 2020. The investment in the telecom and ICT sector has grown to $70 billion by end of 2019 with $32 billion of that investment happening in the last five years. ATCON members are responsible for these gains. We have helped extend telecom and ICT services across the country especially the rural and underserved areas of the country as well as promote broadband penetration across the country. We have participated in virtually all crucial requests for stakeholders’ intervention by the regulators and government agencies including the recently concluded 2020 to 2025 Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP) and the Nigerian national cybersecurity policy documents. We have over the years being blessed by having the best hands in the industry as presidents of ATCON, which have continually repositioned the association. These include the former Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Ernest Ndukwe, who is currently the Chairman of MTN Nigeria Board; the current Secretary to the Government of Akwa Ibom State, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem. Others are: Titi Omo Ettu; Lanre Ajayi; and the immediate past present of ATCON, Olusola Teniola. The leadership qualities of these individuals have laid a solid foundation for the association that has continued to grow stronger each year.
How do you intend to lead the new ATCON exco and activities to help small operators weather the storm and the big ones to do better?
We have always focused on creating a cordial working environment where all the service providers irrespective of their sizes are able to meet and interact on the challenges facing the industry. Every year we organise several stakeholders’ engagement events where CEOs and top management staff of the various telecoms organisations meet to discuss and review industry pressing issues and how best to work together. These meetings and interactions have helped bridge the gap between the smaller and bigger telecoms operators and several joint projects have been initiated at these events. The industry is an ecosystem where we all need one another and partnership among service providers will continue to be promoted under the new executive.
What will be your approach in solving the challenges facing the industry that have lingered for too long?
The telecoms industry has been faced with some challenges for some time now, but with the interventions we have been doing over the years, there has also been some progress on all the areas listed. For instance on the ROW challenges, a lot of progress has been made with the recent confirmation by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, that several state governments have agreed to waive the ROW fees or reduce it to the agreed N145 per linear metre. That is progress which will ultimately lead to rapid deployment of fibre transmission infrastructure across the country. Some progress have also been made with respect to vandalism with the work done so far on classification of telecom and ICT infrastructure as critical national infrastructure that will be protected. Progress has also been made in the area of multiple taxation. Unfortunately challenges still exist with power supply and forex, but we will continue to work on those. Some of the challenges, we can address with more advocacy and interaction with the relevant government agencies, others will be addressed by ourselves as service providers by readjusting some areas of our operations. For instance, in areas where vandalism cannot be totally prevented, putting in place a redundant network infrastructure so there is availability of service at all times is the one way to go. This, however, requires funding. It is for this reason that the new exco will focus more on major areas like appropriate telecom and ICT industry financing. We have already started the engagement with key government agencies of how the right mix of equity and debt financing can be made available to the telecom and ICT sector including our request that part of the proposed infrastructure fund being put together by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) should be allocated to the telecom and ICT sector. We have also called for the establishment of a special bank for the telecom and ICT industry, similar to what we have in Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture, among others.
What is your view on the Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) bill that has been waiting to be passed into law for many years now?
We commend the effort that has been put into making the CNI bill a reality and truly appreciate the efforts of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy as well as the Nigerian Communications Commission in this regard. We believe the bill will be passed into law in the coming months.
Before now, you were already part of the ATCON Executive body but now you will be leading the team as the president. How will you handle this demanding task without friction with responsibilities to your personal companies that you manage?
As you noted, I have been in the ATCON Executive Board for several years both as a coordinator of the telecom operators’ sub-group, as well as the First Vice President, which was my last position before being elected president. All these time I have handled the responsibilities of my companies without issues and challenges. The same process will continue even now that I am president of our great association. Remember we have a secretariat, which is responsible for the day-to-day running of the association and we will strengthen it for more efficiency. I also have a strong team in the current exco and they will provide needed support. Historically ATCON has always been run without dependence on a single person and that will continue even during this new exco.
Nigeria currently is working on many projects particularly, broadband target and the digital economy agenda. To what extent can ATCON support these projects?
ATCON has been part of all these projects from conceptual stages once the regulator and government agencies involved brings the initiative to the notice of ATCON. Our opinion and suggestions have always been sought in the development of the operating policies and framework for these projects and we will continue to do so.
You have listed some of your agenda, but how will you address some of the challenges you may face in the course of implementing those agenda?
We have provided our opinions and suggestions to the relevant authorities and we will continue to do so using the official channels given for that purpose. Challenges will always come but we will always find ways to address them.
In recent times, telecoms operators appear to be working more collaboratively with the federal government agents in the sector. How do you intend to sustain this momentum and even take it to a new height?
We have realised that constructive engagements with the relevant government agencies, help to reduce friction and ensure that areas of disagreement on any policy or guidelines are resolved in a timely manner. We changed our approach in engaging with the government from being confrontational to cordial meetings, where we pointed out the social-economic benefits of having a robust telecoms and ICT infrastructure in the various states. This has made the state governments to now see telecom and ICT service providers as partners in the provision of dividends of democracy to the citizens and how we should be supported to establish services in the various states. This has been a win-win for all parties involved.
According to a recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics, there are indications that telecoms services are more concentrated in some parts of the country, while many other parts of the county lack access to telecoms services and infrastructure. How do you intend to strike a balance in this area?
The reason for this is that some areas are not economically viable for the investment needed to provide telecoms services to those areas. What happens globally in situations like this is that the government steps in and supports the operators who are ready to offer services in locations that are not commercially viable. This can be in the form of subsidies, tax breaks, seed funding, among others. The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) under the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), has made some provisions to finance establishment of telecommunications services in the rural and underserved areas.
Who are the stakeholders you intend to work with to further position ATCON as a key driver of the telecoms industry?
We will work with all our members that cut across all sectors of the telecoms and ICT space. We will also work with the various regulators and government agencies. The telecoms and ICT media had always been partners with ATCON in putting out accurate information on the happenings in the industry and we hope that will continue.
What are you promising subscribers in the next two years on behalf of telecoms operators?
Better quality of service at cheaper cost. New classes of service will also be introduced.