BY BISI OLALEYE
IT experts in the country have voted for the Nigerian Communication Satellite (NigComSat) proposed bill, currently awaiting passage by the Senate ,which will make the satellite company, an entity. Although some stakeholders in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector have accepted and voted for the bill to be passed into law especially since Nigeria needs to be among countries with robust satellite communication platforms.
While a few made their observations known during a one day Stakeholders’ Forum organized by the ICT Publishers Alliance. The ICT Publishers’ Alliance is a body consisting of frontline publications specializing in publishing magazines in the ICT industry.
A few however cautioned that while the bill was desirable, Nigeria should be wary of the pitfalls that dogged some failed state institutions so as to prevent the institution, NigComSat from suffering such fate when the bill becomes an Act of Parliament. In a similar vein, the Communiqué urged government to do all it can to support NigComSat in driving broadband penetration in the country adding that satellite technology driven by NigComSat was best for a developing nation like Nigeria.
The proposed NigComSat bill, which is now set for deliberation at the Senate before it will eventually be sent to the President for assent has already been passed the House of Representatives as at March 2012.
The bill seeks to establish an Act that will give the agency power to engage in, purchase and otherwise acquire or take over the assets, business, company, firm or persons and act in furtherance of all and any business associated and or relating to the satellite industry. If passed the bill will amongst other things, enable NigComSat to become autonomous and take decisions that will enable it roll out fast; and also to seek funds from international organizations that will make it more profitable.
In addition, it will empower NigComSat to seek license to rollout broadband services as quickly as possible. In recognition of the importance of this bill to citizen especially in using satellite to meet the demands of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which has stipulated that broadband should be top of every government’s agenda with a target of 2015 for all countries to have broadband access, the ICT Publishers Alliance, Nigeria’s foremost group of owners of ICT trade journals with a cumulative industry experience spanning over 30 years, rallied stakeholders together to deliberate on the bill in order to come up with ideas that will better inform members of the Senate and at the same time act as a guide document to the Senate.
The Forum was moderated by the President of Association of Telecommunication Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Engr. Lanre Ajayi. He noted that there was a need to guide the Senate, as citizens, to let them know the need for Satellite Company to be able to run businesses on its own with less government bureaucracy. Ajayi disclosed that satellite technology is a very desirable technology in Nigeria, noting however, that this was not to say that other terrestrial technologies are not very relevant but they are complementary.
“The major advantage of satellite is its ubiquitousness. In a country like ours, where we have many rural communities, satellite becomes an option. If we must progress, we cannot run away from developing satellite technology and government must support this.”
Ajayi Managing Director, NigComSat, Engr. Ahmed Rufai, noted that NigComSat has developed a lot of initiatives including the successful launch of NigComSat -1R into orbit in December 2011, with footprints covering several countries; It has also partnered with Main One Cable Company to distribute broadband capacity to over 40 countries and thus generates a lot of money for government.
He pointed out that despite the above the company is faced with the problem of rolling out fast because government bureaucracy. Consequently, the bill in question, if passé into law, will enable NigComSat operate faster.
However, some experts, like Chief Executive of Teledom Group, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem and the President of the Nigerian Internet Group, Engr. Bayo Banjo, expressed concern that the spirit of the bill if passed into law must be implemented in such a way as not to undermine competition in the sector.
Their concerns were addressed by experts such as Mr. Yele Okeremi of ISPON, and Shola Taylor who were in full support of the passage of the bill just like many other stakeholders at the forum. According to the stakeholders, Nigcomsat carries the burden of ensuring the security of Nigeria in the communications realm, the law as conceived also desire to sustain the integrity of a private sector led economy where commercially operated communication satellites compete for market share.
According to the stakeholders, NigComSat carries the burden of ensuring the security of Nigeria in the communications realm, the law as conceived also desire to sustain the integrity of a private sector led economy where commercially operated communication satellites compete for market share.
Shola Taylor, a telecom consultant of repute to many international organisations and governments argued that the bill if passed would best position NigComSat to achieve accelerated success rate as has been witnessed with the Statutory Act that has ensured the continuous success of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) on the global scene.
“ICASA, the regulator has failed and NCC has succeeded because Nigeria did it right with the Telecommunications Act that safeguarded NCC from undue interest. NigComSat occupies a strategic position as a manager of our national resource in communication.
Today, we stand the risk of being shut down should Nigeria have issues with any of external powers influencing any of the satellite operators operating within our space as has been the case in Iraq, Iran and elsewhere. NigComSat offers an extensive measure of control and ability by the country to manage its own communication resource,” said Taylor.
According to them, Nigeria needs content and fibre cannot be enough to supply the much needed broadband for development, insisting that satellite technology remained the fastest and best option for Nigeria because of its wide area capability. This group of experts were also of the opinion that the bill will not in any way put NigComSat into competition with private sector operators. They therefore, called for the quick passage of the bill.
“For any revolution to thrive in any country it must be on a tripod stand, which has to do with technology, social and legislation. The technology must be right and generally accepted by the people, and there must be right legislation to protect it,“ Okeremi said arguing that no nation can grow without having effective capacity to independently decide its communication destiny.
“We must perceive satellite communication as critical national infrastructure which requires everything to protect including legislation and we must sit down to see that we do everything to see that this bill become a law.”
He listed technology, social perception and legislation as the tripod that must be present before a revolution can happen. President of ISPON, Mr Chris Uwaje noted that those who oppose the bill are myopic and were not abreast of the role of Satellite communication in national development and bridging the digital divide.
According to him China is an example of how a country can maximized its satellite communication resources to meet its digital inclusion and security needs. Fibre cannot solve the needs of e-learning, e-health and the broadband challenge.
A representative of Olisa Agbakoba & Associates, the law firm responsible for the drafting of the NigComSat bill, Victor Nwakesi also explained that the bill is much desired and that passage will aid Nigeria’s emerging development issue, saying, “the contents of the NigComSat bill have been developed to align with what the laws allow. “NigComsat should be protected in the best interest of the citizens”.