By Banabas Igho
If you are supervising an important ministry like that of communication, even without the recent fancy addition of “digital economy” to its name, and you still need a spokesperson to pen almost 2,000 words of polemics in order to project your image, then, your self-inflicted trouble is just starting in my reckoning.
Before her latest outburst in the media, thoughtlessly blaming imaginary saboteurs for trying to stop her ‘unstoppable boss’, Uwa Suleman had issued a disconcerting diatribe in form of a press release, accusing all the critical stakeholders of the ministry her principal supervises including the media, of ganging up against him because he was the ‘best thing’ that happened to the industry since its liberalisation in the year 2000.
This prompted ripostes of some respected columnists like Mr. Sanya Oni of The Nation newspaper, who eloquently summed up the Minister’s tragedy as a case of exaggerated notion of the office that he occupies as “he obviously didn’t think that his remit stops at formulating and implementing policies for the digital economy; as he wants to play the regulator”.
Since his assuming office in August this year, Mr. Pantami has, indeed, found it difficult to adjust from the regulatory role he used to enjoy at National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) to his new titular position as per regulating the industry is concerned, and his unconstitutional attempts to dabble into it has invited the resistance of major actors in the industry like Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) as well as that of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON).
Coming back to Uwa’s latest invectives, however, there are some fundamental half-truths she raised in her slay-queen styled article, like the ridiculous claim that South Africa and other countries are busy copying and pasting the minister’s example of his failed data price reduction directive. While this, to say the least, is very disrespectful to the authorities in South Africa, who have never impliedly referred to Nigeria in taking their decisions, it’s obviously not the actual representation of the truth of the matter.
Someone should wake Uwa up and hand over a mug of coffee to her together with the contrasting news of India’s example, that hiked the data prices to as much as 40%. We don’t know how this is ignored as a copy and pasting of what the policy of the man she obsequiously describes in ludicrous adjectives that late Idi Amin of Uganda would have rejected.
To cut the story short, India used to enjoy the cheapest data in the world, but the industry could no longer sustain it without risking losing in further investment to support the telecom infrastructure in the country. This still happened within the 21-day coincidence Uwa claimed to have provided the copy and paste effect in South Africa.
Still, what Uwa hasn’t told us was that South Africa used to be among the top 3 in terms of the cost of data and even with 50% reduction, it wouldn’t come down to the level of Nigeria, despite the fact that the challenges the telcos face and cost of production in Nigeria are clearly on a different scale. Even on the strength of the Cable report that Pantami quoted in the past, it put Nigeria and South Africa, with an average of $2.22 and $7.19 per 1GB respectively.
And one can forgive Uwa for her poor grasp of the issue as she embarrassingly attributed the directive in South Africa to the country’s telecom regulator, while a little Googling on the matter would have told her that the decision emanated from South Africa Competition Regulatory Authority, not the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa and the decision must have been scientifically based, not jejune subjective populist directive.
But such kinds of faux pas are understandable as Uwa and co in the new mandate are trying to learn the rope. And they should be reminded of the fact that before their arrival on the scene, the industry had already matured.
There were over 70 million Nigerians on the high-speed internet, millions of active subscriber base as well as numerous sensational story in the industry, which has been sustained in this trajectory for long. Hence, accusing both the providers and the regulator of connivance is not only reckless but cheap as both the stakeholders collaboratively built the industry from scratch. Some years ago, we saw how the regulator, NCC fined a major MNO over 1 trillion Naira. Pray, what kind of compromised regulator would dare?
It’s not too late for the minister, however, to curb himself of this seduction to ‘populism’ and court the important stakeholders of the ministry by beginning put the cart before the horse – addressing industry issues -, if he wants to succeed. Omobola Johnson was very effective as a minister because she fully understood the job and how to manage a delicate industry like telecommunications.
If Mr. Pantami wants to succeed, he needs all the regulators and operators on his side, and he can’t achieve that by constantly pitching them against the consumers, thereby making his narcissistic self-good and everybody that has contributed to the development of the industry bad. For now, let him know that his take-off was very bad and turbulent and everything boils down to his poor piloting skills, and not the army of imaginary saboteurs and enemies his aides are busy conjuring up for him.
Banabas Igho, a telecoms engineer cum public affairs analyst, writes from Lagos