Wednesday, March 15, was the 2023 World Consumer Rights Day. In telecoms, it was a day to address issues verging on fairness to the telecom consumers vis-à-vis the fast-evolving dynamics in the telecom ecosystem.

Globally, the mantra is ‘the consumer is king’. In Nigeria telecom, especially from the days of the globally-acknowledged telecom revolution from 2001, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecom regulator, has more than identified with the consumer. NCC believes that every telecom consumer has a right. It believes that without the consumers, there would be no networks; and without the network operators, there would be no regulator. This has underpinned the commission’s avowal to defending the consumer in the face of perceived extortion, poor service delivery and any form of unjust treatment meted to consumers by operators.

Till this day, the NCC ranks high in the comity of nations who show regard for the telecom consumer. The Consumer Affairs Parliament and other townhall meetings targeted at consumer education and protection have been copied by other countries. It is a model that has come to define the commitment of the regulator to the consumer.

One man that deserves credit for this revolutionary consumer protection initiative is the late Ahmed Joda. The story of the nation’s telecom cannot be told without according him his due. Joda, a former chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, Board was the unseen hand that guided the stream of activities in the commission for a decade, year 2000 to 2010.

He helped both the Board and management of the NCC to conduct a world-class digital mobile auction in 2001 which precipitated in the rollout of digital mobile services in the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) genre.

He brought on board decades of consummate and unblemished service in the public sector. He belonged to the old brigade of super permanent secretaries, men and women whose service record was a rich slate of integrity, industry, foresight and veracity.

A journalist of note, Alhaji Joda’s early foray into the civil service made him an encyclopedia on the nation’s public sector. But besides that, he’s among the small crowd of public servants described as squeaky clean and downright honest. In fact, before the resurgence of the crusade against corruption ignited by the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo government in 1999, Joda had played avant-garde role in the fight against graft.

Though the NCC was birthed in 1992 with its first board inaugurated in 1993 and later dissolved in 1994, the commission never really enjoyed the type of independence that would enable it discharge its duties effectively. It was therefore to the credit of Joda who was appointed as the chair of the new Board in 2000 that the commission began a new chapter in corporate governance. Through the Board, he steered the NCC to global reckoning with institutions like the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Bank, all maintaining strong partnerships with the Nigerian telecom regulator. Under his leadership, the NCC became not only a clear pacesetter in telecoms regulatory matters in the West African sub-region but also on the continent.

From 2000 to 2010, he piloted the Board to give Nigerians hope and the commission a new lease of life. The trophies speak for themselves: growing the nation’s telecoms throughput to become the fastest growing market in Africa and one of the fastest in the world; relocating NCC from a rented apartment to a befitting world class corporate headquarters built without subvention from government and establishing a Digital Bridge Institute (DBI) among others.

The DBI, for instance, has transformed to a capacity building institution not just for the Nigerian market but for the entire continent to solve the problem of dearth of skilled manpower in the telecoms sector. The success recorded by the NCC owes so much to the creation of quality-enhancing and monitoring departments namely Standards, Consumer Bureau and Corporate Planning and Research.

Yet, in spite of this rich scroll of achievements, Joda remained self-effacing, unassuming and humble. Instructively, these traits rubbed off on the entire Board and by extension the commission. The Ahmed Joda effect is a positive vibe which echoes across multi-sectorial institutions including education, petrochemical and telecoms. Little wonder, the former EVC of the NCC, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, once described him as “the best boss any one could have”.

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Ndukwe never failed to give full credit to Joda for guiding him and management through the contours of public sector management and administration which helped to deliver what many Nigerians, and indeed Africans, gleefully refer to as the telecoms revolution.

An epitome of nationalism, patriotism, fiscal prudence, temperance, administrative elan, emotional intelligence and intellect, Joda also carried the gait of a contented man willing to make personal sacrifice for the common good of humanity.

A hugely decorated public servant (OFR, CON, HLR,) Joda died on Friday 13th of August, 2021 at the glorious age of 91.

President Muhammadu Buhari recognised Joda’s “monumental contributions to Nigeria’s unity and progress,” from birth until his death. Buhari noted that the late “Super Permanent Secretary” as Joda and some of his colleagues were referred to in the 70s,  “distinguished himself as a remarkable scholar, journalist, intellectual, public servant and farmer”, describing him as “a hero for all Nigerians” who, even in death, “will continue to inspire every generation to move forward with love, brotherhood and harmony.”

To former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Joda’s death was the “fall of an Iroko”.

Atiku in a personally signed statement described Joda as a great Nigerian and first generation of Adamawa indigenes who made immense contribution to growth of the state and the country.

Though Joda served in prominent public service positions in the 70s, he would later return to serve as Chairman of the NCC Board for a decade during which period the nation moved astronomically from analogue to digital telecoms.

It was therefore of little wonder that the current Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, on behalf of the Board, Management and Staff of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), reserved the nicest compliments for a man who gave his best to the nation.

Born in Yola in 1930, he exited in a blaze of glory on August 13, 2021 with 91 stars heralding him to the other realm. Not many men get the privilege of attaining the nonagenarian status.

This article is not so much to pay tribute to his sterling public service career. It is to incident his place in the national hall of fame as one of those who fought on the side of the telecom consumer. The theme for this year is “Empowering Consumers through Clean Energy Transition”. And it fits well to spur growth and awareness at a time Nigeria has joined the early birds in the world to introduce 5G network into the national telecom menu. Even as he’s long gone, Joda would be proud of the foundation he and his team laid and even prouder that the teams after him have continued to stack up the bricks as they build a national telecom network of global standard.