The re-appointment of Prof. Umar Danbatta as the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission for another five years has been described as a good omen for the telecoms industry. In this report, TECH TRACK AFRICA looks at the records of the NCC boss in the last four years plus.
President Muhammadu Buhari last week approved the re-appointment of Prof. Umar Danbatta as the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), allowing the telecommunications czar to pilot the affairs of the regulatory agency for another five years. This, for many stakeholders in the industry, is a positive development that will sustain and propel further growth in the country’s telecoms landscape.
Danbatta, who came on board as the EVC of NCC in August 2015, hit the ground running by unveiling 8-Point Agenda to accelerate the Commission’s regulatory activities towards facilitating increased availability, accessibility, and affordability of telecoms services to Nigerians. The focus of the Commission under Danbatta is hinged on the pedestal of catalysing the use of ICTs for enabling different aspects of national development.
And true to that goal, the last four years have witnessed geometric growth in the use of ICTs in Nigeria. From financial services to e-commerce, the telecommunications sector has become the pillar of success for all other sectors of the economy. Today, ICTs have become a key contributor to the nation’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP).
The impressive growth statistics in the industry between 2015 till date are evidence of the successes recorded under Dnabatta as the EVC of NCC from August 2015 to date, which justified a reappointment. For instance, despite the recession and other macro-economic challenges, the telecoms segment’s GDP contribution alone increased from 8.50 percent in August 2015 to 10.88 per cent as of Q1 2020. However, the entire ICT contribution was even higher at 14 percent as of the first quarter of 2020, according to the latest data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
Active mobile voice subscribers increased from 151 million in August 2015, when Danbatta came on board, to 189.2 million as of the end of March 2020. Between August 2015 and February 2019, when teledensity was measured against the 140 population in Nigeria, teledensity increased from 107.87 to 124.05 per cent. However, after rebasing the country’s teledensity to 91 per cent in February 2019, in line with international best practice and economic reality, teledensity has impressively increased from 91 per cent to 99.16 per cent as of March 2020.
Internet subscribers have also increased from 90 million in 2015 to 136.2 million as of March 2020. Broadband penetration increased from 8 percent in 2015 to 39.90 per cent in March 2020. This indicates that 76.2 million Nigerians are now on broadband networks of3G and 4G in the country.
Surpassing broadband target
Through the painstaking implementation of the 8-point agenda, the country was able to achieve and surpass its broadband penetration target of 30 percent by the end of December 2018, a feat that was commended by all stakeholders in the country. Various efforts of the Commission in licensing new spectrum bands, re-farming certain frequency bands, and driving initiatives for increased broadband infrastructure in the country have also been responsible for these feats.
The passion for an aggressive drive for pervasive broadband penetration by the Danbatta-led administration at NCC is made manifest going by the fact that the need to facilitate broadband penetration tops the 8-Point Agenda. Also, Danbatta made it clear that from now on, access to broadband will become a fundamental metric for measuring development growth and development in Nigeria, as it will be central to the growth recorded in every other sector of the economy where telecoms would be driving services automation and digitisation.
Danbatta made this clear early in one of his speeches: “Nigerians need robust and pervasive broadband connectivity more than ever before in today’s world, where people can easily interact with an Automated Teller Machine (ATM), carry out activities around e-commerce, e-government, telemedicine, among others daily.”
Accelerating infrastructure deployment
Also, closely linked to the efforts of Danbatta-led NCC towards deepening broadband penetration is the Commission’s consistent pursuit of its Open Access Model (OAM) project aimed at extending access to digital services across the 774 local government councils in the country is its plan to license Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos).
In its modest quest to bridge the digital divide, the Commission put in place this initiative to fast-track broadband access and take services to several unserved and underserved areas of Nigeria with the implementation of its Open Access Model, through the InfraCo licensing. More remarkably pertinent to the digital transformation march is the fact that in 2018, the Commission was able to increase the number of InfraCo licences to six.
The six InfraCos so far licensed to drive the deployment of broadband infrastructure across the nation’s six geo-political zones and Lagos, include Raeana Nigeria Limited for the South-South Zone; O’dua Infraco Resources Limited for South-West Zone; Fleek Networks Limited for North-West Zone; Brinks Integrated Solutions for North-East Zone; MainOne Limited for Lagos Zone and Zinox Technologies Limited for the South-East Zone. The remaining licence for North Central Zone is being processed, according to the Commission.
Commitment to ICT Innovations
In line with its commitment to promoting innovation to drive digital transformation, the Danbatta-led leadership created a Research and Development (R&D) Department for the Commission in 2016, to synchronise the various ongoing research activities and other development projects being carried out by the Commission. This decision, which was in line with the provisions of the National Telecommunications Policy 2000 and the Nigerian National ICT Policy 2012, is helping the Commission to stimulate and sustain innovations in the ICT industry.
From 2013 to date, the Commission has disbursed millions of Naira, in grants, to sponsor innovation-oriented research projects in tertiary institutions and other research institutes. In keeping with its ongoing tradition of driving technology innovations through funding relevant researches in tertiary institutions, therefore, the Commission, in May 2019, announced N40 million endowment funds for Bayero University, Kano (BUK) and the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO) The fund will be utilized by the institutions to drive for innovation, research and development in the digital space with an ongoing commitment to expand the list of benefiting institutions.
Four years ago, the investment profile of the sector was around $38 billion. But today, it has grown to over $70 billion. Despite this, the telecom regulator has admitted the present investment in the sector is inadequate and will continue to pursue policies that would encourage more investment, stressing that Nigeria is one of the fastest-growing telecommunications markets in the world.
“The volume of telecom investment in Nigeria is very impressive and indicative of a very fast-growing and resilient sector of the economy. But, we will continue to advocate for more investment, giving that the industry was very capital intensive, with the competition for Foreign Direct Investments becoming fiercer among different nations,” Danbatta said during the maiden Nigerian Telecom Leadership Summit (NTLS) held in Lagos last year.
Preparing Nigeria for new technologies
It is worthy of note that in the fourth quarter of 2018 and consonance with the 3rd and 5th items of its 8-Point Agenda focusing on optimising usage and benefits of the spectrum and facilitating strategic collaboration and partnerships, the NCC, in collaboration with the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), held a workshop to discuss the prospects and challenges of Next-Generation Networks (NGN) such as the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, among others, in the nation’s telecoms industry.
Danbatta during the workshop said the workshop was “to provide an avenue for regulators, operators, investors as well as other stakeholders to examine and constructively exchange ideas on the main demand areas for next generation of services, spectrum licensing reforms and the requirements for 5G and other emerging technologies that are to revolutionise the telecom system and users.” The workshop, thus, formed the precursor to the country’s preparedness of the Commission for the impending deployment of 5G services due to commence globally by 2020.
Consequently, in the last quarter of 2019, the Commission, in its proactive regulatory approach, pioneered the trial of Fifth Generation (5G) technology in Nigeria, becoming the first telecoms regulator in the West Africa to begin such historic trial towards unleashing greater digital revolution in the country. Consequently, 5G trials have been conducted in Abuja, Calabar, and Lagos and the coming years can only be more exciting for Nigerians, who will, through 5G network deployment, have access to faster broadband speed to carry out personal and official activities. This will bring about more efficiency, effectiveness, and growth.
The re-appointment of Danbatta, no doubt, attested to the sterling performance of the NCC boss, and now is the time to consolidate on those achievements that have sustained the telecoms growth trajectory last four years plus. The industry would want to see more of the vibrant and dynamic regulatory actions that characterized his first tenure in the next five years.