April 7, 2013
At a function recently, the Executive Chairman of the National Communication Commission, Dr Eugene Juwah, reported that since 1999 the telecommunications sector has seen investment totalling $25 billion. He also revealed that the number of active subscribers is currently over 113 million. Another positive development is the proposed take-off of the Mobile Number Portability, where subscribers could migrate from one network to another, while retaining the same mobile phone number.
Ordinarily, this apparent positive news should excite Nigerians. But does it? Those discerning understand the implication of this huge investment for Nigeria's economy. However, they also know, as much as many Nigerians know, that the sector is bedevilled with numerous problems.
Firstly, especially over the past one year or so, the quality of service provided by all the mobile telecommunications service providers has been appalling; subscribers' experience with the inability to make calls and send SMSs, as well as dropped calls is harrowing. Alongside the poor mobile telephony is that of equally poor internet service.
The Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson also acknowledged that Nigeria is lagging in terms of fast and cost effective broadband for internet services. She asserted that opportunity is being lost where an efficient broadband internet service could be used to further the development of such sectors as health, education and agriculture.
Notwithstanding these challenges though, the investment in the sector has generated a lot of both direct and indirect employment, as well as created wealth. However, the economic impact is almost relegated by the cost of these facilities to the common man. It is generally accepted that Nigerians pay a lot more for these services than their counterparts in other countries. There is also the lack of skills and technology transfer as should be the case. Virtually all the technology, including the operating equipment are imported. On the other hand, the operators have their complains about the inadequate and low functional infrastructure which adds to their cost of operations.
While the arguments of the operators may stand to some extent, we still believe that but for the lack of transparency in the sector, its contribution to the development of the economy would have been explosive. The lack of efficiency cannot be wished away; yes there is access but at what cost? Luckily for these operators Nigerians generally have aversion to litigation, and protests get high jacked anyway. If the Nigerian people will take time off to compare telecoms as well as other services to what obtains in many other countries, things would have taken a different dimension.