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Telecoms: Regulating the regulators, operators over poor mobile network services

*Nigeria’s House of Representatives is set to investigate the Nigerian Communications Commission for alleged non-provision of mobile telecoms services to the under-served and unserved areas of the West African country in regard to availability of the USPF created for the purpose

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

Members of the House of Representatives in the National Assembly (NASS), in Abuja, FCT, have invited regulators and operators in the telecoms sector over poor coverage and spread of their services across the country.

The House Ad hoc Committee’s invitation resulted from a resolution on a motion of urgent public importance titled, ‘Need to Investigate Failure/Inability of the Nigerian Communications Commission to Promote Widespread Availability and Usage of Mobile Telecommunication Network Services throughout Nigeria As Well As Accruals/Utilisation of Funds in the Universal Service Provision Fund’.

The Federal lawmakers invited the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), MTN Nigeria, Airtel Nigeria, Globacom and 9Mobile to an investigative hearing scheduled to hold from May 8 to 10, 2023.

The Ad hoc Committee also extended its invitation to others, including the Governing Board of the USPF, Accountant General of the Federation, Auditor-General for the Federation, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), telecoms equipment vendors in Nigeria, and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to appear before the investigative panel.

Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of the House of Representatives, had set up a panel to carry out the probe.

The Committee is composed of Messrs Bamidele Salam (Chairman), Jide Jimoh, Unyime Idem, Aisha Dukku, Sani Bala, Babajide Obanikoro, Abubakar Fulata and Chinedu Ogah, as well as sponsor of the motion, Sergius Ogun.

Hon. Salam, Chairman of the House Committee, in a notice stated that the invitation and call for memoranda from the relevant stakeholders for the exercise was based on the House earlier resolution.

The Chairman explained the House resolutions were on the “need to investigate the non-provision of mobile telecommunication network services to the under-served and unserved areas of Nigeria by the NCC despite the availability of the USPF, which was created for this purpose.”

Salam also stated the Ad hoc Committee would also investigate the “total accruals into and utilisation of the USPF by the NCC since inception of the fund.”

It is recalled the House of Representatives April 6 this year had made a resolution to investigate the NCC over how it had utilised the USPF,

The Fund is an allocation of 2.5 percent of the annual turnover of the mobile telecoms network operators as annual licence renewal fee.

The Federal Legislative Chamber at the time decided to set up an ad hoc committee to investigate the matter and report back within four weeks for further legislative action.

NCC responsible for facilitating telecoms investments, say lawmakers

A member of the House, Sergius Ogun, while moving the motion early April also restated that under Section 4 of the NCC Act, Cap N97, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, the Commission is saddled with the responsibility of facilitating investments in and entry into the Nigerian market for provision and supply of communication services, equipment and facilities.

According to him, Section 112 (1) of the Act gives the NCC the power to consider, design and determine a system which shall promote the widespread availability and usage of network services throughout Nigeria by encouraging the installation of network facilities and the provision of network services to institutions in the un-served and underserved areas of the country, known as the Universal Service Provision.

The legislator said a community reading of the provisions of Sections 114 and 118 of the Act showed that the structure, governance, administration and control of the Universal Service Provision Fund shall be as determined or domiciled in the NCC.

“The House is aware that in the wake of the rapid expansions of the Global System of Mobile Communication in Nigeria, most of the mobile telecommunications network operators were reluctant to move to the rural areas owing to the business considerations.

“The House is also aware that the Act empowers the NCC to receive 2.5 percent of the annual turnover of the mobile telecommunication network operators as annual license renewal fee,” Ogun stated.

He further noted: “The NCC is expected to utilise the funds generated from the contributions of mobile telecommunication network operators, for implementing Universal Access Strategy and Programme in accordance with Federal Government’s policy thereon (as enshrined in Section 4 of the Act).”

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