opinionBy Henry Udutchay
Abuja — August 7, 2008 marks exactly seven years since Nigeria joined the rest of the world in acquiring the Global System for Mobile Telecommunication, popularly known as GSM. It was indeed a defining moment; in the history of Africa's most populous nation, which had waited for several years to acquire this very important means of communication.
Prior to this historic breakthrough, Nigeria's telecommunication industry had been in a sorry state. These were characterized by obsolete telecommunication infrastructure, non availability of telephone lines/epileptic service delivery, inefficiency and corruption.
For instance, the total available telephone lines in the country before GSM was below 500.000. This was grossly inadequate for the country's huge population, which is over 130 million people, -but an embarrassment to her status as the leading black nation in the world.
Worried by this unpleasant scenario which had stifled the country's economic development for several years, the newly inaugurated Obasanjo administration decided to give immediate priority to the re-activation of the almost moribund telecommunication industry. The introduction of GSM was considered of utmost urgency. The first major step in this direction was the re-organization, of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), with the Board under the leadership of an accomplished and retired public servant, Alhaji Ahmed Joda and the Management headed by a highly respected telecom expert, Engr. Ernest Ndukwe.
The new NCC leadership was specially given the mandate to ensure the introduction of GSM in the country at the shortest possible time.
Though this was a difficult task, considering the past failures in this direction, the NCC embraced this challenge with enthusiasm.
Every effort was painstakingly taken to ensure that the country got it right this time around. This includes a very rigorous but interesting licensing process which was relayed live on radio and televisied to millions of Nigeria.
There were initial problems like poor service delivery and high tariff being charged by the operators. This expectedly generated negative reactions from Nigerians. But NCC Executive Vice chairman Engr. Ernest Ndukwe was confident that the situation would improve. He equally assured that market forces and stiff competition by the operators would bring down the tariff.
Like an oracle who knew his trade, Engr. Ndukwe's predictions turned out to be correct as the operators adjusted their tariffs downward. They also introduced the much demanded per second billing. In keeping with its regulatory mandate, the NCC had taken measures that would protect the interest of both the operators and their subscribers. This includes the establishment of the highly commended consumer parliament, which meet regularly to discuss issues affecting the industry.
Since its inception in 2003, the monthly meeting of the Parliament has provided solutions to many intricate problems affecting the smooth operators and their customers.
Seven years since the introduction of GSM in Nigeria, the country has witnessed an unprecedented massive development of telecom infrastructure across the country by the operators. This is in response to the overwhelming demand for GSM service by Nigerians. Equally, there has been massive inflow of direct foreign investment into the country.
Indeed, the rate of investment in the telecom sector since 1999 is regarded only second to the oil industry. With over 45 million subscribers base Nigeria's telecommunication industry is regarded as the fastest growing in the world. This has opened up huge business opportunities in the telecom industry.
Likewise, GSM has revolutionalized our business environment. Today, people can transact their businesses from the comfort of their homes through the use of GSM facilities equally social relationships has been enhanced as people can reach out to their loved ones in distant places.
GSM has also empowered the people economically through creation of mass employment. Today, so many unemployed people are earning their living by making phone calls, selling recharge cards and GSM accessories. GSM has equally become a major source of revenue for the government. In the last seven years GSM operators have made substantial financial contribution to the Nigeria government through payment of taxes and duties.
The achievements of GSM in the last seven years have been quite tremendous. Indeed. The NCC has continued to introduce necessary measures to enhance the quality of service delivery and steady growth of the industry.
Such measure includes the introduction of unified licensing, which made it possible for fixed wireless operators to offer GSM service. Equally significant is the granting of G3 licenses to some operators. The G3 as is popularly called is the most advanced technology on GSM, which enable the operators to offer both date and voice services.
There is no doubt that the Country has recorded very remarkable progress since the introduction of GSM in 2001.
But how do the people evaluate its performance. What are the challenges and expectations? GSM has indeed come to stay in Nigeria. It has radically transformed people's way of life, brought economic prosperity to many and made the country most important telecommunication destination in the world.