Nigeria: As Governors Bow to Pressure On Row Charges

4 June 2020

Emma Okonji writes on the recent reduction of Right of Way charges by some state governors to N145 per linear metre

Right of Way (RoW) charges which is best described as the legal permit given to telecoms operators to deploy their cable infrastructure along the ground of certain routes in states and the federal capital territory (FCT) at specified rates, has been a perennial issue in the telecoms sector.

While state governors are interested in raising their internally generated revenue (IGR) to meet their financial needs by indiscriminately hiking RoW charges in their various states, the telecoms regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), is of the view that the arbitrary hike in RoW charges between N500 to N6,00O per linear metre among states, will increase the financial burden of telecoms operators and eventually hamper the rollout of telecoms infrastructure and slow down telecoms development across states.

It is either telecoms operators are denied access to RoW for refusing to comply with the state charges, or they are forced to pay the exorbitant rate, which in most cases, eat deep into their resources meant for infrastructure rollout.

Such practices have been so inimical to the accelerated deployment of broadband/telecoms infrastructure that would make every Nigerian digitally included, a development that has led to the widening of access gap across the country.

Disturbed by the ugly development, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, continued to seek audience with the state governors on the need to reduce RoW charges.

Danbatta went as far as tabling the matter before the National Assembly, pressing for a legislation that will categorise telecoms infrastructure as critical national infrastructure across the country.

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, had also led NCC to meet with Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF) to deliberate on RoW issue, where Pantami reminded the governors of the agreement they reached with the National Executive Council in 2013, to slash RoW charges to a flat rate of N145 per linear metre, for national development and in the interest of the country.

The pressure on governors to reduce RoW charges continued until recently, when Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who is also the Chairman of Nigeria Governors' Forum, signed an Executive Order to reduce RoW charges in the state to N145 per linear metre. One week after he signed the Executive Order, his counterparts in Imo, Kaduna and Plateau states did same in their respective states to reduce RoW charges to N145 per linear metre. Kaduna State even went as far as waving RoW charges in the state.

This move by Governors of Ekiti, Imo, Kaduna and Plateau states, followed the example of Katsina State Governor, who was the first to sign Executive Order for the reduction of RoW charges to N145 per linear metre, after Lagos State had an initial agreement with telecoms operators to charge a fixed rate of N500 per linear metre on Right of Way.

The NCC had in the past, set up a National Working Committee made up of telecoms stakeholders to engage with state governors on the need to waive RoW charges in order to support telecoms development across states.

However, the effect of the committee did not hold waters, a situation that compelled Danbatta to lead a team of NCC to open discussion with the Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF), to make the state governors see the benefits in their respective states.

Although the Governors listened to the NCC's team and promised to reduce the charges, but none deemed it necessary to reduce the charges, until Danbatta had to take the case to the Minister, who promised to meet with the Governors on the issue.

Moved by his action to make Nigeria a digital economy, Pantami, in January this year, met with the 36 State Governors across the country, where he addressed them on the lingering issue of RoW charges in a bid to deepen broadband penetration in the country and promote a digital economy.

At the meeting, the governors unanimously agreed to reverse the RoW charges from the planned N6,000 per linear metre, to N145 per linear metre, as agreed with the federal government in 2013.

The meeting was attended by state governors, under the auspices of the Governors' Forum, led by Fayemi. Others in attendance, were Danbatta; the Director-General of National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Kashifu Inuwa; and the Chairperson of the Presidential Committee on National Broadband Plan (2020-2025), Funke Opeke.

The resolution followed a presentation made by the minister during the meeting, where he discussed the many benefits of broadband penetration, if telecoms operators were allowed to lay their broadband fibre optic cables in different states of the federation

Governors' submission

Following pressure from NCC and the Minister, the Governors are beginning to succumb to such pressure.

Penultimate week, Fayemi, signed an Executive Order reducing RoW charges relating to laying of broadband cable or any other telecoms infrastructure in the state from N4,500 to N145 per linear metre.

Katsina State was the first to sign such Executive Order, before Ekiti State.

Ekiti State Governor said the Executive Order was part of the ongoing reforms by the Ease of Doing Business project, which he inaugurated last year to improve indices that will make Ekiti State an attractive destination for national and international investments in five years.

One week after Ekiti State signed the Executive Order on RoW charges, the Uzodinma, also signed an Executive Order that slashed RoW charges to N145 in the state.

Uzodinma explained that the reduction was a manifestation of the state government's determination to spur the telecommunication companies to further invest in broadband infrastructure and to trigger ancillary on-line services, especially in the field of education. Few days later, Kaduna and Plateau State Governors signed Executive Order on RoW. While Kaduna State waived RoW charges completely, Plateau State Governor reduced RoW charges to N145. Lagos State had an initial agreement with telecoms operators to reduce RoW charges in the state to N500 per linear metre. The agreement was reached after a court case filed against Lagos State Government by telecoms operators.

RoW charges

While some states are charging between N1,000 and N3,000, per linear metre, others are charging as high as N6,000 per linear metre.

Some of the RoW charges include: Nasarawa State, N558; Niger State, N1,500; Bauchi State, N1,000; Delta State, N2,705; Imo State, N1,999; Abia State, N3,000; Kwara State, N5,500; Kano State, N2,753; Borno State, N1,650 and Sokoto State, N1,600. Others are: Kebbi State, N444; Gombe State, N1,500. Zamfara State, N1,695; Adamawa State, N1,500; Jigawa State, N1,500; Rivers State, N3,045; Cross River State, N4,561; Akwa-Ibom State, N1,947; Taraba State, N1,600; Osun State, N5,609; and Anambra State, N3,620.

THISDAY had reported that 14 states, including Lagos, Kano, Anambra, Ondo, Cross River, Kogi, Osun, Kaduna, Enugu, Adamawa, Ebonyi, Imo, Kebbi and Gombe, had hiked the cost of Right of Way for telecoms infrastructure.

Implications

The implications of indiscriminate charges on RoW are enormous.

Chairman of Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, had warned that states government who allowed state agencies to seal up Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) also known as Base Stations, were distorting telecoms growth in their respective states.

According to him, most telecoms operators had to halt telecoms network expansion in some states as a result of high charges in RoW.

"The implication is that it will lead to network congestion and poor telecom service offerings, if telecoms operators are not allowed to expand their networks," Adebayo said.

Adebayo who had condemned the use of local state tax force in shutting down telecoms sites without recourse to the national implications of their actions, advised state governors to allow telecoms operators to expand telecoms networks in their states without harassment from state agencies.

Vice President, Network Operations, Airtel Nigeria, Dr. Adedoyin Adeola, while explaining the implications of indiscriminate charges on RoW by state government agencies, said the high charges have negatively impacted on telecoms growth and expansion. He called on the National Assembly to speed up the passage of the Critical National Infrastructure Bill that is before it, which according to him, would deter state governments from incessant shutting down of telecoms BTS when the bill is passed into law.

Reacting to the reduction of RoW charges by some state governors, the President of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Olusola Teniola, said: "Such move by the governors, attest to the fact that the socio-economic development of their respective state is not mutually exclusive to broadband and ICT infrastructure development which has been one of the basis of our advocacy initiatives."

Teniola, listed some of the benefits accruable to states that adopted and implemented the harmonised RoW price to include: Unlocking of the inherent digital potential of the state; leveraging the opportunity that pervasive broadband penetration can offer; and opportunity for the citizens of the state to enjoy uninterrupted telecommunications services which they have not been enjoying before now. He explained that with the new development, telecom infrastructure rollout would increase and give the people the opportunity to express their gifts and talents.

"We use this opportunity to advise those states that have not implemented the approved harmonised RoW charge of N145 per

linear metre, to take a clue from the states that have implemented it, and together telecom and ICT infrastructure will speed up the needed development in Nigeria," Teniola said.

Chairman, Zinox Group, Leo Stan Ekeh, said the best palliative that citizens of Imo State and corporate organisations doing businesses in Imo State have received this season, was the recent reduction of RoW charges to N145 per linear metre by the Governor of Imo State.

"We intend to rollout multi-million-dollars optic fibre infrastructure across Imo, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi and Abia States based on our signed partnership with the Federal Government on Infrastructure Company (InfraCo) project. "The reduction will significantly alter the destiny of people living in these states and connect them to the global community in no distant time," Ekeh said.

Adebayo also called on other governors to respect the agreement reached between them and the federal government.

"I expect that other governors will follow the example of other state governors that have implemented the N145 per linear metre rate. Governors should see the benefits of wide spread telecoms infrastructure in their states, above the gains of Internally Generated

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