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By NBF News
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On April 1, Mr. Ernest Ndukwe officially stepped down as Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the National Communications Commission (NCC) after completing two terms of five years each. He handed over to Mr. Stephen Bello, an Executive Commissioner and the most senior person in the organisation.

Ndukwe, an electrical/electronics engineering graduate of the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile Ife, was appointed head of NCC in March 2000 by the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo.

By April 2005, after successfully guiding the nation's telecoms sector out of the backwaters, he was re-appointed for another term of five years. The Nigerian Communications Act 2003 says the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) and any commissioner in the commission can serve for a maximum of two terms of five years each, and no more.

It is, therefore, in accordance with this Act that Ndukwe bowed out of office. It was with honour and, indeed, grace that he handed over, leaving behind noble legacies. It is instructive to note that Ndukwe was not the first EVC of the NCC, a body that came into being in 1992, courtesy of a decree promulgated by the government of former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida. Ndukwe was actually the third EVC but his tenure was, by far, the most successful in the 18-year history of the commission. Undoubtedly, he ran the affairs of NCC creditably.

There are various verifiable indicators to justify this assertion. When he was appointed in 2000, Nigeria was largely under-served in the area of telecommunications. Total number of phones in the country with a then estimated population of 120 million was 400,000 lines. That was the total number of phones the nation could muster in over 100 years since the colonial masters first brought the device in 1886. But within a space of less than a decade, the Ndukwe-led NCC pushed the number of phones to over 78 million lines.

Also within the period (2000 - 2010), thousands of jobs were created in addition to hundreds of thousands of ancillary jobs, including recharge card vending and mobile phones sales and services. Prior to 2000, statistics indicated that the Nigerian telecom sector was a $50 million industry. By the end of 2009, the sector had attracted $18 billion in investment, made up of $12 billion foreign direct investment (FDI), and $6 billion internally sourced investment.

Within the period, the sector that used to be subsidised from the Federation Account had added over N300 billion to the same account. These were receipts from licensing and operational fees of licensed companies. Till date, the digital mobile licence auction of January 2001 which birthed a new dawn of Global System of Mobile Communications (GSM) services in the country has remained a reference point for transparency, integrity and good corporate governance among the over 190 member nations of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Ndukwe, as a regulator, gave essence to the true meaning of deregulation. Before now, telephone was exclusively for the rich. This had prompted a high-ranking public officer at a time to declare that telephone was not for the poor. Ndukwe demystified that. Today, the GSM phone has become a leveller. Everybody is talking, both the rich and the poor.

With the exit of Ndukwe, there is a compelling need to fill the vacancy at the NCC with an experienced professional to ensure a smooth and seamless running of the commission. The Communications Act 2003 has laid out the procedures for the appointment of the EVC or any other commissioner in NCC. It says in Chapter II, Section 8(2) that 'The Board shall make recommendations to the President on suitably qualified persons for appointment as the Commission's Chief Executive and Executive Commissioners and the President shall take the Commission's recommendations into consideration for the appointment'. Section 11(1) states that vacancy is presumed to exist where a commissioner 'dies, is removed, resigns or completes his tenure'.

Ndukwe has left his footprints in the sands of time at the NCC. We urge the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, to appoint a successor of no lower integrity and professional savvy. The sector needs someone who would up the ante particularly in championing SIM card registration, deployment of broadband services and general improvement of the quality of service. These are challenges that need immediate attention. We congratulate Mr. Ernest Ndukwe, and wish him well in his future endeavours.