News Analysis by ObikeUkoh,
Since the establishment of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), it has been consistent in deepening and protecting the rights of consumers.
Indeed, one of the core mandates of the NCC is to protect the rights of telecom consumers in Nigeria.
The protection of the rights is enshrined in Chapter VII of the NCC Act (NCA 2003), that gave legality to the Consumer Affairs Bureau, a key department of the NCC.
At an interactive session recently in Abuja, Prof. Umar Danbatta, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, enumerated the efforts of the commission in the protection of the rights of telecom consumers.
Danbatta who was appointed NCC Executive Vice Chairman in November 2015 , and reappointed by President Muhammadu Buhari in June 2020 and confirmed by the Senate on July 21, 2020, reiterated the commitment of NCC to protect Nigeria’s telecom consumers.
“The consumer is king; hence our consumer-centric regulatory initiatives to ensure consumer protection; information and education have continued to top our agenda.
“To further empower consumers, in 2016 we introduced the Do-Not-Disturb (DND) 2442 Short Code, which gave consumers the power to opt-in or out of unsolicited messages on their respective networks.’’
The executive vice chairman said that it was because of the importance attached to consumer protection that the NCC declared 2017 as “ The Year of the Consumer,’’ and set out with various projects to bring telecom consumers closer to the commission and their various network operators.
“The commission also upgraded the NCC-Free number 522 as secondary complaints mechanism to further empower and resolve consumer complaints.
“We also issued directives on data roll-over and another on forceful subscription of data services and value-added services (VAS).
“The two directives have ensured effective protection of telecom consumers, Danbatta said.
He recalled that in 2019, the commission revised the NCC Consumer Complaints and Services Legal Agreement (CC/SLAs) with the operators in order to ensure prompt response to consumer complaints, and also reviewed the Consumer Code of Practice Regulations at a Public Inquiry.
“We initiated the Mobile Services Management Systems, in collaboration with other agencies aimed at protecting consumers from the negative effect of substandard devices on the networks and the health of telecom consumers.
“The Mobile Services Management Systems project, when fully implemented, will help in combating the proliferation of fake, counterfeit and cloned communication devices in the telecommunications industry.
“Similarly, we have developed regulations on E-Waste,’’ Danbatta added.
According to him, the regulations will ensure that we are also able to rid our environment of indiscriminate disposal of malfunctioning and disused gadgets, which are capable of posing health risks to consumers.
“I also need to mention our commitment in protecting the lives and property of telecom consumers by getting rid of improperly registered Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards. We conduct periodic audit of the networks to ensure the MNOs do not harbour improperly registered SIM cards on their networks any further,’’ he emphasised.
Danbatta announced that 19 Emergency Communications Centres (ECC) have been activated across the country.
“ The 112 national emergency number allows Nigerians in distress to get help in emergencies.
“The 112 number has become a major channel of communication during this COVID-19 period as over 1,200 COVID-19 related calls were made to the 112 national emergency toll free number between March and June 2020 from the various ECCs across the country.
When Danbatta spoke at the 2017 Lagos International Trade Fair and Exhibition, he reiterated the commitment of the commission in its fight against the abuse of customers’ rights and privileges.
He emphasised that consumers of telecommunications services deserved to get value for their money and be treated as very important stakeholders in the scheme of things as far as service delivery is concerned.
Danbatta maintained that his administration is fighting to protect consumers from unfair practices through availability of information and education to make informed choices in the use of ICT services.
“Our objective is to engage, empower, educate and inform the consumers about their rights and responsibilities, opportunities and solutions that are available in the industry.
“The essence of this is to reassure the consumers that the issue of protecting them from unfair practices is no mere talk.
“We have put the service providers on special notice about our current monitoring of user experience on issues of poor reception, wrong billings and deductions, automatic roll over among other issues, and if they fail to improve services to the detriment of the consumers, will face appropriate regulatory actions and sanctions,” he said.
The performance of NCC has not gone unnoticed, as Yahaya Garba, Commissioner for Federal Capital Territory of the Public Complaints Commission (PCC), during a visit in July 2019 to NCC headquarters in Abuja, commended the commission for effective protection of telecom consumers’ rights.
“For us at PCC, we would like to commend the NCC in recognition of its efforts in implementing the National Telecommunications Policy, regulating the telecom sector and protecting the rights of consumers and operating companies alike,” he said during the visit.
Garba particularly stated that PCC initiated the visit to get familiarised with the NCC’s functions and operations with regards to telecom consumer protection, deepen areas of collaboration and solicit ICT capacity building for PCC staff by the telecom regulator.
The NCC Executive Vice Chairman Danbatta, emerged the winner of the 2019 Zik Prize, in the professional leadership category.
Prof. Pat Utomi, member, Advisory Board of the Award, via a webinar on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, said that Danbatta and Mr Kennedy Uzoka, the Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of United Bank for Africa (UBA) are the winners in that category.
“Prof Umar Garba Danbatta is a square peg in a square hole. An academic professor, Danbatta has, through the NCC, led the charge to drive Nigeria’s industrial revolution and knowledge-based economy leveraging telecommunications,” he explained.
According to Prof. Utomi, telecom contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Nigeria has grown by 70 per cent from 2015 to 2020, whilst broadband penetration has leaped from 8 per cent to 42 per cent, in the same period.
“His leadership has enhanced transparency and innovation in the sector, such that recently, NCC was acknowledged by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), as one of Africa’s foremost regulator,” he observed.
In a letter of nomination in July 2020, jointly signed by the Chairman of the Board, Sen. Jubril Aminu and Utomi, the NCC boss was described as “an outstanding public servant, whose initiatives and reforms had contributed to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) playing a leading role in the socio-economic development of Nigeria.”
Zik Prize was set up in 1994 in honour of Nigeria’s first President, late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe.
Besides deepening the protection of consumers’ rights, the NCC has also deepened the purse of the nation.
According to Danbatta, NCC remitted N362.34 billion into the Federal Government Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF), from 2015 to date.
Danbatta, who spoke at the interactive session, said that the revenue was realised through spectrum fees and operating surplus, which he noted helped to boost the revenue generation drive of the present administration.
Danbatta also said that NCC had continued to collaborate with academics to support the development of the innovative services and life-changing solutions with the use of information and communications technologies to promote indigenous content.
“ The commission has so far released N336.4 million as research grants to the academia and has endowed professional chairs in two Nigerian universities.
“More importantly, we have empowered the Nigerian youth by promoting their ingenuity and innovation in the development of locally-relevant technology solutions.
“ The latest of such was the 2020 NCC Virtual Hackathon, where we gave N9 million in grant to three top promising tech startups for solutions, aimed at addressing the impact of COVID-19 and diseases in thematic areas of health, community, productivity, economy and transportation.’’
Danbatta, however, restated the commitment of the NCC to continue to protect consumers and ensure they have value for their money, and appealed to consumers to report any infraction by mobile network operators to NCC (NANFeatures)