By Olabisi Olaleye
The Chief Executive Officer MainOne, Funke Opeke, has advised the Nigerian government to create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive, before thinking of wooing foreign investors.
According to her, success begets success and this is one thing government must understand, while pushing for investors to come to Nigeria and invest.
“When investors want to invest in a country, they may go to government, but their preferred point of call is local business operators operating in the country. They will like to hear from local business owners, about how well their local businesses are thriving and how much of an enabling environment they have, doing business in the country. They also want to know from the local business owners how easy it is to solve business challenges that could emanate in the course of doing business in the country.
“ It is the feedbacks they get from the local business owners that informs their decision on whether to come to Nigeria to invest or not. They do not rely only on what the government tells them, they also do their feasibility studies and ask questions from businesses that are already on ground. So it would be right for the Nigerian government to fix its country and create the enabling environment for businesses to thrive, before wooing foreign investors,” she said.
Impact of Nigeria’s participation in International Telecommunications Union conference on economy?
I think we can look at the impact of Nigeria’s frequent participation at ITU conferences from two sides. There is the technical exchange experience that is being shared on one hand, because ITU is the custodian of standards for the telecommunications industry globally, which gives Nigeria the edge to collaborate and learn from other countries that also attend ITU conferences. But on the other side, and in terms of business growth and commercial activities, I do not think that Nigeria and Nigerian businesses are still getting the value they used to get in previous years. This year’s ITU conference, for instance, was dominated by African and Asian countries, but countries from Europe and the US that have used technologies to develop their economies and are generating good money from information and communication technology did not attend this year’s ITU conference. So I think ITU has relevance in terms of technical standards and regulations in areas of satellite slots and spectrum allocations, but in terms of commercial activities, I do not think there is more of an impact.
How has MainOne positioned to take advantage of data and 5G technology that are now trending?
At MainOne, we are well positioned to drive data penetration. The 5G technology is a faster technology in terms of speed of broadband and capabilities at reasonable cost. But for 5G to be effective, we need enough fibre infrastructure and data centres, and MainOne is at the forefront of building the infrastructure to enable the implementation of our infrastructure company (infraco) licence, which covers Lagos, and be able to roll out in other parts of the country. All these will be possible if we are given the opportunity to roll out. Nigeria has a lot to do to catch up with global technologies. At ITU, so much was seen and heard of countries like Korea and China that have gone far in the use of technology to drive their economies and there is a huge gap between Nigeria and these developed countries, in terms of technology advancement. So Nigeria has a lot of work to do to catch up with the developed countries of the world.
Are you worried about more Infraco licensing by NCC?
Yes, I am disturbed about it, but there are challenges, which I think are in the bureaucracy of government. For MainOne, we are ready to roll out, because we have concluded all the necessary connectivities, we have had the fibre in the warehouse for over one year now, we have all the corrugated optical ducts, our contractors are selected and ready, but the challenge is that MainOne cannot commence the building of the infrastructure without permission to do so. Until we get the permission, we cannot do anything. Most times, government comes with various rules and we try to work with government and we are looking up to government for permission to start building telecoms infrastructure.
Expectations of MainOne as leading infraco.
We have been licensed as an infraco for the Lagos zone, but licences have conditions. Some state government laws do not allow telecoms operators to escalate the ground to lay their broadband fibre cables in certain jurisdictions. So the conditions attached to the license from the NCC and the Lagos State government are some of the things that are slowing down the rollout, even though we have the licence. At the time we got the licence, if anyone had predicted that we would not be able to roll out by this time, I would have disagreed with such prediction, but here we are today, faced with several challenges that are impeding rollout plans. Initially when we were going through the processes of getting permit, we thought it was going to be easy but today we have found out that the process is cumbersome. We have the infrastructure stored in warehouses for over a year now, but we can’t deploy them because of government bureaucracy.
How is the Federal Government’s executive order on Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria helping investors?
As a business person operating in Nigeria, I want to see the executive order on the Ease of Doing Business translate into reality, but even at that, I must commend the office of the Vice President for what they have done. But again, I do not have to go to the office of the Vice President to get permit before I run my business or before I get Customs clearance or approval for SON CAP from Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON). What matters is the attitude and adherence to the executive order by the various agencies of government that we deal with. If the government agencies implement the executive order to the letter and allow business to thrive in the country the way it should be, then business owners will begin to feel the impact of the executive order. Businesses are yet to feel the impact of the executive order on Ease of Doing Business, but in the areas of implementation of Visa on Arrival, quick registration of businesses and business names, I think we are beginning to feel their impact, because people now apply for Nigerian visa on arrival and they get it as soon as they arrive. The Corporate Affairs Commission is now very fast at company registration and this is good for investors and business owners in Nigeria to make quick visits to Nigeria unhindered, and also get their companies registered in due time.
Is MainOne concerned about low broadband penetration?
Yes, the utilisation of broadband capacities in Nigeria is still very low, not because the people do not have need for it but because the people do not have access to it, based on the inability of government to build a national backbone infrastructure that will transmit these capacities from the seashore to the hinterland, where they are mostly needed. So this has made the cost to be high and something needs to be done to reduce cost and make broadband accessible to all. The remaining five infracos were supposed to deepen broadband infrastructure in the country but they are yet to be licensed by the NCC, and even the two that have since been licensed, they have not been able to roll out services because of the challenges, which I stated earlier. So it means we have a lot of work to do in Nigeria.
How well has MainOne taken advantage of USPF?
MainOne has never got a kobo from USPF, even though the fund was supposed to assist infracos in deepening infrastructure in rural communities. What we need as a country is a transparent deployment of infrastructure in rural communities that is subsidised by the USPF funds.
What have been the challenges and success stories since MainOne’s submarine cable got to Nigeria from Europe?
It has been interesting and we have been able to make positive impact on data communication in Nigeria since the landing of MainOne submarine cable in Nigeria. As an independent cable operator, we were able to drive down the cost of data from what it used to be, and stimulate the market to have better Internet penetration. Although the process has been slow and steady, we have been able to create that impact on Nigerian businesses and the Nigerian economy.
Your take on low broad band penetration.
It is true that broadband penetration is still low in Nigeria, and if anyone had told me seven years ago when we landed the MainOne submarine cable in Nigeria that seven years after we would still be battling with broadband penetration, I would not have believed that person, but here we are today, still struggling to boost broadband penetration because of the challenges I enumerated earlier, despite the avalanche of broadband capacities at the seashores of the country.
The potential to do more is far much higher than we have demonstrated, but again it shows that we are capable of driving broadband penetration in the country because we have already demonstrated it, but I think we could do more if the enabling environment is there.
How is MainOne, and other operators, engaging with government to achieve milestones in its broadband plan?
We are engaging with government to achieve its broadband goals, and that is the reason we are always with government to showcase Nigeria’s potentials at ITU global events. Apart from engaging with government, we are also supporting government to implement its broadband plans for Nigeria.