Special Report: Umar Garba Danbatta as Icon of Digital Transformation in Nigeria

Umar Garba Danbatta is a Professor of Telecommunications Engineering, champion in the activation of the Nigeria Digital Economy project, and current Executive Vice-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (EVC/CEO) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

An icon of digital transformation in the West African country’s IT/Telecoms ecosystem, Prof. Danbatta’s purposive, impactful leadership at the Commission since 2015 is exemplary. This particularly becomes significant as his leadership is obviously saddled with the historic task of repositioning Nigeria in the global technology space.

With continuous, robust and beneficial engagements with a broad spectrum of critical stakeholders combined with the efficient and supportive Board of Commissioners, competent Management and Staff of the NCC, the EVC/CEO’s leadership is steadily progressing towards attaining the 70 percent projected ubiquitous Broadband penetration by 2025 in view of the recent inspiring industry statistics.

It is believed further Broadband deployment will empower the Nigerian telecoms consumers to maximise the inherent benefits of the 5G networks, the activation of which commenced in the Third Quarter (Q3) of 2022, making Nigeria the first economy to activate the new technology on the African continent.

This Special Report also focuses on the Commission’s consistent consumer-centric programmes and initiatives designed to protect consumers’ interests as the ‘central mandate’ of the telecoms regulator, and highlights of the NCC’s scorecard under Prof. Danbatta’s leadership, among others.

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta is the Executive Vice-Chairman/Chief Executive Officer (EVC/CEO) and most Senior Executive Member of the Board of Commissioners of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) with the Head Office in Abuja, Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Armed with excellent leadership acumen as an astute manager of men and resources with obvious outstanding results in Nigeria’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Telecoms ecosystem in the last seven years, Prof. Danbatta is currently serving a second term of five years in office, following the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2020.

Some of Prof. Danbatta and NCC’s recent Awards of Excellence, honours and recognitions

The telecoms sector regulatory Commission’s EVC/CEO earned his B.Eng, M.Sc Degrees from the Technical University of Wroclaw, in Poland, and received his Ph.D Degree from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST).

READ ALSO: Broadband Connectivity Reaching Underserved Nigerian Telecoms Consumers: Danbatta

The multiple award-winning professor successfully spearheaded the attainment and surpassing of Nigeria’s National Broadband target in 2018, and he is currently, among those leading the charge for the realisation of the new National Broadband target of 70 percent by 2025, after the country achieved and surpassed its earlier national target of 30 percent penetration in 2018, and 42.79 percent penetration as of April 2022 respectively.

Before his appointment to lead the NCC in 2015, Danbatta, who is a professor of Telecommunications Engineering, had worked in the academia as a lecturer where he supervised over 60 Ph.D, M.Eng and B.Eng projects in diverse areas of telecommunications, rising from the ranks to the position of Acting Vice-Chancellor in a Nigerian university.

He was the Vice-President of the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI), an international centre for advanced communications studies, with the headquarters in Abuja, which the NCC established in 2004 to enhance capacity in diverse areas of Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

READ ALSO: NCC EVC Danbatta Elected Into Council Of Nigerian Academy Of Engineering

While at DBI, Danbatta developed expertise in the following major areas of ICT implementation, policy and regulation, including Regulation of the Telecommunications Sector of the Nigerian Economy; Competition, Interconnection and Price Regulations in a Developing Economy; and Issues Concerning Authorisation of Telecommunications Services in a Developing Economy.

The other areas of his expertise are Strategies for ensuring Universal Access and Service to Telecommunications Services; Strategies towards Effective Spectrum Management in a Developing Economy; Issues on Institutional and Legal Framework for Effective Regulation of Telecommunications Services; and, New and Emerging Technologies and Impact on Regulation of the Telecommunications Sector of a Developing Economy, among others.

Awards, recognitions and certificates of honour

The NCC EVC/CEO is a recipient of several awards, recognitions and certificates of honour for his exemplary leadership both nationally and internationally, including the prestigious Zik Prize in Professional Leadership, International Public Relations Association Golden Award in 2000, as the centres played a pivotal role in containing the damaging COVID-19 pandemic in the West African country.

Prof. Danbatta has served two terms of five years as a Member of Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN).

He is also a Fellow of several professional bodies, including the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Nigerian Academy of Engineering (NAEng), Renewable and Alternative Energy Society (RAES) and Nigerian Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (NIEEE).

Glimpses of the regulatory Commission’s national and international stakeholder engagements

As regards Fellowships, Danbatta is a Fellow of several professional organisations, including Nigeria Academy of Engineering (FAEng), Nigerian Society of Engineers (FNSE), Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (FIEEE); and Renewable and Alternative Energy Society of Nigeria (FRAES).

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He is a holder of Honorary Degree of Ph.D (Honoris Causa), University of Jos (UNIJOS), in Plateau State, with several Awards for Danbatta and the telecoms regulatory the NCC under his leadership, among tonnes of others.

Highlights of NCC’s scorecard under Danbatta’s leadership

The fundamental highlights of purposive Prof. Danbatta’s purposive leadership at the foremost telecoms regulatory Commission in the last years include but not limited to licensing of the Fifth Generation (5G) to two telecoms operators in preparation for service activation from August 2022.

Through effective regulatory regime and various cutting-edge programmes and initiatives under his leadership at NCC towards positioning Nigeria in the global ICT/Telecoms space since 2015, Prof. Danbatta-led Management of the Commission has strengthened the central role of telecommunications sector as a major contributor to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth and development, as well as the advancement of the Nigeria Digital Economy.

READ ALSO: Federal Government Commends NCC For Regulatory Strides

On the efforts at deploying the 5G technology, the regulatory Commission licensed MTN Nigeria Communications Plc and Mafab Communications Limited to roll out the 5G Networks and made a $547million for the Federal Government, following the open, transparent, keenly contested, and successful 3.5GHz Spectrum auction conducted December 13, 2021, in Abuja.

In its latest industry report published recently, the Commission stated as of August 2022, the Active Internet Subscriptions By Technology, including mobile (GSM and (CDMA), Fixed Wired and VoIP were estimated at over 209 million by subscribers of the five leading GSM operators, including Airtel, 9mobile, Globacom, MTN and Visafone.

Within the same period of time, Broadband Subscriptions/Penetration Data indicated that the country’s subscriptions hit over 85million, with overall Teledensity data estimated at about 109.99 percent in Nigeria.

The Commission in the past few years has also surpassed the first National Broadband Plan, while working at attaining the new 70 percent projected Broadband penetration, as well as established a number of functional Emergency Communications Centres (ECCs) across the country.

READ ALSO: 5G Networks: MTN Activates Pilot Phase, Lauds Minister, NCC For ‘Unwavering Support’

It is no wonder that Nigeria boosted Information Technology (IT) and Telecoms sector investment inflows from $36billion to over $70billion since 2015, and the all-important sector of the country’s economy contributed as much as 12.61 percent to the GDP as of Fourth Quarter (Q4) 2021.

Under his purposive leadership, the Executive Commissioner, Technical Services (ECTS) directly supervises the six associated departments charged with the addressing of technical standards, emerging technologies, information security, and the spectrum and engineering issues concerning the Nigerian telecommunications industry. The office is also in charge of the ICT infrastructure of the Commission.

Trajectory of some NCC and other industry stakeholders’ efforts at the deployment of 5G Networks in Nigeria

Therefore, in order to ensure promptness, effectiveness and efficiency of emergency response as a matter of as a matter of priority in keeping with Sections 107 (3) A and B, of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCA) Act 2003, the NCC has advanced the number of operational ECCs, established in 2005, to 25 as of March 2022, with the latest activation of the Taraba State ECC with the emergency toll-free number 112 for consumers to call for help when in critical security situations in the economy.

Besides, the NCC has commenced the deployment of Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) solution to modernise and raise the capacity of emergency response agencies.

READ ALSO: Digital Economy: Minister excited about 18.44 percent highest ICT contribution to Nigeria’s GDP

The regulator disclosed the CAD is an automated dispatch software solution deployed for the seamless transmission of calls from the ECC to the relevant ERAs via the click of a button on the Call Agent’s System.

With Taraba ECC joining the existing operational ECCs in 23 states of the Federation, other ECCs are located in the FCT, Adamawa, Imo, Enugu, Ondo, Oyo, Kwara, Plateau, Ogun, Kano, Katsina, Ekiti, Cross River and Edo.

Others are Kaduna, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Benue, Kogi, Bauchi, Osun, Zamfara, Kebbi and Gombe States.

The Commission has deployed the CAD system to the commands of six response agencies, including the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), States Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), and in Ambulance and Fire Service operations in seven states across the country.

Declaration of telecoms infrastructure as critical national assets in Nigeria

Of strategic importance to note is that the NCC under Danbatta’s purposive leadership, June 2020, obtained the presidential designation and declaration of telecommunications infrastructure as critical national infrastructure (CNI) and assets in Nigeria.

The telecoms sector regulator had realised that telecoms infrastructure are prone to theft, vandalisation, destruction, and seizure by criminal elements in the society.

Some NCC’s consumer protection and empowerment programmes and initiatives across the country

ConsumerConnect reports the Commission’s Industry Working Group, in a document titled, ‘Brief on the Designation of Telecommunications Infrastructure as Critical National Infrastructure’, has described the term “critical infrastructure” as assets, which are essential for the effective functioning of any society or economy.

READ ALSO: Cybersecurity: NCC-CSIRT Alerts Consumers To Google Chrome Extensions Malware

The group also stated: “They represent utility assets or ‘public works’ which are indivisible from the efficient operational activities of any society.

“It is universally accepted that any nation’s health, wealth, and security depend upon the production and distribution of certain goods and services.”

The Industry Working Group further stressed: “The array of physical assets, functions, and systems across which these goods and services move are considered critical infrastructure.”

Enhanced stakeholder engagements, global collaborations to boost telecoms

The NCC, as the foremost telecoms sector regulator, has continued to explore avenues to improve engagements with a broad spectrum of its stakeholders, including the industry professionals and associations, sister regulatory agencies, including WATRA and others in the international system for benchmarking the NCC’s regulatory system, the media, telecoms operators, students, consumers, and others across the Nigerian telecoms ecosystem.

As a responsive Commission and industry regulator under Danbatta’s leadership entrenched in the Commission’s core values of Integrity, Excellence, Professionalism, Responsiveness, Innovation and Commitment, the regulator said that the second edition of the Nigerian Telecoms Leadership Summit was organised in line with the NCC’s tradition and commitment to engaging with stakeholders in the telecoms ecosystem.

READ ALSO: Danbatta Applauds Media For Supporting Telecoms Awareness In Nigeria

Reviewing resolutions of the first edition of the Summit held 2019, Yetunde Akintoye, Director of Policy, Competition and Economic Analysis of the Commission, affirmed that the NCC had “implemented the recommendations of that meeting among which were Executive Order on Duplicity of Taxes and Levies, and Harmonisation of Right of Way (ROW) fees.”

The Minister for Communications and Digital Economy in keynote address in a virtual forum March 2021 had disclosed the 36 state governors agreed to implement the unified rate of N145 per linear meter fee for RoW in the laying of fibre optic cables for Broadband deployment.

70 Percent Broadband penetration target cum activation of 5G technology

As the Nigerian Communications Commission intensifies efforts at mobilising the telecoms operators, other critical stakeholders, and requisite resources for attainment of 70 percent Broadband penetration by 2025 coupled with the recent launch of the Fifth Generation (5G) Networks August 2022, Prof. Danbatta at the recent stakeholders’ forum in Lagos aptly reckoned the digital services and contents, which the SMEs provide would leverage Broadband infrastructure and 5G Technology to deliver more innovative and high-quality experiences to consumers.

RELATED: Telecoms Regulator’s Central Mandate Is To Ensure Consumer Protection ─NCC

He said: “The Commission’s successful auction and licensing of the 3.5GHz spectrum licences in the last quarter of 2021 for the deployment of 5G technology is set to create many opportunities for the development of the industry; and as a regulator, we are conversant with the fact that a dynamic regulatory environment is needed to sustain this industry growth.

“Therefore, it has become imperative for us, as critical stakeholders, to appraise the progress made so far as an industry and chart the course for the future of the telecoms industry in the country.”

Danbatta also informed his audience that one of the sectors that had been positively impacted by the digital transformation is the financial services sector of the economy.

Enhancement of telecoms Right of Way in states of the Federation

The Commission under the Danbatta leadership in the last few years has intensified efforts at engaging Governors of the 36 states of the Federation on affordable RoW for telecoms operators.

The RoW charge is the levy paid to state governments for the right to lay of optic fibre by Telcos across their respective jurisdictions in Nigeria.

The Minister for Communications and Digital Economy in keynote address in a virtual forum March 2021 had disclosed the 36 state governors agreed to implement the unified rate of N145 per linear meter fee for RoW in the laying of fibre optic cables for Broadband deployment.

RELATED: Broadband Connectivity Reaching Underserved Nigerian Telecoms Consumers: Danbatta

A number of state governments, including Anambra, Imo, Ekiti, Kaduna, Katsina, Kwara and Plateau states, Pantami said, have reduced drastically or completely eliminated the charge to enable the telecoms companies deploy the essential facility to enhance QoS to consumers.

Nonetheless, ConsumerConnect learnt 29 states as of the time, were still being expected to implement the agreement, as the NCC has intensifies meaningful engagement of these critical industry stakeholders, to enable Nigeria meet its 70 percent Broadband penetration target by 2025, as enshrined in the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP), 2020-2025.

Affirmation by Minister for Communications and Digital Economy at 2022 WSIS Forum in Geneva

While lending credence to the sterling headship of Prof. Danbatta, and that of CEOs of sister agencies under the Federal Ministry for Communications and Digital Economy to push the frontiers of the Nigeria Digital Economy and transformation agenda of the Federal Government to new heights, as the Chairman of the 2022 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), held at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Prof. Pantami in a statement issued by Mrs. Uwa Suleiman, his Spokesperson, noted the Minister led the global economies converging on the headquarters of the ITU to declare the high-level policy sessions open where he addressed participants from over 100 countries of the world.

The Minister leveraged this year’s theme, “ICTs For Well-Being, Inclusion and Resilience; WSIS Cooperation for Accelerating Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals”, shared with the global community some of the far-reaching positive impacts of technology adoption and digital transformation for the socio-economic survival of Nigeria amid the damaging Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Pantami, using Nigeria as a case study, told his immediate audience and the international world, that the West African country exited the recession brought about by the COVID-19 a year earlier than predicted, ahead of several other countries in spite of global projections.

According to him, the feat was largely due to the influence of technologies, adding that available statistics further provided proof that ICTs played a principal role in achieving the feat in the Nigerian economy.

In the last quarter of 2020, stated the Minister, the Nigerian ICT Sector grew by 14.70 percent and 12.90 percent for the whole year.

Pantami further said: “The sector continues to make quantum leaps as we take advantage of resources at our disposal to enable economic development.”

Consumer protection remains the ‘central mandate’ of NCC −Danbatta

The Commission under Danbatta’s leadership in the last seven years has lived up to its core mandate of making the telecoms consumer the central element in the course of implementing its programmes and initiatives.

In lending credence to the Commission’s central mandate of protecting consumers’ interests in the IT/Telecoms space in the country, the Danbatta-led Management, declared 2017 as the ‘Year of Telecoms Consumer’.

RELATED: NCC’s Policy Engagement With Stakeholders For Quality Consumer Experience, Says Danbatta

The Commission noted that its designation of the consumer as the king with a dedicated year, with a nationwide campaign programme designed to give concrete expression to the centrality of the consumer in the West African country’s telecoms ecosystem.

Hitherto, the Commission in 2017, had noted the Quality of Service (QoS) had “deteriorated beyond what was permissible”, particularly the drop call rate which was quite high by the last quarter of 2016.

The key components of the campaigns for the Year of Telecom Consumer include the creation of greater awareness on QoS; Facts on Electromagnetic Fields Radiation; Do Not Disturb (DND) Code 2442; and the NCC’s toll-free line 622 through which consumers can reach the Commission in cases where service providers fail to resolve their complaints.

Prof. Danbatta, while appreciating the stakeholders at a forum thanked them all for the support and solidarity in continually supporting the NCC to improve the telecoms consumer experience in Nigeria.

Among several other interventions, the Commission has initiated several programmes and initiatives to protect Nigerian consumers, particularly in the Telecoms/ICT ecosystem.

Regarding substandard and stolen devices, including phones, tablets, laptops, computers, the NCC has moved to protect consumers and enable Nigerians to get value for money expended on purchasing such items via a process planned to be implemented through the deployment of Device Management System (DMS).

According to the Commission, DMS refers to a technology solution that will enable the telecoms regulator to disconnect any phones flagged as stolen in the Nigerian ecosystem.

“A considerable number of counterfeit ICT devices have found their way into global markets, including in Nigeria.

“The proliferation of these devices is raising concerns about national security, performance, quality of service delivery and potential revenue losses for all stakeholders,” the regulator stated.

In activating its regulatory mandates, the Commission has restated, that the central the mandates is promotion and protection telecoms consumers’ interests.

Thus, in regard to consumer information and education advocacy, the Consumer Affairs Bureau (CAB) of NCC, has continued to serve as one of the key departments dealing with consumer protection and Quality of Service (QoS) through its creed, “Take advantage of us, so that no one takes advantage of you.”

According to Prof. Danbatta, in his speech at a consumer sensitisation forum and roadshow late 2021, in Benin City, Edo State capital, recalled the Commission had created CAB 2001, as a full-fledged department to specifically oversee the fulfilment of its all-important, central consumer-centric mandate.

The Bureau progressively empowers consumers and other stakeholders in the telecoms industry through various consumer engagement programmes and initiatives.

The CAB also ensures the ultimate protection of the rights, privileges and interests of consumers, through adequate information dissemination programmes; and effective policies and strategies that promote effective telecoms service delivery in the country’s telecoms space.

Among sundry consumer education initiatives, the Bureau has facilitated include the latest, “Shine Your Eyes, No Fall Mugu” and #BeCyberAware series being facilitated due to increased accessibility to the resources of the Internet, and attendant rise in tempo and sophistication of cybercrimes, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other helpful consumer protection initiatives are the newly activated the NCC Global Connect Podcast, Telecom Consumer Parliament, Telecom Consumer Conversations Professionals’ Dialogue, The Village Square Dialogue (VSD), World Consumer Rights Day, Telecom Consumer Town Hall on Radio, Production of factsheet into bookmarks in English and translation in local languages (Hausa, Igbo, Pidgin and Yoruba), as well as Skits, digital banners, audio-visuals for consumer education and awareness programmes across Nigeria.

Coordinating special projects and activities such as the Industry Consumer Advisory Forum (ICAF) and Technical Working Group on Child Online Protection (TWG NCOP) are among other consumer education and engagement programmes of the NCC.

Besides, the Commission’s several constant and timely cybersecurity and/or cybercrime alerts to telecoms consumers to protect themselves and their devices from online vulnerabilities are quite helpful to millions of both Nigerians, as well as other Internet users worldwide.

Interestingly, the telecoms Commission, May 2022, restated its commitment to engendering healthy competition among the licensees, the cost of services has been democratised and become more and more affordable for Nigerian subscribers.

It was this backdrop of telecoms companies’ agitation to effect tariff hikes, the Nigerian Communications Commission decisively intervened in the Mobile Network Operators’ (MNOs) proposal to increase tariffs of telecoms services, and subsequent fears expressed by telecoms subscribers.

The regulatory Commission, amid the growing tension in the economy duly acknowledged the demands the MNOs under the auspices of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON).

ALTON had cited high cost of running their operations as the major reason for their proposed tariff increases, as contained in a letter to the Commission.

However, the NCC rose to the occasion and stressed that its regulatory activities are guided by regular cost-based and empirical studies to determine appropriate cost (upper and floor price) within which service providers are allowed to charge their subscribers for services delivered.

The telecoms regulator in a statement noted: “The Commission ensures that any cost determined, as an outcome of such transparent studies is fair enough as to enhance healthy competition among operators, provide wider choices for consumers as well as ensure sustainability of the Nigerian telecoms industry.”

It stated: “For the avoidance of any doubt, and contrary to MNOs’ agitation to increase tariffs for voice and Short Messaging Services (SMS) by a certain percentage, the Commission wishes to categorically inform telecoms subscribers and allay the fears of Nigerians that no tariff increase will be effected by the operators without due regulatory approval by the Commission.

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