Lost in Space: Chaos in Nigeria's Telecoms and IT Policies

The latest attempts by President Yar Adua's administration to right the many wrongs of his predecessor's chaotic Telecommunications (Telecoms) and Information Technology (IT) policies failures and blunders is a welcome development. However, some of the present government's supposedly corrective measures still leave the Telecoms and IT policy arenas murkier than clearing the fog beclouding them. For example, the recent directive by the Presidency to all ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) and institutions to stop buying bandwidths individually from the competitive markets and the permission given to the Nigerian Communications Satellite Ltd (NIGCOMSAT Ltd) to provide last mile Telecoms and Broadband internet retail services are cases in point.

Without prejudice to any of the present government's new policy intentions etc, this analysis starts first, with an examination of the implications of the new federal government policy directive issued by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) which bans all the ministries, departments, agencies and institutions of the Federal Government from individually buying internet bandwidths, the range of radio frequencies used in telecommunications transmission and reception etc. The import of this analysis is to avoid the policy debacle witnessed recently regarding the unveiling of the "Strategic Agenda for the Naira" by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

According to the directive as contained in a federal government Circular quoted by The Guardian Newspaper (Online edition: http://www.guardiannewsngr.com/news/article08),[1] one of the newest federal government's owned Information and Communications Technology (ICT) company –the controversial Galaxy Backbone Plc[2] has been designated as the sole firm that will henceforth provide such services like internet connectivity, Wide Area Networking (WAN) and Database Storage and Management and equipment, amongst others to the federal government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) and all other extra-governmental institutions.

Galaxy Backbone Plc is an ICT firm set up by the previous federal government under former president Obasanjo to provide a platform for internet connectivity and other services for all ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) through bulk bandwidth/space segment purchase agreements. The company is also responsible for all Wide Area Networks (WANs) and Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) connecting government entities amongst other federal government's ICT applications and operations. However, there are still unanswered questions as to the motives behind establishing this government-owned company at the time when government's own economic and political policy thrusts were and are still anchored on privatisation, deregulation and liberalisation of the national space economy!

Nevertheless, as much as there are some advantages in this new policy directive on the one hand, the policy directive on the other hand, is replete with more serious policy inconsistencies, contradictions violations of existing statuses and thus creating chaos to say the least. For example, this directive is in conflict with a number of statutory Acts and numerous government White Papers that have since been gazetted under the existing economic policy and management regime. Some of these statutory Acts include such Acts that established the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), and National Policy for Information Technology (IT), the National e-Government Strategies Limited (NeGSt)[3] and the National Policy on Telecommunications, amongst other extant liberalisation and deregulation laws, institutions and agencies that governs Nigeria's Telecoms and IT sectors respectively.

Without going into the specific of the relevant Statutory provisions  of these mentioned legislative Acts and public policy documents, it can seen that unless the present administration of President Umaru Musa Yar Adua is considering reversing some of these mentioned existing legislative Acts, Telecoms and IT policies, the existence of the following public entities: Galaxy Backbone Plc, Nigeria Communication Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT Ltd and the National e-Government Strategies Limited (NeGSt) as government-owned enterprises is in direct conflict with the existing deregulation and liberalisation policy frameworks of the Nigerian economy in general, the Telecoms and IT sectors respectively. Moreover, before we forget, it was the government's existing economic policy framework, Telecoms and IT policy frameworks, which were used to get the government out of the business of providing direct bulk and retail Telecommunications and IT services – hence the government got rid of NITEL and M-Tel by privatising them. So therefore, why is it that the government is busy again recreating new government-owned Telecoms and ICT services companies?

Furthermore, the new directive from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, which also indicated that the Nigeria Communication Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT Ltd) would be the preferred provider of satellite bandwidths to all government agencies, is similarly in direct conflict with the existing deregulation and liberalisation policies that place emphasis on opening these sectors to competitive private sector investments and ownerships. Therefore, the directive to transfer all the existing connectivity assets including such equipment as Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSATs), radio equipment and fibre optic links, among others, within government entities to Galaxy Backbone Plc should be seen in this light.

Another area of confusing arising from the new federal government directive is that of designating the controversial NIGCOMSAT Ltd as the government's preferred provider of satellite bandwidths to all MDAs and institutions. This directive is also in direct contradiction, and at the same time, in direct conflict with another present administration's directive which directed the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA: www.nasrda.org ),[4] to sit with the management of the BPE with a view to privatising NIGCOMSAT Ltd. This came about recently as a dispute settlement policy action against the feuding between NASRDA/NIGCOMSAT Ltd and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). Therefore, if and when NIGCOMSAT Ltd is privatised by the BPE, this directive will confer to it an unfair advantage against all other private players operating in the same market.

The new directive also specified that "Galaxy Backbone would provide live nodes to each public building with necessary security and firewall infrastructure as a pre-requisite to the inclusion of such structures in the National Information and Communication Infrastructure Backbone (NICTIB) network." Here again, the government has not informed the public what this NICTIB is about; where is it located and what are its functions etc. However, if the NICTIB is also part of the mandate of Galaxy Backbone Plc, then, it is again, in contradiction and conflict with the respective mandates of the following agencies: NIGCOMSAT Ltd, (NeGSt) and NITDA.[5] 

In addition, the new policy directive states that Galaxy Backbone would also maintain all national database management systems and transversal applications. Here again, the Presidency did not elaborate on what this means. However, if this stated policy directive means that the federal government is going to use the Galaxy Backbone Plc to maintain all national database management systems – whatever this means, I hasten to warn for caution. There is clear and present danger with this directive. The international best practice is to build decentralised and distributed, but very well, seamlessly interconnected and well secured system of national databases and management information systems. This is to guide against many risks associated with centralised model of database systems, amongst other considerations.

Furthermore, assigning this onerous function and responsibility to Galaxy Backbone Plc, apart from the logistical, human resources and institutional capacities nightmares which this will create, it is also in conflict with the mandates of the following  selected national agencies: National Planning Commission (NPC) and all sub-agencies under its jurisdiction, National Population Commission (NPC), the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Abuja Geographical Information System (AGIS), and many government MDAs and institutions that are statutory required to collect, store, process and retrieve data and information.    

In addition to the conflicts of mandates existing among the various agencies of government identified above, the government is yet to resolve the existing conflicts in the mandates of the ministry of science and technology and the ministry of information and communications and the respective parastatals operating under them regarding telecoms and IT policies. For example, the recent conflict between NASRDA/NIGCOMSAT Ltd and the NCC would have been unnecessary assuming there was a clear-cut government policy on whether the two respective ministries and the agencies under them can each provide Telecoms and IT services at various layers/levels of the Telecoms and IT markets.

There is also another unresolved conflict between the Act setting up the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) as a regulatory and clearing house for ICT-related applications and mandating it to implement related national IT policy as well as making it the custodian of the nation's internet Top Level Domain (.ng) and the Act setting up the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) - the nation's Telecoms and as well as ICT regulator. The existing Acts setting up these two vital ICT and Telecoms development and regulatory agencies allow each body to regulate Telecoms and ICT-related activities in the country. For example, in addition to the development of ICT products and services, the NITDA Act also mandates it to be active in the promotion of cyber specific laws to ensure security in the use of email and other operations originating from electronic or Internet-related facilities, Cyber cafes, ISPs or personal mobile or fixed telephones, etc. Similarly, the NCC also license and regulates internet services; including internet Cyber cafes and related businesses.

The wider implication of the new federal government directive in addition to the resolution of the NIGCOMSAT Ltd' licensing debacle with the NCC is that the government is reverting back to the pre-1999 national policies on Telecoms and reversing some the policies put in place to nurture the development of Global System of Mobile (GSM) Telecoms and ICT in the last past eighty years or so. This may not auger well for these sectors and the national economy.

To summarise the above analysis therefore, the following government agencies located in two strategic ministries are found clashing and or duplicating efforts either in jurisdictional implementation of Telecoms and IT policies on the one hand or working at cross-purposes with one another on other hand. The agencies are summarised as follows:

1.                   The National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA: www.nasrda.org/) - Owners of the Nigeria Communication Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT Ltd), under the federal ministry of Science and Technology;

2.                   The Nigeria Communication Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT Ltd);

3.                   The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA: www.nitda.gov.ng/) -  Under the federal ministry of Science and Technology;

4.                    Galaxy Backbone Plc (I don't know its parent ministry);

5.                   The National e-Government Strategies Limited (NeGSt) – I don't know its parent ministry;

6.                   The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC: www.ncc.gov.ng/)- Under the federal ministry of Information and Communications and

7.                   The National Information and Communication Infrastructure Backbone (NICTIB) – I don't know its parent ministry.

 

These government agencies, Telecoms and IT infrastructural set up are the key players in the public domain of Nigeria's Telecoms and IT sectors. As a result of the seeming almost seamless convergence of the digital Telecoms, ICT, Television Transmission and Radio Broadcasting, aided by advances in Science and Digital Engineering Technologies, the prevailing government policies and regulatory agencies tend to clash, get duplicated and or work at cross purposes terms of services provided, market structure etc. Therefore, the statutory functions of existing Ministries and structures set up by government that are involved with policy making, regulation and implementation of government policies in these vital sectors need to be re-examined with a view to streamline them for effective governance of the sectors.

Given the recent happenings in these sectors, the most important thing for the government is to find out what to do in order to address these policy inconsistencies and contradiction emanating from the recent attempt by the government to right the wrongs/policy failures in the Telecoms and IT policy arenas. There is therefore the need for the government and the stakeholders to come up with the necessary policy, institutional and structural frameworks and arrangements, that will result in a more streamlined, efficient and harmonised performance of the ministries and organisations that are involved in policy-making, regulation and implementation of government policies in the Telecommunications and ICT sectors of the Nigerian economy.

aanuhukoko@yahoo.com 



[1] See Report in the Guardian Newspaper (Online edition): "Govt stops agencies from buying bandwidth," by Emeka Anuforo, Abuja, Guardian Newspaper, Tuesday, 28 August 2007

http://www.guardiannewsngr.com/news/article08 (Accessed on Tuesday, 28 August 2007).

2 Galaxy Backbone Plc is a firm set up by the government of former president Obasanjo to provide a platform for ICT connectivity and other services for all ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) through bulk bandwidth/space segment agreements. The company is also responsible for all Wide Area Networks (WANs) and Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) connecting government entities. Its establishment was shrouded in serious controversy and financial scandal at the Presidency that is linked to the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF).

 

[3] The National e-Government Limited (NGeSt) was established by former president Obasanjo's administration and consigned it as a special purpose vehicle for the development and implementation of eGovernment programmes. This is a joint venture between Government, technical experts and financial partners wherein the Government has only nominal shares and the bulk of the equity, loans and other costs are generated through private sector sources, put into practice through the National eGovernment Strategies Limited which is registered under the Company's Act (for additional information please visit: http://www.nigeriafirst.org/objspeeches/2004/stakeholders_conf.html).

 

[4] The National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) is the owner of NIGCOMSAT-1 and parent of NIGCOMSAT Ltd, all under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology.

[5] Which are also mutually in conflict and contradictory in roles and functions (please see their respective mandates, missions, visions and objectives as stated in their respective Acts and published in their respective websites: (www.nigcomsat.org ) and (www.nitda.gov.ng).



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