The telecommunications industry in Nigeria, without doubt, plays strategic roles in the national economy. Indeed, if the story of Nigeria’s democracy since May 29, 1999 was to be told, the advent, growth and impact of the industry will occupy generous chapters of such chronicle. In her announcement that Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance and the coordinating minister for the economy, particularly identified the contributions of the telecommunications sector to national development.
A significant mainstay of the roles of the telecommunications industry in the economy is the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, whose pioneer Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, EVC/CEO was Engineer Ogbonna Cletus Iromantu. Every organisation desirous of reaching the next level and maximising its potential, needs a thoroughbred leader, who not only understands the organisation, but also has the capacity to bring the best out of its workers. When the tenure of the third EVC, Engineer Ernest Ndukwe, was about ending, President Goodluck Jonathan began his search for a thoroughbred professional to lead NCC. Recognising the importance of NCC, the President took his time, and eventually appointed Dr Eugene Juwah as the fourth EVC/CEO of NCC on July 29, 2010.
Four years on, Juwah has continually earned the respect of not only telecommunications professionals but also the generality of Nigerians for the several innovations he brought to NCC. Juwah started with industry-wide consultations with the intention of getting a full understanding of the needs of the people. From these consultations, he identified certain focus areas which are: a return of the fixed line infrastructure alongside national broadband development, enhancement of consumer choice, vigorous compliance monitoring and enforcement to achieve lasting industry sanity thereby improving national connectivity. All these are aimed at enhancing Nigeria’s relationships within the global telecommunications community.
The capacity to implement a well-defined vision defines a real leader. Juwah, blessed with this quality, not only articulated a sound vision, he equally possesses the capacity to lead NCC staff in strengthening the telecoms industry. His singular effort towards broadband emancipation, availability and wide usage by Nigerians earned him Mr. Broadband sobriquet. It is to his credit that national consciousness of the benefits of broadband in the industry was raised, leading to the formation of National Broadband Strategy Council. There are numerous leaders in the public domain who have underperformed, blaming everyone, apart from themselves for their mediocre leaderships. Not so for Juwah. He has abundance of results to show. For instance, between 2001 and July 2010, Nigeria recorded 88 million active phone subscribers. That was a period of 10 years. But in just four years, from July 2010 to 2014, phone subscribers in Nigeria reached 131 million! And NCC is still counting. NCC has consistently exceeded its yearly goals and projections, since his assumption of duty, which marks him out as one of the Public Administrators of the Year 2014 – a privileged few selected for their remarkable leaderships and achievements of their organisations in Year 2014.
The consolidation of achievements of his predecessor and making NCC a world-class agency, and a globally respected telecommunications regulator are among Juwah’s priorities for NCC. And in these pursuits, he has deployed his 30 years of experience in analogue and digital mobile network developments, ICT marketing management, policy advisory and strategic planning into realising, even exceeding his priorities and vision for NCC.
Nigeria in the Cyberspace
NCC has not limited its operations to voice telephony. Under Juwah, it has taken Nigeria into the cyberspace with millions of Nigerians accessing the Internet. More than ever before, Nigerians, including corporate organisations, communicate more using the array of telephone and Internet services available. For example, Nigeria’s financial industry, especially the banks, has made the Internet the bedrock of its activities. Hotels, airlines, retail outlets, and many other industries widely use Internet banking facilities. All these facilities depend largely on the efficiency of the telecommunications providers like MTN, Airtel, Etisalat and Globacom. And supervising, monitoring and sanctioning these providers are the work of NCC –– a herculean task which Juwah and NCC staff take seriously.
The impact of Internet telephone services is remarkable. Statistics show that from June 2012 when total Internet subscription was about 25.4 million. Nigeria now has over 65 million Internet users as at April 2014, a growth of over 160 per cent – and still growing. As more Nigerians and organisations get connected, NCC envisages that there will be more e-commercial and e-governmental transactions, thus reducing the burdens of leaving one’s home or office to go and transact business in banks or government offices. In many silent, but salient ways, NCC, through its operations, contributes to making life easier and more enjoyable to Nigerians.
Nigeria’s Rising Profile as Choice Investment Destination
Despite the challenging issue of insecurity in a part of the country, Nigeria is still the first choice among foreign investors coming to Africa. As at July 2010, the nation’s telecoms industry has a private sector investment estimated at $25 billion. But in 2014, that figure rose to over $32 billion. Foreign investors are guided by the policies of government and its seriousness. They are also influenced by the competence and leadership capability of those heading government parastatals in whose sectors they want to invest. Juwah’s NCC continues to provide abundant opportunities for foreign investors and so, they keep investing in Nigeria’s telecommunications sector, knowing full well that their investments are safe –– and will grow.
Rebasing the Economy: Contributions of the Telecoms Industry
For decades, the oil/gas and financial industries played the Big Boys in the Nigerian economy, contributing over 90 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product. In the past four years (2010–2014), Nigeria’s telecommunications sector has however enhanced its capacity to play in the big league, adding more value to the economy. The industry contributed 4.5 per cent, 5.7 per cent, 6.98 per cent and 8.69 per cent in the years 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively. And following the rebasing of the economy, the telecommunications industry, by the second quarter of 2014, had contributed 9.25 per cent to the GDP. Apart from its financial input in the economy, the industry now employs millions of Nigerians through direct and indirect means. There are thousands of Nigerians who are major retailers of recharge cards of the telecomms services providers. These major retailers in turn hire young Nigerians who sell for them.
Broadband Revolution to Begin Soon
The credit for Nigeria’s ambitious broadband pursuit today is largely traced to the evangelism espoused by Dr Juwah who upon assumption of office identified the potential and prospects of broadband technology. His unwavering commitment to leverage broadband to deliver some of the other items on his administration’s agenda, such as returning the nation to the basics of fixed telephony underscores the level of his confidence that broadband has the magic wand to produce the next wave of revolution in Nigeria’s telecoms firmament.
In no time, the nation bought into the idea, following the support of the Minister of Communication Technology, Dr. Omobola Johnson, who promoted the setting up of the national broadband strategy implementation committee. This committee produced a strategy report that aligned the responsibilities of other agencies and industries within the framework of developing a robust broadband deployment across the nation.
In line with the pronouncements and prescriptions of the Broadband Commission set up by the International Telecommunications Union, ITU, the commission under Dr Juwah, began the painstaking process of infrastructure inventory and appraisal of broadband potential in Nigeria, and after a nationwide survey and mapping, arrived conclusively that a model called Open Access Model, would be Nigeria’s model for achieving rapid, pervasive, and affordable broadband infrastructure and services. The “Open Access Model” was formally unveiled for the industry in November 2013, as the vehicle that will take Nigeria to the Promised Land of broadband revolution. Since then, Nigeria has been pursuing the Open Market agenda and projecting the investment potential in the sector, even as it also promotes the transparency of the model.
The implementation of Open Access Model had begun with the auction of frequency in the 2.3GHz and 2.6GHz Spectrum for wholesale wireless services providers. Fibre transmission had been identified as the key driver for successful delivery of broadband services, and with this reality, the Open Access Model is addressing the process for selection of infrastructure providers across the nation, which has begun in earnest. The first set of licenses would be issued before the end of 2014. With the targets set in this direction being met, the race to broadband revolution is underway.
In the course of his four-year leadership at NCC, the regulator has introduced several innovations which include the registration of SIM cards by all phone users in Nigeria, an exercise which is rated successful by Nigerians. Among the benefits of SIM card registration is the security of the lives of Nigerians.
NCC has also introduced the Emergency Communication Centres (ECCs) with a view to helping Nigeria manage and overcome national emergency situations such as floods. The federal government instructed NCC to build Emergency Communication Centres (ECCs) in all the 36 states of Nigeria and Abuja. By dialing 112, any Nigerian could easily report an emergency situation. The response agencies that shall be connected or contacted through this service are the Fire Service, the Nigeria Police, Federal Road Safety Corps, National Emergency Management Agency, among others. Twenty-eight of the ECCs have been built so far, out of which five are fully operational. Others will become fully operational soon.
The hallmarks of visionary leaderships are the abilities to get people do what needs to be done as well as march confidently into the future. Successful leaders always build upon the past and connect the present with the future. Juwah does not rest on his laurels and bask in the attainment of yearly targets or goals.
As far back as Year 2012, he began the articulation of a five-year Development Goal. NCC engaged KPMG, a respected financial and management services company in the designing of a master plan for the telecommunications industry with specific focus on growth.