Between Gwandu, NCC, and the Nigerian Project By Habib Gajam
The Telecommunications Industry is one of the core pillars of economic growth and development in the 21st century. Apart from generating multi-million dollars in government revenues, this industry also serves as the nerve centre for development across all sectors of the economy. Small and medium-sized businesses thrive better, manufacturing, banking, and even government transactions have been made easier with information and communication technology (ICT). It is therefore safe to conclude that the importance of this industry cannot be overemphasized.
In Nigeria, the Telecom sector has witnessed tremendous success in the last few years. With more than 120 million active mobile users in the country, It has currently contributed 9% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and has recorded about $32billion in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Thanks to the recent ‘rebasing’ of our economy which has earned us the position of becoming the largest economy on the African continent, surpassing South Africa.
Despite the successes recorded, the telecom industry in Nigeria has had its fair share of problems. Prominent among which is poor Quality of Service (QoS) from telecom operators. This is not unconnected to the lack of adequate power supply, dearth of infrastructure as well as theft and vandalization of telecommunications equipment. The issue of multiple taxation is also a wheel in the clog, Telecom operators are always at loggerheads with state, local governments, and other tax agencies such as the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS). This lack of synergy has developed exploitative tendencies from part of the government. Challenges in procurement of Environmental Impact Assessment certifications, Right of Way issues, and Cyber Crimes also constitute major hiccups in efficient service delivery.
In the face of dwindling oil revenues (around $60/barrel) in the international market, the new administration of the All Progressives Congress (APC) under Muhammadu Buhari would have to consider diversifying from an Oil-reliant economy to an-all sector inclusion in its development agenda. Although Agriculture and Mining rank higher in the new governments’ priorities, a total overhaul and reform of the Telecommunications sector is of paramount importance. Experts in this sector need to be engaged to develop a robust telecommunication road map to address the prevalent challenges bedeviling the sector. In view of President Muhammadu Buhari’s principles and ideology of governance and by extension the APC manifesto, the Nigerian Communications Commission as the regulator of the Telecoms sector also needs to be overhauled for its optimal performance.To achieve this, people of proven vision, integrity, innovation, patriotism, altruism in service; and with decades-long experience in the sector should be brought on board to steer the ship of this very important economic nerve centre . One of such people is Dr Bashir Gwandu.
Dr Gwandu’s impeccable records of service and achievements, fearless and courageous posture, unblemished character, simplicity, unassuming humility; and most importantly, his unmatched academic credentials are what suit him to take the pilot seat in the affairs of the NCC. Apart from numerous professional memberships and certifications from institutions and organizations of international repute, Dr Gwandu has five degrees to his credit including a PhD. A Bachelors Degree in Physics from Usman Danfodiyo University Sokoto, an MSc, in Electronics/Renewable Energy from The University of Jos, MSc, in Electronic/Electrical Engineering (Telecom & Power Electronic) and MBA from The University of Birmingham respectively, and a PhD, in Electronic/Electrical Engineering (Optical Communications) from Aston University.
His stint in the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has demonstrated his pedigree and capacity. These speak volume of his achievements in the telecoms sector. As the Executive Commissioner (Technical Services), he spearheaded various reforms to strengthen the efficiency of the sector. Prominent among which include the interconnect rate determination in 2006, which improved competition and set the pace for significant telecom tariff reduction in Nigeria, the management of the Nigerian Internet Exchange project for the ICT industry, the introduction of Tariff Comparison Platform for consumers in order to have choice, the re-classification of Sales and Installation Licenses to Class-Category which facilitated the entry of Small and Medium Companies into the market, the issuance of all 17 Unified-and other hundreds of licenses which increased competition, as well as the famous thorough investigation into the state of the Quality of Service (QoS) of the Nigerian telecom networks. He also supervised Spectrum Planning Management, Quality of Service Monitoring and Network Optimization, Equipment Type-approval, Numbering Plan, Allocation, and Management. As soon as he rose to become the Acting Executive Vice Chairman, the seemingly tacit job of strategic management and positioning of the Commission became a walk over for him.
It takes guts and determination to introduce major reforms Nigeria. Unpleasant and painful decisions have to be taken, toes must be stepped on regardless of whose ox is gored. Mindless of the consequences and repercussions, Gwandu took on these challenges head on. His penchant flair for due process and laid-down procedure put him on collusion course with the powers that be within the NCC and the Presidency. At a recent APC parley on its Policy Dialogue on Public Service Reforms, Gwandu gave an account of the ‘Dinosaurs’ (Similar to Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s ‘Vested Interests’) which he had to contend with in order to enforce the QoS on telecom companies. His illegal removal from office by the Jonathan Administration was the ultimate price of courage and patriotism he manifested in the NCC. In Nigeria, Victimization and witch-hunt from powers that be are the resultant effects for standing up against dinosaurs as we have seen in the case of Nasir Elrufai and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. That has not changed the fate of these two brave men as the former now presides over the affairs of Kaduna State, while the latter sits on the exalted throne of the Kano Emirate.
With the new government’s commitment on capacity and integrity in building strong institutions to fulfill the Nigerian Project, it is another opportunity to engage the likes of Dr Bashir Gwandu to contribute their quota in waking up from the long-awaited dream of restoring Nigeria back to its rightful place as the giant of Africa, and in the committee of Nations. I conclude by taking this opportunity to congratulate all Nigerians particularly rural dwellers who have made the so much desired change possible. To the new Administration of Muhammadu Buhari, I hope and pray that it is a new chapter in our political history which generations yet unborn will benefit from. God Bless Nigeria!