14 December 2012

Nigeria: NCC, MTS Waiver Scandal and Gwandu's Interview

My attention has been drawn to the LEADERSHIP publication of Monday October 18, 2012 which exposes the involvement of the current Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), Dr Ajuwah and the fraudulent request for waiver to the Mobile Telecommunications Service (MTS) (which is the first joint venture company with NITEL in 1992), running into billions of Naira and the subsequent interview by Dr. Bashir Gwandu, a commissioner in the Commission.

Ordinarily, I would not like to comment on the publication, but after a second thought I feel I have a duty as a Nigerian to bring to the attention of the general public the behaviour of some officials entrusted with the duty of serving our dear country.

The interview granted by Dr. Gwandu did not come to me as a surprise, but what rather surprised me is why it took him that long to do so. The Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) has been and continues to be a "house of fraud" A lot is certainly wrong with the Commission and ordinary Nigerians using GSM services know this, as is reflected in the type of services they receive from the operators and the complete lack of will and commitment from the regulatory agency to address the numerous problems of the various networks.

The Dr. Gwandu Interview is just a snapshot of the state of the Commission. For a permanent Commissioner who is serving his second term to so bare his mind is itself a serious indication of the sickness of the Commission. Even though a belated interview, I commend Dr. Gwandu for his courage and I hope the Commision will not sacrifice him for this.

The NCC is supposed to be a professional body that is staffed with experienced and qualified workers and top class engineers but it has turned out to be a complete disappointment to its various customers. The so-called due process as being practiced in the NCC is merely a "sharing process" whereby contracts are shared among influential Nigerians.

In all countries where regulation works, no member of the Commission should have any business interest in the industry, let alone the chief executive of the Commission. The NCC should know that in a connected world we live in, you cannot just hide and do things contrary to the ideals and set goals of the Commission. We know what is going on in the industry in every country in the world. There is data to show the countries with the best regulation.

The large scale fraud, the incompetence and ineptitude of the Nigerian Communication Commission must be addressed. The Commission needs surgical operation to make it function like other regulatory agencies.

It is quite unfortunate also that Mobile Telecommunications Service (MTS's) history has been mired by controversy and fraud since its inception and it is on record that the promoters of this company since 1992 have been involved in fraudulent activities using NITEL credentials to apply for foreign exchange and also using NITEL infrastructure.

Ordinarily, with such bad record, the Mobile Telecommunication Service should have been proscribed and banned from operating in Nigeria and these criminals should by now be languishing in jail. But again, this is Nigeria. With the recent disclosure of the waiver scam, the federal government should immediately set up an investigation to expose those involved and they should be dealt with.

A Comptroller of Immigration in charge of the Lagos International Airport, late Alh. Mamman Lagos was once a victim of the MTS scam. He was charged with negligence for allowing the promoters of MTS to flee the country and was subsequently retired from service.

The waiver scam is therefore not a surprise because fraud and criminal activities are the speciality of the owners and promoters of MTS. They are masters of the game. What the NCC did was simply insider trading which in itself is a serious crime. If the Government claims to be transparent in her dealings, this is the time to prove it by setting up a commission of inquiry.

In view of the above, I wish to suggest the following: government should set-up a commission of enquiry to probe the activities of the MTS since its inception; Nigerians should resolve not to allow persons of questionable character and criminal records to be appointed into positions that require honesty and trust; we must now draw a line and try to behave like other countries where corruption is not tolerated; a Ribadu-kind of panel should be set up to look into the telecommunications industry to establish whether revenues in terms of tax, licensing fees, spectrum audit, etc are paid into the federation account and find out why Nigeria, Africa's acclaimed largest mobile market is not enjoying good and affordable services; government must also look seriously into Dr. Gwandu's revelation and address the issues raised by him.

-Engr. Adamu is a former executive director in NITEL and former technical adviser to the Minister of Communications (1999 - 2003)

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