In our brave new world, certain things have come to define your strength. One of such is how wired you are; how connected you are to contemporary technologies. Mobility is no longer defined in terms of your sorties round the world or the number of international passports you have dispensed in one year. Mobility in today’s context is measured by your ability to stay connected with the rest of the world at the tap of tiny buttons on smart devices, swiping of screens on hand held gadgets or talking for as long as you wish through miniature mobile devices across continents with so much ease and convenience.
It’s truly a connected world and Nigeria has since joined this dynamically interconnected global milieu. Telecom has changed the story of man, making him a smarter, more productive being from the crude totems of medieval times to a modern era when everything has become smart: smart cities, smart classrooms, smart offices and even smart homes.
Since its liberalization, the Nigeria telecom sector has contributed over N15 trillion to the nation’s GDP. This is evidence that the nation has truly transited from the old to the new. This amount is the aggregate value of the various contributions of all stakeholders in the sector within this period. One of such critical stakeholder is the telecom consumer.
In 2015, the Nigeria telecom consumer contributed a goodly $5.6 billion to the industry. It moved up to $6.3 billion in 2016 with the figure predicted to rise in 2017. Yet, in spite of these contributions, the telecom consumer has remained a figure in the shadow: unsung, uncelebrated but indispensable!
It was, therefore, such a relief that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) declared this year as the Year of the Nigerian Telecom Consumer. It is the first time that the telecom consumer, a critical stakeholder in the sector, is being so recognised. The symbolism of such historical declaration was not lost on the service providers. Last Wednesday in Lagos, at a well-attended forum, the management of the NCC led by the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) flagged off the Lagos launch of the 2017: Year of the Telecom Consumer campaign, coming after the Abuja launch in March.
Everybody was at the event: government officials, the regulator, service providers, consumers and enthusiasts. And it turned out an eye-opener especially for the service providers. The testimonies of the consumers brought to the service providers the reality that the consumer is king and will always be. Far from the boardroom and strategy meetings in the offices, the face-to-face encounter with consumers, some openly narrating their frustrations with one network and how despite the intervention of the NCC and efforts of the offending network to appease them, they had to port to another network.
This is the beauty of what the regulator has done, and is doing: putting the power of choice in the hands of the consumers without whom there would be no network. Telecom has added much value to the nation’s socio-economic and political development. Aside the monetary value, it has helped to shape and deepen the democratic process and space. The manifest openness that now attends the nation’s electoral processes from voter registration through campaigns, voting to collation and announcement of results is made possible by continued deployment of technology. Results from polling units are escalated via smart phones on various social media platforms. Still pictures and videos of attempts by politicians and their thuggish hirelings to rig the poll are instantly recorded and broadcast via social media.
There is a growing global obsession for smart devices. A recent Deloitte survey in trying to show how obsessed the world is with the most intriguing telecom invention of all time, the smartphone, said American consumers look at their smartphones in the aggregate nine billion times per day. This means that as tiny as the smartphone is, it gets the attention of about 300 million people nine billion times in one day. What a lucky device to get so much attention in a busy world. In Nigeria, no such survey has been carried out but with an active 154 million connected lines in a community of free-talking, happy-chatting people which is what Nigerians are, the attention span for the smartphone in one day will be such to make other devices go green with envy.
What all of this underscore is the place of the telecom consumer in a connected world. The consumer makes the network. Organisations that study and mind consumer behaviour tend to do better than those that take the consumer for granted especially in a competitive market. A typical Nigerian example is the bullish run of Globacom in the Nigerian market. Though a late entrant, it appealed to the emotions of consumers by introducing per second billing at a time consumers were bemoaning the per-minute billing which cut deep into their pockets. Today, Glo has become the second dominant player in the sector.
But it has to be said that the Nigeria telecom consumer has not been fair to himself. In spite of the efforts of the regulator to protect the consumer, he hardly takes action to help himself. Take a census: how many consumers have ever bothered to use the 622 consumer helpline or to activate the 2442 Do Not Disturb (DND) code? Those who took action got redress as attested to by consumers who testified at the Year of the Telecom Consumer launch in Lagos.
Without knowing it, Nigerians are more at home living with a pain rather than seeking relief even when they are presented with a rash of options. The regulator will need to work hard to get Nigeria consumers to buy into the campaign and own it. It is a campaign to protect them from crazy billing, unsolicited calls and text messages and a plethora of unfriendly conducts visited on them by service providers.
In its quest to make the campaign pervasive and effective, the regulator co-opted two popular faces in the nation’s entertainment landscape: Helen Paul and Ali Nuhu. Helen is a serio-comic commentator on societal issues; a popular TV and radio presenter endowed with the rare gift of morphing between two extreme voices: an infant’s voice and that of an adult. Ali is an actor, producer, dancer and director. He is a rare mix of versatility, innovativeness and raw stage audacity. He is called the King of Kannywood having featured in hundreds of Hausa language and English language movies. Together, Helen and Ali would spearhead the campaign intended to make the telecom consumer realize that he is protected; but more significantly to make the consumer realize that he has at his disposal several options to protect himself from the leeching tendencies of service providers.
But no matter, the Nigeria telecom consumer is a very important stakeholder. All through the recession, telecom remained the only sector that stayed up the turbulent waters contributing on the average N1.4 trillion every quarter to the GDP. The consumer as a critical stakeholder made this happen. Such crowd of resolute and resilient consumers must never be ignored. The Nigeria telecom consumer sure deserves a garland for keeping the faith in spite of the storm.