Industry stakeholders have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to prevail on members of the National Assembly, to ensure the passage of telecom infrastructure bill in to law before leaving office this year.
According to them, four successive parliaments have discussed the National Critical Infrastructure Bill, yet none of the parliaments have been able to pass and harmonise the bill for assent by the President.
They are of the view that instead of the rush to pass the recent National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) Bill, which seeks to automatically convert NITDA from a development agency to regulatory agency in a sector where there is an existing regulator, the National Assembly members should rather focus on the passage of the National Critical Infrastructure Bill for the telecom sector, owing to its importance in national development and its contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of the Nigerian economy.
The stakeholders unanimously condemned the plan by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, in pushing the NITDA’s Bill, which they said, excluded all the contributions of industry stakeholders, and therefore does not represent their interests.
Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, told THISDAY that the telecom sector, which contributed so much to Nigeria’s GDP growth and broadband penetration in 2022, suffered some setbacks in the areas of fibre cuts that affected internet connectivity. He said the sector also suffered from willful destruction and theft of telecom facilities, including the incessant closure of telecom sites by most government agencies.
According to Adebayo, “Passing the Critical National Infrastructure Bill in telecom sector has become necessary because the facilities are for public use and must be protected by law to enable the sector sustain its achievements that have impacted positively on the Nigerian economy as well as on organisations and individuals. The bill has been transmitted long ago to the National Assembly, but it has not for once been presented for hearing. It is important that the current National Assembly members deliberate on the bill and pass it as a matter of urgency before leaving office this year.”
Adebayo further said: “The telecom sector had its challenges in 2022. Telecom operators suffered too many destructions of telecom equipment in 2022, which affected infrastructure rollout across the country. Telecom masts and a lot of fibre optic cables were damaged in 2022. The sector suffered multiple regulations from different tiers of government and government agencies, who used the opportunity to impose multiple taxes and levies on telecom operations in the country. The challenges affected growth in telecom because telecom operators had to contend with the challenges.”
He therefore called on government to begin to think about the sustainability of the telecom industry, and ensure quick passage of the bill in order to avoid further challenges in 2023.
Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, said the Critical National Infrastructure Bill, when passed into law, would deal with the issues of frequent fibre cuts, infrastructure theft and vandalization, network congestion, community access denial, amongst other sectorial issues.
The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, had also discussed the bill with President Muhammadu Buhari, with a view to protecting telecom facilities from vandalization and theft, amongst other things.
Telecom operators and industry players had over the years been consistent in their demand for the federal government to declare all telecom facilities across the country as critical national infrastructure but their request was never heeded to, leading to frequent vandalization of telecoms infrastructure in various parts of the country.