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​EDITORIAL: The Senate’s 5G probe as waste of time?

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5G antenna
5G antenna
The Senate is the nation’s highest legislative chamber whose power is to make laws for the good of the people. Its functions are summarised in Chapter I, Section 4 of the​​ Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, as amended.

The Constitution provides the Senate with several unique functions such as the “check and balance” on other elements of the Government of Nigeria.

So, it is commendable that the Senate re-convened penultimate week despite the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, as a show of concerns over the plights of Nigerians in this trying time.

Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan.

President of the Senate (Nigeria), Senator Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan

One of the decisions made by the Upper Chamber at the sitting on Tuesday May 05, 2020, was to probe the status of fifth generation (5G) network in the country.

This followed the consideration of a motion sponsored by Senator Lilian Ekwunife entitled ‘The present status of 5th Generation (5) Network in Nigeria’.

Senators, who contributed on the matter on the floor, claimed that since “experts in the communications sector were yet to conclude that its deployment will pose a health challenge, the 5G rollout should be suspended.”

The Senate also mandated a joint committee made of Communications, Science and Technology, ICT and Cybercrimes to conduct a thorough investigation to determine the status of the 5G network in Nigeria and its technological impact on Nigerian citizens and report back within four weeks.

Well, with all due respect, the Senate’s instituted probe of 5G status in Nigeria appears to be a grandstanding, as there are several matters of concern to Nigerian citizens that should be more-dire to the Senators instead of pursuing the current legislative exercise in futility.

Apparently, it seems the Senate only wants to be seen as an Assembly that ‘pays listening ears to the cries of Nigerians’. Unfortunately, these cries are made of unfounded claims, deceits, misinformation, disinformation, misconception, malinformation and above all, fake news. As such, one would expect our Senators to recue themselves from supporting purveyors of fake news.

Pantami

Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami

Are they asking for the suspension of 5G deployment in Nigeria when the spectrum licence to deploy such technology has not even been issued to any licensee? Is it possible to deploy 5G without the necessary spectrum?

It is trite to note that the telecoms regulatory, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), has clearly told the public that there has been no issuance of 5G spectrum licence to any of network operator on the basis of which the operator will then build and deploy 5G network in Nigeria.

What happened recently was just a trial of the 5G network by MTN Nigeria which was closely monitored by the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, and the NCC.

NCC

EVC of NCC, Prof. Danbatta

MTN achieved this in collaboration with vendors – Huawei (Abuja), Ericsson (Lagos) and ZTE (Calabar). NCC has also explained what this is all about.

Apart from telling the nation that 5G has great economic potentials for Nigeria, NCC also hinted on plans to make public its findings with regards the recent trials in Nigeria.

Coincidentally, the World Health Organisation (WHO’s)’s statement also aligns with NCC’s. The WHO, without any equivocation, said that the purported claims that 5G is responsible for COVID-19 is “baseless” and it should be discountenanced, Nigeria is no exception.

As if they knew the conspiracy theorists’ camp will increase, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) report had found not yet any conclusive scientific evidence to the effect that there are adverse health effects caused by telecommunications infrastructures to human with respect to exposure to the non-ionising radiation emitting by telecoms base stations.

5G trial in Nigeria

L-r: Dr. Ernest Ndukwe; Prof. Umar Danbatta; Dr. Isa Pantami; Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye and Ferdinand Moolman at the trial of 5G by MTN Nigeria

Currently, Nigeria’s networks are made up 2G, 3G and 4G and in case the Senators are not aware, the broadband access-gap clusters in Nigeria are about 114! By implication, these clusters are not digitally connected! This is what the Senate should be probing. How do we achieve universal access, financial inclusion, digital literacy or become a fully digital economy, among other are expected to be preoccupation of the Senators in a country where there are many communities and even cities not yet connected to broadband!

Wait, we are not aware that the Senate has probed or tends to probe why the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) has not been made available to telcos to deploy services to unserved and underserved areas like the 114 cities. That was the original reason for establishing USPF: to be used to achieve universal access and universal service.

On the 5G probe, if the Senators needed clarification, they should have invited the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy to appear at the plenary in company of the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC. Embarking on ‘probe’ is such a waste of tax-payers’ funds and time.

If there is no 5G network yet in Nigeria, it, therefore, stands to reason that the supposed “…technological impact on Nigerian citizens”, is a hoarse. After all, Wuhan, where we were told COVID-19 emanated, people are returning to their ‘normal’ lives and 5G is still active there!

There are about 34 cities across the world where 5G were installed pre-COVID-19 and still in use. The rate of COVID-19 spread in those cities are not even worse than what we saw in Italy, France, Germany, United Kingdom, United States, etc.

More confusing is why a former member of the Senate, Senator Dino Melaye, aligned himself with the gibberish of 5G-COVID-19 melee. Melaye’s camp tried all they could to establish a correlation between 5G technology and COVID-19; even when there was no scientific basis for their argument. It is so sad that we have professors, medical experts and supposedly highly-learned personalities in the National Assembly who are swayed, not by sound researches and reasoning, but unfounded outbursts in some sections of the public.

What we would have loved to see the Senate do is to investigate how funds shared for palliatives (during lockdown in FCT, Lagos and Ogun) were administered and how more Nigerians requiring palliatives are/were reached out to.

Those are things to probe – how much was allocated to be distributed to Nigerians who require(d) government’s support to stay at home during COVID-19 lockdown? How many were reached? Why is it difficult to make public the names of the beneficiaries?

COVID19

HM, Sadiya Farouq during the kick off of social intervention fund disbursement to the poor – Photo Credit: PremiumTimes

Well, what were the criteria for selecting the beneficiaries? How many people were eventually reached? What are the lessons for future purposes? Because we know that when government proclaimed COVID-19 lockdown in FCT (Abuja), Lagos and Ogun States, it was not easy on many people in the informal sector who eke a living from the street for daily survival.

Thus, people flouted the lockdown directive; they need(ed) money to survive. They have exhausted the (food stock), if they had any. Crime rates started picking up such that some residents couldn’t sleep with two eyes closed. For instance, some neigbourhoods in Lagos hurriedly constituted emergency ‘night-watch groups.’

The lockdown eventually collapsed and Federal Government was forced to ‘relax’ it. Has this worked? Well, the number of victims of COVID-19 cases is increasing and government is probably studying the situation, which could lead to another lockdown!

The Senate should be concerned that we don’t have adequate record of Nigerians that require palliatives in moments like this. How do we build the record? Because COVID-19 has shown the world that emergency does not obey the timing of man. That is why it is called emergency. After COVID-19, there could be another emergency that requires the need for social security support to be delivered to keep the citizens at home.

This is exactly what South African government did. In South Africa, the government has different levels of social security – for the physically-challenged (like the war veterans); palliatives for old people (or call them elder statesmen/women) and plan for the working class who are making savings towards social security. That is what we call pension scheme in Nigeria. Even when a call was sent to the Senate to invoke force majeure on the National Pension Commission (PenCom) to release, at least, 10 percent of investments to the investors to cushion the impact of COVID-19 on them, no eye was blinked by the Senators.

So, South African government imposed 21-day lockdown (in the first instance) to control the spread of Coronavirus. It started well because South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) immediately rose to the occasion. The agency has near-accurate and robust records of people that are funded. Therefore, it was easy to send money to beneficiaries’ accounts to go shopping and stock their kitchens.

Why can’t Nigeria administer such near-perfect process to the benefits of her citizens? This should be a case of concern to the National Assembly (Nigeria).

Osun State is another example. The state has a record of people that registered for social security. The government delivered Mastercard (ATM card) to them and through the card, the state government was able to disburse (financial) palliatives to these people.

One could argue that more people should have been reached out to, but, at least, the process shows signs of maturity, transparency and promotes cashless policy of the (Federal Government). At least, Osun State cannot be accused of corruption in the administration of the palliatives in the sense that the N20,000.00 per beneficiary can be traced to account holders.

In the case of the Federal Government, how do we determine the amount that was given to each beneficiary?

Over to you, NASS!