This newspaper’s report the other day highlighting the exploitative tendencies, lack of probity and disregard for best global practice by Nigeria’s big four telecoms providers of the Global Satellite for Mobile communication (GSM) – MTN, Airtel, Etisalat and Globacom – and the diffidence of the regulatory body, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in all this, has come to re-affirm in bold terms the veracity of widespread complaints from users of telecoms services. Frustrated customers of the services have often complained bitterly that the poor services and unjustifiably high tariff of these companies, notwithstanding the high profit they rake yearly, are a deliberate and insensitive design to rip off their Nigerian customers. Furthermore, the suspicion of alleged unethical practices in the industry may also come to confirm the complicity of the regulatory body colluding with insensitive business concerns to shortchange Nigerians and further expand the fraud-prone universe of the nation’s economy.
According to reports, telecommunication companies operating in Nigeria were said to be the highest revenue generators of the industry in sub-Saharan Africa. In a quoted study of the industry in 2012, the ‘big four’ generated N1.5 trillion out of the total N6.7 trillion generated in sub-Saharan Africa. For revenue development in the year 2013, the report depended on the MTN Financial Report to use MTN as a case study. According to the report, MTN generated N775.3 billion in Nigeria, as against N638.6 billion in South Africa, which is the home country of MTN. This represents a 21 per cent revenue gain in its Nigerian market. In Ghana, MTN generated N133.5 billion, in Cote d’Ivoire N88.5 billion, in Cameroun N83.7 billion and in Uganda N72.4 billion.
The report also observed that Nigeria, with an estimated population of 167 million, is the largest market in Africa and one of the top 10 fastest growing markets in the world. Using the July 2014 statistics of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the report revealed that subscriptions to mobile telecoms services stood at over 130 million, representing 98.13 per cent of the market share in the industry. MTN leads the market with 58.5 million subscribers, followed by Globacom with 27.3 million; Airtel with 25.3 million and Etisalat with 19.3 million.
In spite of this huge market, continued expansion of the industry with its attendant growth in revenue, the quality of service of the telecoms companies is comparatively far below expectation. Dropped calls, failed calls, network interruption and congestion, tardiness in the delivery of messages, failed attempt to load recharge payments, call misdirection are common complaints of subscribers. Besides this poor quality of service, which makes communication inaccessible, subscribers are also inundated with unsolicited messages and promos that infringe on their privacy, even as other rip-offs come in form of unsuspected fallacious clauses and incomprehensible terms and conditions found in the adverts of telecoms companies; thus violating consumers’ rights as guaranteed by the Nigerian Communication Act 2003, Consumer Protection Council Act, LFN 2004, and the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection.
But the telecoms companies are not alone in this; if they were it would have been a lot easier to deal with. The report also indicted the regulating authorities as accomplices in this plot to rip off Nigerians. For a body empowered by law to ensure satisfactory communications services to the public, the NCC would seem to have positioned itself as a lame duck in these matters. Its silence over crucial issues of quality control in the industry seems to suggest that the commission is a lackey of the service providers. Either it is too slow and hamstrung by nondescript affinities with the service providers to act judiciously as it should, or it is at the forefront defending service providers whenever consumers complain. In fact, it is alleged that some of the arguments adduced for poor quality service, such as infrastructural constraints, the cost of doing business in Nigeria, amongst others, have been amplified by the regulatory body on behalf of service providers.
These allegations are grave and dispiriting, even as they infringe on ethical global practice in the industry. In this technologically invasive world where life is driven by the absence of privacy and where people are justifiably obsessed with terrorism, it is a sad commentary that Nigeria does not have its own national telecommunication carrier. That private information, public discussion and other phone records are managed and processed by private companies, an influential chunk of whom have little or no allegiance to Nigeria and its peoples, should restructure Nigerians’ thinking about the national value of information security and intelligence.
What is even sadder and unbearable is the fact that the fastest growing sector in the economy is also the industry engaged in the fastest rip-off of Nigerians. As it is with other social services, be they voluntary or profit-oriented, the telecommunication industry is customer-centric. It is an industry that relies entirely on the huge traffic of public patronage. It is for this reason that the actors in the telecoms industry should earn the public trust by ensuring that the customer is king. Besides, the whole idea of convenience enjoyed in technological inventions is to simplify laborious task and provide room for profound and creative rational endeavours, and by so doing enhance the human personality and promote human dignity. The commoditization of persons by the unjustified profiteering and questionable liaison between regulatory bodies and private companies is a clear negation of the ideals of human dignity.
The Consumer Protection Council (CPC) and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) must act. Whether deliberate or not, the poor service delivery of telecoms companies is an exploitation of the vulnerability of Nigerians. The present situation of government insensitivity, low premium on life, wanton abuse of the citizens has presented a deformed outlook of the Nigerian. And as such the nation is open to all manner of abuse by all manner of people.
But this must not be taken lying down. In saner climes, where there is respect for persons and the law, erring service providers would have been sanctioned, and when found grossly culpable their licences revoked. The silence of the regulating body in the face of poor service delivery and high tariff, its unwillingness to take pro-active measures to administratively address the situation despite the widespread complaints of telecoms service users and its incredible defence of service providers suggest to discerning Nigerians that there is an unethical relationship that deflates the moral authority of the regulatory body.
If corruption in official quarters hampers the prospect of proper litigious action against this socio-economic abuse, Nigerians should take advantage of the rule to lodge complaints. If the government cannot protect the people, Nigerians should protect themselves. They should, therefore, embark on class action to express their grievances and displeasure.
It is in such situations as this that the legislative committee on communication ought to ask questions in defence of Nigerians. For the service providers to refuse to give heed to the incessant legitimate demands of subscribers, and by the unwillingness of the regulatory body to sanction the former, both the government regulatory body and the service providers seemed to have come in an unholy alliance to economically emasculate the people and undermine the government.
This is unacceptable. The government and its agencies should call these service providers to order in defence of Nigerians.