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Curbing Vandalization, Theft of Telecom Equipment

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Vandalization as an act before now was synonymous with the oil and gas sector of the country’s economy, where petroleum pipe lines are vandalized with the aim of siphoning petroleum products from the pipes.

This nefarious act has led to loss of human lives and material wealth over the years especially in recent years when the product has become goldmine. The growth of telecommunications in the country as witnessed in the spread of coverage by Global System for Mobile (GSM) communications saw this ‘bad word’ extending its tentacle to the sector that has been adjudged the fastest in terms of growth in Africa. It started as activities of areas boys who demanded for settlement from telecom operators before they could site their base stations in their areas and has today, grown to menacing proportions.

When last year, Nigeria witnessed its worst quality of service issue in GSM service delivery that led to Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) slamming blanket ban on MTN and Zain from running promo and directed that they pay compensation to their subscribers; the operators argued that they were not responsible for the poor quality of service attributing it to vandalization and theft of their equipment.

This argument was not acceptable; maybe NCC and National Assembly saw it as an afterthought as such issue was not raised before the hammer fell on them. But, today, the matter that was relegated to the background has turned out to be a subject for discussion by the industry stakeholders.

NCC few weeks ago organized Stakeholders’ Forum to tackle vandalization and theft of telecom infrastructure where it resolved to collaborate with security agencies to address the issue. Engr. Ernest Ndukwe, executive vice chairman, NCC said at the forum that there was need for the commission to revisit the military decree that punished culprits of theft and vandalization of Nitel and government properties with long term imprisonment of 21 years.

This forum has been described by industry stakeholders as timely, when after one year of sanctions, operators are yet to deliver improved quality of service on their networks; and also proved that capacity is not the sole responsibility for poor quality of service.

Impact on operators

MTN Nigeria said it lost N125.2 million worth of equipment to theft and vandalization within 11 months of 2007. According to Mr. Karl Toriola, chief technical officer, MTN, 90 generating sets worth N44 million and 654,214 litres of diesel worth N65,421 million, were stolen within the period.

Others include 35 solenoid worth N2.7 million, 23 air conditioners worth N1.3 million, 47 batteries worth N2.1 million and 120 AVR put at N9.7 million. He added that vandalization of about 300 sites and sabotage of MTN’s transmission infrastructure led to significant downtime last year. These figures may have doubled going by increase activities of these vandals and thieves.

Toriola noted that repeated and multiple cuts to its fibre optic network disrupt service, defeat redundancy and self healing architecture of fibre rings as damage to one microwave tower will often affect several others in line of sight causing widespread transmission outages. "Increasing community agitation and militancy across the six geographical zones with greatest incidence in Lagos, Niger-Delta, South-East also affected our services," he said.

According to him, about 50 sites were rendered inaccessible per day on account of community issues. He added that increasing robbery and banditry hamper the ability to provide reactive maintenance within preferred best practice response times. Zain on the other hand lost 100 generators last year which has doubled as at last month when Mr. Bayo Ligali, chief executive officer of the company disclosed that GSM operators are losing at least two sets of generators to thieves on daily basis. Although Globacom has not disclosed the number of its generators and other equipments lost to vandalism and theft, it is believed that it could still be in the same range with its competitors as they are not operating in a different environment. However, these thieves overpower security guards guiding these base stations with sophisticated weapon to carry out their unscrupulous act.

Nigeria CommunicationsWeek gathered that 3 GSM operators had a total of 11,900 base stations as at the end of July this year. A breakdown of which shows that MTN has 4,200, Glomobile 4,100 and Zain 3,600 with installed 23,800 generators. GSM operators are using generating sets because of the unreliable nature of Nigeria’s public power supply.

Mr. Ligali said that apart from countries where they have witnessed wars and other major conflicts, Nigeria ranks highest among countries that have recorded rampant vandalization of telecommunications equipment in the world.

Options

Nigeria cannot afford to allow few disgruntled elements destroy the growth recorded in an industry she seem to have gotten it right among others in the economy. Against this backdrop, something needs to be done fast to check this ugly trend capable of throwing us back to the dark ages of telecommunications.

Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, chairman, Association of Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (Alton) suggested that the Federal Government should present a bill to the National Assembly, to advance a law that will stipulate stiffer penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment for apprehended vandals of base stations and other infrastructure like optic fibre cables.

According to Adebayo, Alton was actually at the forefront of the plans to sponsor the bill at the National Assembly, even as he expressed optimism that having been a problem that affects all, the bill would not have much problem being passed into law.

He cited the scenario of the 80s when it was a serious offence punishable by a long stretch of prison sentence, to vandalize Nitel property and wondered why the same protection is not extended to today’s telecom operators who are largely private firms.

He said his association has over time, articulated and packaged submissions to the Federal Government by writing to relevant agencies, ministries and related authorities over what they have been going through in the hands of vandals and thieves who steal and damage facilities, and the need to be given some kind of protection to enable them focus on delivering better quality of service to the subscribers.

"We cannot fold our arms and watch things continue the way they are going," he said.

Adebayo cautioned that with the astronomical growth of telecom subscribers on the networks, government should at least provide those basic things to help the operators in providing quality and seamless services or risk having the networks collapse with inestimable drastic effects on the economy of the country.

Franchising option should be also looked into by operators to address this menace especially in rural areas, just as Zain’s Rural Acquisition Initiative (RAI). Franchising is a method of doing business where a franchisor licenses trademarks to a franchisee in exchange for a recurring payment – usually a percentage of gross profits as well as the annual fees.

Zain’s RAI is targeted at low income consumers in most rural and poorest parts of Nigeria. The telecom franchise programme initiative is designed to involve rural residents in base station management and distribution programme, creating jobs, wealth, and improved products and services availability in the process.

Franchisees selected for the programme are the drivers of the programme as local entrepreneurs and in turn recruit representatives from their locality to sell services and protect local base stations in their areas. They are given necessary technical, marketing, sales and financial support by Zain to help grow their businesses.

Fola Odufuwa, founder of eShekels limited, a pioneer ICT researcher in Sub-Saharan Africa, said franchising has ability to speedily start a new business based on a proven template. It also ensures expansion of operations more rapidly.

According to him, Nigerian entrepreneurs do not really need subsidies but a level playing field, access to capital and fair access to existing networks, adequate profit sharing structure and legal protection for their investments.

Business franchising involves the transfer of the total way of doing business that has been developed by a franchisor (big enterprise) to a franchisee (such as small and medium enterprise).

In the context of telecoms, it means that the service provider transfers to the small entrepreneur, the whole process including technical expertise, training systems, marketing, management methods and relevant information on provision of telecoms services to rural areas for an agreed fee or proportion of profit on the business.

Industry analysts say franchising can to an extent, assist in curbing theft and vandalization of telecomm equipment. For instance, if operators franchise their base stations, products and distribution outlets in a community to an indigene of such community, chances are that such franchisee will provide adequate security for those equipments knowing fully well that he or she has stakes in the business and if anything happens to the equipment, he stands to lose money. More so, his people will see such equipments as belonging to a local and not the major network operator and then be more willing to protect them.


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FCT Lifts Suspension Order on Masts, Towers

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Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) has finally lifted the suspension order it earlier placed on telecoms masts and towers in Abuja metropolis.

FCT Lifts Suspension Order on Masts, Towers

The FCTA has therefore asked telecoms operators to commence fresh moves to regularise, update and settle all outstanding bills on their masts and towers to enable them resume installation of masts and towers in the territory.

Relieved of the burden of the suspension of telecoms masts installation in Abuja, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, chairman of the Association of Licenced Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), said that the suspension order would enable telecoms operators resume telecoms masts and other telecoms infrastructure rollout in Abuja, a situation, he said would address the issue of poor telecoms services in Abuja and its environ, having suffered from poor telecoms service delivery in the territory since the suspension order in February this year.

The FCT Administration had on February 3, 2020, placed a suspension order for the installation of telecoms masts and towers in the federal capital territory and communicated same to all telecoms operators through a letter.

In a recent letter dated September 25, 2020, written to all telecoms operators through their association, ALTON, the FCT Administration lifted the suspension order and asked telecoms operators to commence masts installation after seeking the necessary approvals.

Part of the letter with reference No: FCDA/ES/460/Vol.1, which was signed by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Capital Territory Administration, Olusade Adesola, read: “I wish to refer to our letter dated February 3, 2020, which conveyed the suspension of the grant of permits for the erection of telecoms masts/towers in the FCT and the series of correspondences by you dated April 30, July 14, and September 8, 2020, wherein you appealed for reconsideration of the directive to facilitate prompt resumption of the issuance of the build permit process.

“After carefully studying your concerns, the FCT Administration is delighted to convey the lifting of the suspension of the processing/grant of permits for telecoms masts and towers in the FCT, with effect from the date of this letter.”

Reacting to the letter, Adebayo said: “For some time now, telecoms operators in Abuja have not been able to provide adequate capacity to carry the load of Abuja subscribers because of the non-approval of the expansion of telecoms masts and towers by the FCT Administration.

The implication is that those who travelled into Abuja from other states and from other countries were not able to have uninterrupted telecoms services, which was a reputation issue for the country, because travelers will leave the country with the impression that telecoms services are poor in the country. But with the lifting of the suspension order, telecoms operators will be able to install more masts that will lead to better user experience of telecoms services in Abuja. The government agencies will also have better user experience and service delivery.”

“We are happy with the lifting of the suspension order for the telecoms masts and towers in Abuja, and we are glad that the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, was able to resolve this for us. So we are ready to expand telecoms infrastructure in the FCT.”


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FG Launches Digital Nigeria Portal, Mobile App

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Dr Isa Pantami, minister of Communications and Digital Economy (FMCDE) has unwrapped a Digital Nigeria Portal and Mobile Application in furtherance of the Digital Nigeria Programme.

FG Launches Digital Nigeria Portal, Mobile App

Dr Isa Ibrahim Pantami

The Digital Nigeria Programme was kick-started by President Muhammadu Buhari, on March 19, 2020.

At the virtual launch of the mobile application in Abuja, Pantami, said it was part of the government’s key initiatives aimed at empowering innovators and entrepreneurs with the requisite skills to thrive in an emerging digital economy.

He explained that the Digital Nigeria programme was a key component of the Digital Literacy and Skills Pillar of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) for a Digital Nigeria which was being championed by himself.

Pantami said the ministry was partnering with global institutions including the African Development Bank (AFDB) and Microsoft to enable Nigerians to acquire cutting edge digital skills within the comfort of their homes.

The Minister, however, reiterated the government’s resolve to promote skills over paper qualifications.

“We are championing a paradigm shift that lays emphasis on skills, in preference to merely having degrees without skills.

“Degrees are only meant to validate skills, this is a growing trend across the globe.

“The digital literacy and skills pillar recognises the fact that citizens are the greatest assets in any economy, including the digital economy.

“It will support the development of a large pool of digitally literate and digitally skilled citizens. The “Digital Nigeria” mobile app is available on play store and apple store, enabling Nigerians to enrol in ICT courses within the comfort of their homes,” he said.

Pantami said that much of the content was provided through AfDB’s partnership with Microsoft, adding that students can download certificates after completing the courses.

According to him, across the globe, there is a growing focus on the need for developing skills, rather than merely acquiring degrees.

“To this end, Nigerians are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity by enroling today at https://digitalnigeria.gov.ng; or https://academy.nitda.gov.ng/ accordingly.

“The portals will give details on how to register and how to download the relevant Mobile Apps.

“The Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy is committed to developing the capacity of Nigerians to use technology to solve problems.

“We will keep updating the course offerings to reflect global trends. The Digital Nigeria Programme will provide a platform to empower Nigerians to develop relevant skills and build innovative solutions to address challenges within,” Pantami said.

Some of those present at the launch included Prof. Umar Danbatta, executive vice chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), and Prof. Mohammed Abubakar, managing director of the Galaxy Backbone (GBB).


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Digital Explorers Launch Paid Traineeship in Lithuania for Nigerian Female Data Analysts

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Digital Explorers has launched applications for the second cohort of the program. This time, it is a female-only track that will select up to 15 female Data Analysts and Data Scientists at entry-level who will undergo up to 6 months paid traineeship in Lithuania. The program will consist of an intensive training and a placement at a Lithuanian company.

Digital Explorers launched in 2019, selecting 15 Nigerian ICT specialists, from a pool of 1,400 young talents. The first cohort of 15 digital explorers have spent a year in Lithuania, working, learning, and networking. They are now wrapping up their 1 – year career advancement journey and transitioning to full-time, more permanent employment.

For the next cohort, Digital Explorers is partnering with Data Science Nigeria to identify and select Data Analysts/Scientists for its 2020 Virtual Bootcamp (to commence on 20th October, 2020).

The objective of this cohort is to support women in tech and contribute to closing the global tech gender gap by offering tailored data analysis / data science traineeships to selected participants.

Interested Nigerian entry-level female data analysts/scientists are required to register for the DSN Hackathon through this link – bit.ly/AIBootcamp20_hack in order to make it into the Virtual Bootcamp.

This also gives an opportunity for Nigerian Companies with existing female entry level data scientists and analysts to encourage their staff to apply.

Participants will receive tailored training, international exposure and return after 6 months better equipped to contribute to the success of the organization. Application for the DSN Hackathon closes on October 3rd, 2020.

The training participants will receive will be tailored to meet market demands in Lithuania and Nigeria. At the end of the programme, participants will be further assisted in finding the right employment opportunities in Nigeria.

Nigerian companies interested in hiring data analysts and data scientists in the future can partner by registering here to recruit participants who successfully complete the programme on their return from Nigeria.

In his vision essay about this program, Kola Aina – Founder of Ventures Platform says this project is “about upskilling the next generation of Nigerian entrepreneurs and knowledge workers with global networks and connections.

“Our ‘Digital Explorers’ will be working side by side with amazing people on world class teams, building products and services for global clients, and spending a lot of time in structured learning and networking activities… Looked at from a certain perspective, the people who make it into the Digital Explorers programme are effectively being paid to learn and acquire world class skills.”

Speaking on the launch of the second track of the Digital Explorers program, Eugenija Kovaliova, Co-founder of AfriKo says, “Lithuanian ICT sector has been maturing significantly over the past decades and this has been recognized by many international tech companies, hiring Lithuanian specialists to work on complex projects.

“At Digital Explorers we want to open up an opportunity for Nigerian talents to work alongside Lithuania’s best and bring back acquired skills and knowledge for a stronger Nigerian digital landscape.”

Mimshach Obioha, the Executive Director at Ventures Platform Foundation, added, “The choice to focus on Data Analysts and Data Scientists is fueled by the growing global demand across different industries for jobs such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Specialists or Data Scientists.”


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