Barely two weeks after telecom industry stakeholders sharply disagreed with the management of NIGCOMSAT over the relevance of a bill designed to make the government-owned satellite company a corporation, more reactions and questions have continued to greet the bill which keen observers argued is antithetical to telecom deregulation.
Meanwhile, the Presidential Panel on Rationalisation and
Restructuring of Federal Government Parastatals, headed by former head
Cuvil Service of the Federation, Mr Steve Oronsaye submitted its
report to the President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, saying that the proposed
enabling law for NigComSat should not be passed, rather, it should now
be fully privatized because if its enabling law were to be passed it
would be in conflict with the Act setting up the parent body, NARSDA
(National Space Research and Development Agency).
Passage of the bill, the stakeholders noted at the forum sponsored by
NIGCOMSAT and hosted by the IT Publishers Alliance amounts to creation
of a parallel space agency that will compromise the National Space
Programme of the Federal Government.
The discussion on the bill at the forum which began with a note of
controversy was rejected by key invited speakers like President of
Association of Lincensed Telecom Operators, Engr. Lanre Ajayi, President
of Nigerian Internet Group, NIG, Engr. Bayo Banjo, former President of
AlTON, Engr. Emmanuel Ekuwen, Dr. among others.
Without mincing words, the forum while rejecting the bill advised
NIGCOMSAT management to spare the industry of an unnecessary bill
another white elephant project like the failed Nigerian
Not aware of NigComSat bill
Already, the Ministry of Communications Technology, the ministry
supervising Nigeria Communications Satellite Limited, (NigComSat) had
said in a report it was not aware of any bill seeking to grant NigComSat
autonomy. The ministry said that its first intention was to privatize
Nigeria Communications Satellite Limited for better performance.
The ministry was reacting to against the backdrop of the clamor for
autonomy by the Company through NigComSat Corporation bill that seeks to
free the company from government control. The special assistant on
Information Technology to Minister of Communications Technology, Mr. Ola
Ogunleye, had disclosed that the ministry was only interested in making
NigComSat play its role in making internet truly ubiquitous, affordable
and accessible in the country.
Mixed reactions with opposition
It would be recalled that NigComSat’s bill to make the state
satellite operator an independent corporation has stirred mixed
reactions with huge opposition.
Meanwhile, critics have urged the national assembly to exercise caution to prevent the company from going the the way of Nitel.
Meanwhile, former President of Association of Telecommunications
Companies of Nigeria, ATCON, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, had at the forum fired
the first salvo when he told the gathering that government has no
business doing business.
He cautioned that the bill, if passed, might give NigComSat the
autonomy to operate as a business venture and as a regulator. This will
go the way of NITEL, he said.
He noted that government has no business in doing business, but to
create enabling environment for businesses to thrive. He was supported
by the President of the Nigerian Internet Group, NIG, Engr. Bayo Banjo
who did not hide his feelins by saying that granting NigComSat
autonomy will lead to the creation of another NITEL.
He argued that the bill will transform NigComSat to a fully-owned
government company. “ Why do we need the bill? I do not see a reason for
this bill because the company is already a limited liability. The bill
is not in the interest of Nigeria. It will not serve the purpose of
Nigerians.” he said.
He further said that rather than having the NigComSat bill passed, it
should be jettisoned with the best option to have it privatised. For
the President of ALTON, Engr. Lanre Ajayi, NigComSat might go the way of
Nigerian Telecommunications Limited but warned that with the Act, it
appears we are now putting it in the hands of the law makers.
“Satellite technology is a very desirable technology in Nigeria,
noting however, that this was not to say that other terrestrial
technologies are not very relevant but they are complementary. The major
advantage of satellite is its ubiquity. In a country like ours, where
we have many rural communities, satellite becomes an option. If we must
progress, we cannot run away from developing satellite technology and
government must support this.” he explained.
Need for accountability in the bill
In the submission of Dr. Jimson Olufuye, former Information
Technology Association of Nigeria, (ITAN), Satellite project is a big
budget project any where in the world that requires nurture and maturity
before it is taken over by the business community.
“I think what matters the most is to ensure that there exists clear
cut accountability mechanism in the bill for Performance Assurance. NASA
in US got the US space transport business to a point before the
industry could take over. Government funding is necessary to get a major
business sector to develop. At the same time, the concern of wastage of
public fund through such venture is a legitimate concern” he added.
Hence, the critical question, according to Olufuye is: what measures are
in the bill for performance assurance over a given period of time?
Satellite is critical national infrastructure
While supporting the bill, Yele Okeremi , member, Executive Committee
of Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (Ispon) told the
gathering that , “We must perceive satellite communication as critical
national infrastructure which requires everything to protect including
legislation and we must sit down to see that we do everything to see
that this bill become a law.” He said that technology, social perception
and legislation were the key things that must be present before a
revolution can happen.
Supporting the bill also was Victor Nwakesi , representative of Olisa
Agbakoba & Associates, the law firm responsible for the drafting of
the NigComSat bill. He explained that the bill was much desired, adding
that the passage would aid Nigeria’s emerging development issue.
“The contents of the NigComSat bill have been developed to align with
what the laws allow. “NigComsat should be protected in the best
interest of the citizens,” he added.
But the Managing Director of NIGCOMSAT, Engr. Ahmed Rufai, who was
completely amazed and disappointed by the submissions of the
stakeholders said the stakeholders may have misunderstood the Bill,, and
vowed to continue to pursue the passage of the Bill by the National
Assembly. Rufai said that the bill will allow NigComSat to raise
additional financing and pursue strategic partnerships. Meanwhile, the
House of Representatives is said to have already passed the bill after
three readings while the bill is yet to be discussed at the Senate.