The good thing about democracy is that everyone has an opinion and can express it; but the very bad thing about it is that sometimes, most times actually, the power to influence very important actions lie in the hands of those that don’t really understand what the action is all about in the first – and there is no better place to experience this than in Nigeria’s tech sector.
Last year the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) slammed a hefty fine on MTN Nigeria, ever since the conversation has been punctuated by series of investigations, inquiries and hearings most notably those of the two chambers of the National Assembly. These are aside from the strong interest of communications minister, Attorney General and The Presidency. These made stakeholders in the ecosystem raise suspicion over the sudden interest of the various arms of government in what the NCC asked MTN to pay.
The lawmakers took the hearings and investigations too seriously to the extent that they asked all parties not to do anything until they had concluded the process. Even when MTN made some payment, the lawmakers directed that the money be paid into a particular account. And they got so mad when MTN was able to strike a deal with the NCC without their involvement.
Industry stakeholders asked several questions like – why were they mad, is it their money? Did they impose the fine in the first place? Does the constitution allow them to be the ones slamming fines on companies? What is their problem?
On a closer look at the CVs of the politicians that are acting as if they are the ones in control of the way things are done in the telecoms industry showed they all had no backgrounds in telecommunications except the few ones that have plots of lands that are being used by the telecos as base stations. Honorable Fijabi who heads the House of Reps committee carrying out ‘investigations’ into the MTN fine, is known in Ibadan for selling electronics. He has a building complex at Dugbe for that suppose. Does that make him an expert in telecommunications?
Interestingly though unsurprisingly, these politicians interfering with the developments in the telecoms sector are doing so because billions of dollars are involved. Money seems to be their primary, major and only motivation for the selection of which national issue for them to be interested or how will they defend and explain their comparatively lesser interest in ensuring quality of telecoms services in the country improve significantly and the prices reduce to be within reach of everyone? More Nigerians would benefit if they had chosen to focus on a more people-focused cause than one that only enriches the purse of government.
Bad, very bad trend
There is an urgent need for lawmakers, politicians and others alike to back off and stop interfering unnecessarily with Nigeria’s emerging tech ecosystem because the frequency of their interference is threatening the growth of the industry – the recent spectrum auction by the NCC was a good example. Similar previously conducted auctions attracted numerous applications but owing to the interference in the ecosystem from many quarters, only one applicant applied for the spectrum license. Coincidentally, that single applicant was MTN that was being frustrated.
Even though the operators cannot be entirely trusted and given free pass in the industry, the lawmakers and other politicians should know that there are already agencies, arms of government, commissions, councils and other constitutionally established institutions in charge of the ecosystem and it is a constant slap on their faces when the lawmakers with no qualifications at all attempted to tell them how to do their job. Once in a while, they show they are in charge – just look at how NCC and MTN outsmarted the lawmakers when they struck their deal.
The growth of the tech ecosystem will be enhanced when the investors and operators are assured of unnecessary interference from government officials. Nigeria needs to stop making fool of itself before the foreign companies when its agencies and tiers of government are engaging one another in ego-laden penis swinging competition for the control of the ecosystem. It is when incidences like MTN fine saga happen that the operators can find a loophole to latch on for their best interest.