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JONATHAN, NCC AND TRIUMPH OF THE LAW

By NBF News



The waiting is over. The suspense has ended. The Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, now has a substantive EVC. He is Dr Eugene Juwah, a doctorate degree holder in Systems Engineering from the University of Manchester, United Kingdom. His appointment has followed a long winding pathway with two acting EVCs in quick succession overseeing the commission.

Yet, the nation's telecom regulator does not deserve such treatment. Not with the existence of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 which spelt out vividly how an EVC or commissioner should be appointed for the commission. In my article published in the Monday, March 29, 2010 edition of The Guardian, captioned 'Jonathan and the NCC', I had counselled Mr President to consult the law when he wants to appoint the next EVC for the NCC.

That article was prompted by the sporadic and near-schizophrenic lobby for the position of EVC of the nation's telecom regulatory agency. At that time, it was only a matter of weeks and the tenure of the then EVC, Ernest Ndukwe, would expire. But long before the expiration of his term, all manner of jobbers and political mandarins were queuing up to take his place. The telecom industry noted for its conservatism and insularity became a mad house for politicians and quasi-professionals to test their lobbying skills. The auguries were simply scary: the wrong man may eventually get the job and bring the sector to sordid ruins.

Because of the monstrosity of the pressure by different lobby groups to get the attention of Mr President, I had feared that the only sector that has brought both fame and fortune to the nation was just about to be hauled into the crooked hands of political dimwits and technical nitwits. True, telecom has brought some sparkle to the nation's heavily tainted image in the past decade. The indices are boldly etched on our national statistical marble.

Just a few would suffice here: In less than nine years, the sector has created over 15,000 well paying jobs and several hundreds of ancillary jobs. It has attracted investments totalling over $18 billion made up of $12 billion foreign direct investment and $6 billion locally sourced capital. Add to that the over N300 billion it put into the federation account and well over 70 million telephone lines generated in less than a decade from a tiny dot of 400,000 odd lines. Today, in international telecom forums, Nigeria is courted as the beautiful bride.

Many people have likened the Nigerian telecom story to a revolution. It approximates to that. And it is for this reason that Nigerian telecom has always been in the news, grabbing positive headlines in the local and international media. Telecom sector therefore has achieved by the reason of its success what the Nigerian government through its several image-laundry interventions could not achieve since Independence : burnish an aspect of the nation's image.

The Secretary General of the International Telecommunications Union, ITU, Dr Hamadoun Toure when he visited Nigeria last year could not hide his joy while chronicling the gains of the sector in Africa in the past decade. Toure who is from Mali said for the first time in the 145 years history of the ITU, Africa became a reference point in mobile telecom development. From the ITU statistics, Africa has outpaced the rest of the world in the deployment of mobile cellular telephony; and Nigeria is leading the charge, accounting for a quarter of the aggregate mobile phones in the continent. Toure was proud of the Nigerian story, and according to him, it is a story that shores up his confidence as an African presiding over the global telecom body.

Simply put, Nigeria for the first time since 1886 when the colonial masters brought the first telephone into the country became the toast of the global telecom community. That was because for the first time since 1992 when the sector was deregulated by the Ibrahim Babangida military regime, the right man was appointed to oversee the regulatory body. Ndukwe's appointment by ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo was the masterstroke that stirred up the revolution. Thus, when his tenure elapsed last April, many had feared that the wrong person may be hand-picked who would erode all the gains.

The matter was worsened by the frenetic lobby of some Nigerians to get the president to endorse their candidate. This was in spite of the fact that the Nigerian Communications Act 2003, the extant law guiding all operations, administration and transactions in the telecom sector, has laid out the procedures for the appointment of the EVC or any other commissioner in the commission for that matter. 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(2) of the Act states how a vacancy should be filled. It reads; 'A vacancy in the Board shall be filled by the appointment of another person to the vacant office by the President in accordance with section 8 of this Act, as soon as is reasonably practicable after the occurrence of such vacancy'.

The phrase 'in accordance with Section 8' simply implies that the President shall appoint from the recommendation of the Board. To do otherwise would amount to subversion of the law. It is therefore heartwarming to learn that President Jonathan has acted in accordance with the law rather than succumb to the pressure of political patronage. By appointing Juwah, said to be number one on the list of persons recommended by the venerable Ahmed Joda-led Board, the president has demonstrated once more that the rule of law is beginning to take a firm foothold in our democracy. This also should serve as a warning to those scheming to sacrifice merit on the altar of mediocrity at any given opportunity.

Juwah's resume is a rich mix of professional competence, experience and industry knowhow spanning over three decades in various aspects of informatics and telecom. His appointment therefore is not only victory for the rule of law but the triumph of meritocracy over mediocrity. Much more, it advertises President Jonathan as a stickler for the rule of law. Now that the suspense has ended, it is over to Juwah to up the game and address immediate issues namely: SIM card registration, deployment of broadband infrastructure, tariff and quality of service.

Owei is a company executive in Lagos.