That the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, got the nod of Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, instructing or directing security agencies to physically protect telecom infrastructure is only an attempt in the right direction, but ultimately not a guarantee or a solution to the problem.
What the Minister got is a mere DIRECTIVE. But what is needed to secure the telecom infrastructure, owing to their critical nature to the country’s economy and security is an Executive Order written and signed by the President and backed by law. Such an Executive Order will do better than some directives to security agencies, which are known to have flouted several directives in the past.
The signing of Executive Order is what some governors, starting with Dr. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State are doing with regards to Right of Way charges. With such Orders, the Governors have been able to reduce Right of Way charges from N4, 500 to N145, N1 per meter while some totally waived the charges for telecoms operators.
In fact, the approval from the President is in no way different from what the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had done in the area of signing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to collaborate with various organisations to strengthen protection of telecom infrastructure in the country. That has been the status quo. Yet, as laudable as those agreements and Federal government directives have been, telecom infrastructure cannot be said to have been fully protected from vandalism and theft. This is because there is no force of law and a clear definition of responsibility on any agency to protect telecom infrastructure. In which case, negligence to secure telecom infrastructure by any security agency will not have any serious legal implications.
Without any equivocation, Executive Order, which will have legal teeth and force of the law, is what the industry needs, if truly telecoms industry is to be well protected and that is what industry expects from the Minister.
Telecom advocacy groups such as the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) and the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ALTON) have loudly advocated compelling desirability of having an Executive Oder to protect the telecoms industry.
Even Minister Pantami had also in his frenetic desire at different fora, proudly told the audience that he was working with the President to have an Executive Order on telecoms protection signed.
So yesterday’s statement issued by Mrs. Uwa Sulaiman, where Dr. Isa Pantami was quoted to have gotten approval from His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari, directing that necessary physical protective measures be emplaced by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), Defence Headquarters (DHQ), Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Department of State Security Services (DSS) and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), to safeguard telecommunications infrastructure deployed across the country is an unfortunate development for our quest for the digital economy.
For us, the announcement is a missed opportunity to get it right and a setback for the industry, which the Minister apparently failed to handle with all tenacity it deserves, as this would have earned him tremendous and cheering commendations from all the stakeholders including the agencies under his supervision.
Given the development, the Minister must work more towards securing an Executive Order for the industry, which is now very critical to the national economy as COVID-19 experience has shown. Also, going by the number of people who have continued to depend on telecoms/digital platforms to carry out their daily personal and official tasks, at the rate never seen before in the country, the industry needs the Executive Order.
That is the case in some other climes. For instance, the United States of America signed its Executive Order EO 13010 on July 15, I996. The Order, among other things, protects its telecom infrastructure, seeing it as a national infrastructure that requires special protection from threats of any kind.
Nigeria’s African neighbour, South Africa, also signed in December 2019 when President Cyril Ramaphosa assented to the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, which repeals the apartheid-era National Keypoints Act of 1980 and provides for public-private cooperation in the identification and protection of critical infrastructure in which telecoms is central.
If Nigeria sees ‘Telecom Infrastructure as Critical National Security and Economic Infrastructure’ as prescribed in the Cybercrime Act, 2015, then, a discerning stakeholder in Nigeria’s telecoms industry will have no doubt that Executive Order is what the Minister must work towards and not another directive that has no force of law and for us, such an Order must be signed NOW.