From whatever perspective it is viewed, the Nigeria telecommunications sector has proven worthy of the appellation ‘economic enabler’ given to it, especially as the primary driver of the country’s digital economic agenda that is fast gathering momentum to put Nigeria on the same pedestal with other developed countries of the world.
While the growth and success stories of the sector are owed chiefly to the excellent regulatory efforts of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Nigeria’s independent telecoms regulator, the NCC itself has thrived in the last seven years under the leadership of its current Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (EVC/CEO), Professor Umar Garba Danbatta.
Since his investiture in 2015, Danbatta, who until his appoints as the NCC boss was a university don specialising in Telecommunications Engineering and Information and Communications Technology, has attracted numerous recognitions, honours and awards from various stakeholders and industry watchers who commit to rewarding excellence to further encourage their awardees to do more.
The most recent of such merit-based recognitions is the 11th Edition of the Vanguard Personality of the Year Award where Professor Danbatta was again decorated as the 2022 Regulator of the Year.
Receiving the recognition, the EVC shared the stage with other eminent personalities in the country such as President of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote; Kwara State Governor, Abdulraham Abdulrazaq; and Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, among others.
An Arcade of Decorations
Aside from the latest 2022 Vanguard Regulator of the Year Award that the EVC has just added to his laurels, previous recognitions he had won for the himself and the Commission include Man Of The Year 2020, Money Report Magazine; Outstanding Accomplishments In Emergency Management (SEMA 2020); Most ethically compliant and integrity-driven regulatory agency of the year -ICPC; Award Of Excellence By Head Of Civil Service Of The Federation; and Telecom Personality Of The Year ICT Watch Awards.
Others include the Prestigious Zik Prize 2020; Government Agency Of The Year (Beacon Of ICT Awards); Most Responsive CEO Of The Year (Public Service) By House Of Representatives Press Corp (2018); Personality Of The Year By The Lagos Chamber Of Commerce Industry, Mines And Agriculture; Chief Executive Officer Of The Year (Tell Magazine); Quality Achievement Award For Best Practices By European Society For Quality Research (ESQR) 2017; European Award For Best Practices 2016 By An EU Organisation In Brussels, Belgium; and 2022 ICT Personality of the Year Award at Technology Innovation Awards (TIA), among others.
Reasons for the Awards
For the EVC, leading the agency to achieve the mandate of the federal government to deliver digital values for the socio-economic upliftment of Nigerians and at the same time engendering conducive environment for operators and investors to thrive in the sector, and in the process contributing to the common wealth of the nation, form the basis for the many honours he has been decorated with.
In more specific terms however, these can be captured through various metrics that accurately measure how the NCC has fared under its current EVC, Danbatta, to achieve its mandates, and as such justify the desirability of the various awards he has received.
Telecoms Contribution to National GDP
The telecoms industry has remained a major contributor to Nigeria’s national economy with the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry contributing 15.35% to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as at the third quarter of 2022, higher than 14.20% in the same quarter of the previous year, according to the latest data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Out of this figure, the telecoms segment of the ICT economy contributed 12.85% in the Q3.
In fact, in the preceding Q2 of 2022 when total ICT contribution to GDP was higher at 18.94%, telecoms alone also contributed the lion share to the figure at 15%.
Industry experts, who considered these figures a quantum leap from just 8.5% in 2015 when Danbatta came on board, have ascribed the development to the excellent regulation of sector under his leadership.
Telecom Investment Inflow
From less than $500 million investment in 2001, the investment profile in the nation’s telecommunications sector hit $38 billion in 2015 when the current EVC, Prof. Umar Garb Danbatta, assumed office. Since, the sector has further attracted investments from both local and foreign investors, leading to the current over $70 billion valuation of the sector.
The rewards for such investment flow are not lost on other metrics of development of the sector. For instance, total active telephones lines available to Nigerians which stood at 151 million as at December 2015 have soared significantly to 222.57 million after seven years of Danbatta’s reign in office, representing 47.39% increase. This is a reflection of improved telecoms infrastructure and expansion by operators.
The same goes with internet and broadband access and penetration in the country. Latest industry data officially obtained from the Commission indicate that from 105.06 million in October 2018, basic internet subscriptions hit 154.84 million at the end of 2022, representing 47.38% growth.
Similarly, broadband or high-speed internet penetration has been driven higher through various policies and initiatives of the commission. Globally, growth in broadband is acknowledged to reflect direct positive impact on the GDP fortune of any nation, and here, Nigeria is not an exception.
After helping to achieve 30% broadband penetration target stipulated in the Nigeria National Broadband Plan (NNBP) 2013-2018 which he met on ground, the Danbatta is now leading the commission to deliver 70% penetration target by 2025 as documented in the current National Broadband Plan 2020-2025. At the end of December 2022, Nigeria had already attained 47.36% penetration which translated into 90.4 million connections to high-speed internet in the country.
It would be recalled that when the EVC came on board, third generation long term evolution (3G LTE) was in vogue but since then, the bar of internet connectivity has been raised to fourth generation long term evolution (4G LTE) and currently, Nigeria is even catching up with early adopters of fifth generation internet technology (5G) after the NCC licensed MTN Nigeria, Mafab Communications and Airtel Nigeria to roll out the fastest internet tech the world has ever seen in the country.
The InfraCos Project
Danbatta’s administration has increased the number of licensed Infrastructure Companies (InfraCo) from 2 in 2015 to six. The InfraCos are to deploy broadband infrastructure, on a wholesale basis, in the 774 Local Government Areas in Nigeria. However, funding portion and the entire InfraCo Framework is currently being reviewed to keep it in line with the current economic reality.
Quality and Cost of Service
NCC has consistently addressed quality of service delivery through effective monitoring of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and development of KPIs for 3G and 4G to enhance quality of service experience for telecoms consumers.
Even as service quality improves, there also has been a reduction in the cost of data by well over 75% from $11.15 in mid-2014 to $2.78 at the end of 2019. This is according to a study by Research ICT Africa’s (RIA’s) 1GB Basket Statistics.
According to the study, the average cost of data now has come down to around N500 from N1000 per Gigabyte of data, considering the fact that most operators now offer 2GB of data for N1000 or even less.
Spectrum Revenue generation for Government
NCC, under Danbatta’s foresight and leadership, was the first telecoms regulator to embark on trial of 5G technology in West Africa. After a rigorous process, the NCC conducted the auction of 3.5Ghz spectrum to deploy 5G network in December 2021 where MTN and Mafab Communications emerged as the winners.
From the auction, the NCC raked in over $500 million which was remitted into the FG’s Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF), as prescribed by law. On September 18, 2022, MTN held a commercial launch of its 5G services in Lagos while Mafab has also launched commercially in Lagos and Abuja. Also, the Commission has issued the third 5G spectrum licence to Airtel Nigeria, following its meeting the requirements in the Information Memorandum (IM). It again generated another $273 million from the spectrum sales to Airtel.
This is in addition to the revenue earlier generated by the Commission between 2015 and early 2020, wherein the Commission had remitted N344.71 billion to Federal Government’s CRF from spectrum fees and operating surplus. The NCC, under prof. Danbatta, also embarked on spectrum auctions, re-planning, re-farming to optimise the usage of the scarce resource, especially as facilitated by the SVP 2015-2020 and also in the SVP 2021-2025.
Strategic Vision Plan (SVP) 1:
When Professor Danbatta took the mantle of leadership at NCC, he came onboard with Articulation of Strategic Vision Plan (SVP) for the fiscal years 2015-2020 after due consultation with industry stakeholders. The SVP is focused on an 8-Point Agenda, whose diligent implementation has significantly improved the growth of the sector and the sector’s contribution to national GDP from 2015 till date.
The vision plan was to Facilitate Broadband Penetration, Improve Quality of Service, Optimize Usage and Benefits of Spectrum, Promote ICT Innovation and Investment Opportunities, Facilitate Strategic Collaboration and Partnership, Empower and Protect Consumers, Promote Fair Competition and Inclusive Growth and lastly, Ensure Regulatory Excellence and Operational Efficiency.
Strategic Vision Plan (SVP) 2
Meanwhile, as a follow-up and based on the need to take the Commission to greater heights, the NCC facilitated the development of a new Strategic Vision Plan which was unveiled on September 7, 2021.
In developing the new SVP (2021 – 2025), Danbatta had said: “we have taken Cognizance of the several notable advancements in the Nigerian telecommunications industry within the last five years, as well as the current global realities.
“These realities, all of which have been incorporated into the New SVP 2, include the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)’s strategic plan (2020 – 2023), the Commission’s Strategic Management Plan (SMP) 2020-2024, the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) 2020-2030 for a digital Nigeria, the National Broadband Plan (NBP) 2020-2025 and the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) of the Federal Government.”
The current SVP 2021-2025 has five visions namely: Organizational Renewal for Operational Efficiency and Regulatory Excellence; Facilitate the Provision of Infrastructure for a Digital Economy which fosters National Development; Promote Fair Competition, Inclusive Growth, Increased investment and Innovative Services; Improve Quality of Service (QoS) for Enhanced Consumer Quality of Experience (QoE); and Facilitate Strategic Collaboration and Partnership.
From all indications, the two vision plans have served as effective compasses helping the commission to maintain focus to deliver its mandates without a moment of distraction despite the many economic downtowns that Nigerian had had to deal with since 2015 till date.
Surely, there are other numerous achievements, projects and initiatives of the NCC in the last seven years that could not be captured in on shot. The fact however, remains that so far, the EVC of the NCC, Professor Danbatta, has proven that he has a vision for excellent regulation and he has succeeded in diffusing same to the board and management teams of the Commission, leading to a working culture that gives rise to new figures, better standard and strategic contributions to the Nigerian economy.