Aside the glaring rice revolution wrought within President Muhammadu Buhari’s first five years, telecom is another sector where the President scored a Bull’s eye. And that’s thanks to his appointment of Professor Umar Garba Danbatta as Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, on August 4, 2015.
Telecom since the days of President Olusegun Obasanjo has been Nigeria’s Holy Grail in public office performance. It was therefore no surprise that Nigeria was rated as a model especially for developing nations within the International Telecommunications Union, ITU, community. At the yearly ITU Telecom World, a festival showcasing the brightest, the best and most futuristic telecom technologies, Nigeria has always stood out with NCC, the nation’s regulator, making impressive showings. Several Nigerian ICT start-ups and individual nerds have won awards in the various categories of highly competitive ICT contests to promote innovation.
In September, 2017 in Busan, South Korea at that year’s ITU Telecom World, Professor Danbatta led a team of Nigerians including a crop of young Nigerians to win several awards including national, corporate and individual awards. It was a moment of glory for the nation, indeed one of those moments you feel proudly Nigerian. Not many people know this: Nigeria is highly rated and regarded within the ITU fraternity.
Whenever the sterling story of Nigerian telecom is told, Professor Danbatta would occupy a huge chapter not just for being a professor of electrical cum electronic engineering, not for his passion in imparting knowledge on younger generation of engineers but for his outstanding works as the regulator-in-chief of the nation’s telecom industry.
Danbatta practically walked the hard path. He was appointed to head the NCC at a time the global nay national economy was doubling down the slope. In a matter of months after his appointment, Nigeria officially slid into recession. By May 2016, Nigeria was already struggling in the cesspit of recession. The net effect was that every sector took a serious jab; some sectors suffered total collapse while some barely gasped for the next intake of air. Global crude oil price crashed significantly. For a product that sold above $100 per barrel, crashing to $60 per barrel was a big blow. This had very dire impact on the nation’s economy and steamrolled many sectors into turbulence resulting in massive job cuts, poor returns on investment and general downturn in productivity.
But in the midst of that economic storm, telecom stayed up, maintained a steady climb up the cliff and contributed significantly to the nation’s GDP. How did Danbatta achieve this feat? Industry stakeholders attribute this to his unobtrusive style of regulation. Beyond that, Danbatta came prepared. He had a 7-point agenda which summarily addressed issues of consumer satisfaction, profitability for investors, infrastructure expansion and integrity, and broadband penetration. He has surpassed the agenda.
Without a doubt, Nigerian telecom has earned rave reviews over the years as a revolution. But Danbatta has caused another revolution within the revolution. As they say in Latin, it’s a case of res ipsa loquitor (the fact speaks for itself).The statistics are both telling and compelling. Since his arrival as the top cat at the NCC, he has pushed telecoms contribution to gross domestic product, GDP, from 8.50 percent in August 2015 to 11.39 percent as at October, 2019, navigating the sector through the storms of economic recession that rendered other sectors comatose.
Professor Danbatta flaunts a rich mix of people skill and emotional intelligence. His empathy for telecom consumers and operators has precipitated landmark growth in teledensity with proportionate market churn for operators and increasing service delivery satisfaction for consumers.
He pushed active mobile voice subscriber base from 151,018,624 in 2015 to 180,386,316 in 2019 while teledensity increased to 94.50 percent following its rebasing in early 2019.
Internet subscribers increased from 90 million in 2015 to 123.5 million by October, 2019 while broadband penetration, a key aspect of the general telecom revolution, spluttered to life, jumping from 8 percent in 2015 to its current 37.87 percent. This implies that over 72 million Nigerians access data services on 3G and 4G networks, putting Nigeria ahead of many countries within the ITU family.
More impressive statistics: Under Danbatta, the number of subscriptions to Mobile Number Portability, MNP, service increased from 385, 617 in August 2015 to 1, 206,874 by October, 2019. Stakeholders and industry analysts attribute this to increased public enlightenment by the regulator on the availability and advantages of MNP. When MNP was introduced, many consumers were sceptical, even suspicious of the service. But unrelenting public enlightenment by the commission convinced consumers to have a buy-in. the result is reflected in the growth curve for this special service that puts the consumer truly as king.
The Do-Not-Disturb, DND, service was introduced by the commission to curb cases of unsolicited text messages, a trend that has over the years angered subscribers. Initially, typical of Nigerians though, consumers shunned the service, maintaining a stoic distance from a service that was specially created to help them take control of their phones, but Danbatta changed the consumer attitude pushing subscription to the DND service from zero to over 22 million.
And now this: the latest figures from the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, says the telecom sector has made a contribution of 14.07 percent to the nation’s GDP in the first quarter (Q1) of 2020.
The NBS report said the country’s GDP grew by 1.87 per cent year-on-year in real terms within the same period with non-oil sector contributing 90.50 per cent to the nation’s GDP in Q1 2020 as opposed to the 9.50 per cent contributed to total real GDP by the oil sector.
The 14.07 per cent ICT sector contribution to the total real GDP in Q1 2020 betters the 13.12 per cent in the preceding quarter. A truly unprecedented feat. But what makes this even more striking is that it happened at a time other sectors of the economy took a tumbling in the wake of a global economic downturn.
When you consider the fact that strong economies including the United States have slid into recession on account of the economic gloom that started at the twilight of last year and aggravated this year by the covid-19 pandemic, then you will appreciate what Danbatta and his team at NCC have done to steady the ship of telecoms.
NCC under Danbatta has been a roller-coaster of sterling performances that has put Nigeria clearly ahead in Africa telecoms. The 5G trial last year, simulated over 4G network, by MTN under close supervision of the NCC marked a defining moment and it has historically positioned Nigeria as the first country in Africa to effectively trial the latest tech rave on the global telecom horizon. These and many more are the reasons Nigerians should thank President Buhari for reappointing Danbatta. Only the man who knows the way should be allowed access to the wheels. Danbatta sure knows the way and he’s one of the reasons Buhari has bragging rights as he marks his fifth anniversary as the chief tenant in Aso Rock. But Danbatta should remember this: The reward for hard work is more work.