The role of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in the nation's COVID-19 recovery

For Nigeria to recover from the effect of the coronavirus, it has to fast-track its digital transformation championed by the NCC.

The role of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in the nation's COVID-19 recovery

For Nigeria to recover from the effect of the coronavirus, it has to fast-track its digital transformation. NCC is the government regulatory agency responsible for driving Nigeria's digital policies, and Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta leads as its Executive Vice Chairman and CEO.

In 2019, Prof. Danbatta underscored the importance of broadband connectivity for digital innovations.

Over the next few weeks, I will document events leading up to a wider broadband reach in Nigeria, and how each move has affected our digital economy.

First, to understand NCC's overarching task, we look at their re-enactment. In 2003, the Obasanjo-led administration abrogated the Nigerian Communications Commission Act, 1992. And replaced it with the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA), 2003.

Under the NCA, Chapter two, part one (1) reads: "There is established a Commission to be known as the Nigerian Communications Commission with responsibility for the regulation of the communications sector in Nigeria.".

Four elements in the Act that are central to this article. The elements are:

  1. Proposing, adopting, publishing and enforcing technical specifications and standards for the importation and use of communications equipment in Nigeria and for connecting or interconnecting communications equipment and systems.
  2. Preparation and implementation of programmes and plans that promote and ensure the development of the communications industry and the provision of communications services in Nigeria.
  3. Advising the Minister on the formulation of the general policies for the communications industry and generally on matters relating to the communications industry in the exercise of the Minister's functions and responsibilities under this Act.
  4. Generally advising and assisting communications industry stakeholders and practitioners with a view to the development of the industry and attaining the objectives of this Act and its subsidiary legislation.

The pandemic has upended most analogue processes involved in productivity. Specifically, in Nigeria, it has re-emphasized the need for efficient digital service delivery.

Following the restriction of movement, most meetings, programmes and training were moved online. For many Nigerians in the public and private sector, it was their first experience working remotely. Yet, there are institutions, and citizens struggling to adapt to the "new normal". They struggle due to a lack of digital skills, high cost of internet, and poor connectivity in their area.

For instance, the educational industry seems to be the worst hit by the pandemic. Many institutions were ill-prepared to move their classes online, and within the educational sector, government schools are more impacted than private schools. While the former awaits school re-opening, the latter has continued to develop online learning for its students. One ICT Director bragged that "within a space of two weeks, we can start administering exams", subject to regulatory approval.

Private businesses have also met a related fate, losing income, and incurring extra cost for their increased dependence on the internet for business continuity. All these with little or no help from the NCC.

Although Nigeria is not the only country battling with broadband connectivity, it has one of the largest youth populations in the world. The move to improve broadband connectivity is a necessary investment that would enable the Nigerian youth to take part in the global economy, without risk of exclusion.

According to the Broadband Commission for Digital Development (BCDD), "improving broadband-enabled technologies would stimulate fresh innovation, and inspire a new generation of digital entrepreneurs to create new applications, services, and content. Broadband moves innovation into people’s hands and homes, allowing end-users to take on new roles as entrepreneurs, software developers, lobbyists, activists, journalists and other content generators".

It is difficult to find institutions in Nigeria where the government's  intervention in preceding years have been progressive. Hence, why most institutions in the country are under-performing. Still, the communications sector under the NCC is one body that has made progress. We can begin to count its progress from the privatisation of the telecom industry.

Networked information and communication technologies (ICT's) play a crucial role in all societies. The NCC should invest in tariffs, better regulation for internet service providers (ISPs), and improved broadband connectivity. All of which are vital to moving the Nigerian economy back into higher growth trajectory.

Regardless of its current quagmire, of improving its broadband connectivity and creating better policies for ISPs, the NCC has earned its reputation for being innovative. The organisation is often lauded by reports, as a leading regulatory agency in Africa. Its SABI and WIN initiatives are two main programs to roll-out broadband internet across the country.

By going back to their 2003 mandate as stipulated by the Act, the NCC can enforce policies and create people-centred, progressive, and economically beneficial ones. be continued.

Edited by Benjamin Dada

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