The Chief Executive Officer of Pan African Towers, Mr. Wole Abu has called on the government to pass the Critical Network Infrastructure (CNI) Bill into law.
The CEO believes that the Bill when passed will increase investors’ confidence in the Nigerian telecommunication industry which currently requires a whopping investment sum of $136 billion to meet the infrastructure needs.
Mr. Abu made the remarks while delivering a lecture on “Overcoming the last-mile challenges in rural education communities” at the 2020 Eko Konnect conference tagged “Developing a National Repository in Science and Humanities” held at Radisson Blu Hotel in Lagos on Tuesday.
The Pan African Towers Head stated that the country also needs 40,000 additional towers to ensure improved telecom network connectivity.
He said that last-mile operators were facing huge challenges ranging from capital, regulatory environment, power and vandalisations.
He added that passing the Critical Network Infrastructure bill will help to alleviate some of these challenges towercos face as well as help protect the infrastructure in the country from vandals and providing sanctions to anyone found guilty of breaking the law.
Mr Abu revealed that multiple taxes, delay in getting permits and licenses, no access to long term debt funding and inadequate power supply were key issues hindering the activities and business operations of towercos, that are attempting to fill some of the infrastructure gap in Nigeria.
He reemphasised that telecommunication was very essential to the national growth and development as it helps drive other aspects of the economy like education, health and finance. He stated that Nigeria is a mobile first country with many people accessing the internet only through mobile phones.
He said that unique mobile subscription has been projected to grow from 97.5 million to 130 million in 5 years, while mobile penetration will grow from 44% to 55% by 2025, just as smartphone penetration will also increase from 53 million to 144 million.
He explained that with these numbers, it is clear that the fourth industrial revolution is imminent as MTN had launched 5G trials in Nigeria with over 50 countries already keying into the new technology commercially.
You cannot alleviate poverty without communication
Speaking to TechEconomy.ng, he said:
“Well investments are coming. We are investment vehicle also, but we need to scale or grow. It is not enough to start. The issue is not we won’t solve these problems, but when are we going to solve them. We are already behind time. This is 2020. One of the speakers here mentioned Vision 2020 and what has become of it. Basic infrastructure like healthcare, education, telecommunication infrastructure, power shouldn’t be what Nigeria with almost 200 million people should still be dealing with. We should now be dealing with the second layer issues and not basic infrastructure.
“The fact that we are still toiling with these is what is the issue. The Minister is aware of these figures and also appreciative of the issue. But at the higher level they need to make sure that it tickles down to the local government. A man who is standing in front of our cell site and he is shutting it down. You can’t take the law into your hands. The Police need to realise that this is not a police-case but related to national development. Even though the tower belongs to a private entity, however, it is a key part of the broadband plan for the country that will create access to healthcare, education and even financial inclusion that the Central Bank of Nigeria and other players are pushing. 98 million people have no access to finance; if they have mobile money will fly.
“You cannot alleviate poverty without communication. So, we are doing a business but it is actually a social service. Before it was privatised, it was done by government. Almost every network was started by the Government because it was important.
“The basic thing now is to pass the Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) Bill. That Bill is very important. The National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly should be involved. They need to understand to make that Bill a priority. Once it is passed there will be more investment flowing into the country because investors will be assured their investments are protected”.
Multiplication of agencies regulating telecom related matters
Commenting on the multiplication of agencies collecting taxes and other charges/levies in the industry, the Pan African Towers CEO, said that the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, should be allowed to coordinate the charges on behalf of the government.
In his words, “This is not very easy because of the complexity in Nigeria; the kind of system we run. The Local Government Chairmen are raising revenue; the Governors have their agenda then you have the Federal Agencies. So, I think there is need for harmonisation of these fees. The Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, is the body that should drive this. They have the mandate to regulate this sector. Therefore, others should subordinate themselves under NCC so that once you are cleared by NCC and maybe the State where your services are domicile you do not need to be harassed by all these other agencies”.
Pan African Towers partnership with Eko Konnect
Mr. Abu informed the participants that Pan African Towers was partnering with Eko Konnect to build community networks that will link schools in rural education communities.
The CEO hinted that Zik Konnect is the product of that partnership and PAT’s corporate social responsibility which is geared towards connecting tertiary educational institutions in the South-East of Nigeria.
He said Pan African Towers is doing a lot to overcome the last-mile challenges that slow down business operations in Nigeria.
He told the participants that Pan African Towers is engaging security agencies, communities, government and regulatory agencies to try to ameliorate some of these challenges that create a tough business environment for towercos.
Mr. Abu said that “Pan African Towers is engaging security men to charge the phones of the locals on their sites and that this act makes them perceive PAT sites as theirs and will protect it against theft and vandals.
He said this act is part of the company’s corporate social responsibility initiative geared towards giving back to the community and tapping into the synergy that exist between the company and the locals.
Mr. Abu concluded that with the digital landscape tilting rapidly towards 5G, Nigeria must position itself to key into the limitless opportunities on time as 5G changes everything.