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Imperative of Upholding Nigeria’s Telecoms Lifeline  

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By Ikemesit Effiong    

It is neither profound nor insightful to state that Nigeria is living through a near-unprecedented cost-of-living crisis.

Imperative of Upholding Nigeria's Telecoms Lifeline  

Aminu Maida, executive vice chairman, NCC

Core inflation touched 33.2% in March with food inflation now an eye-watering 40% – the highest in post-1999 democratic Nigerian history.

It may sound a bit apocalyptic but we are heading towards our all-time high of 47.6% recorded in January 1996.

We have already burst past March 1996’s reading of 31.7%. In a note on future inflationary trends in Nigeria, Aaron O’Neill at Statista made two salient points: our inflation has been higher than the African average for more than a decade now and a significant decrease is unlikely for quite some time.

The International Monetary Fund’s expectation that annual inflation this year will average out at 22.96% is increasingly looking a tad too optimistic.

The bigger challenge though, in his view, is our inflation’s unsteadiness. Food inflation is now at levels not seen since August 2005.

Plantain prices have increased by 129%, rice by 98%, onion prices by 97%, bread by 71% and beans by 64% – between January 2023 and January 2024 alone according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

An inflation rate that is all over the place is usually a sign of an economy that is huffing and puffing, causing prices to fluctuate, and unemployment and poverty to increase.

Nigeria’s economy – a mixed economy where state participation in economic life is higher than most free-market economies – is not entirely in bad shape.

More than half of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is generated by the services sector – chiefly telecommunications and finances, typically a feature of advanced economies.

Notwithstanding, the private sector is teetering.

The Financial Times reports that Nigerian Breweries (NB), which is part-owned by Heineken, has increased prices three times this year.

“So dire is the economic distress in Africa’s most populous nation that the brewer’s chief executive, Hans Essaadi, complained on an investor call that “customers can no longer afford Goldberg, a cheap and well-loved lager,” the London-based publication highlighted this as illustrative of the travails of some of the country’s biggest corporates.

Fixed foreign currency-denominated costs, import restrictions, uncertain policy-setting, a weak Naira and insecurity in many operating areas have forced most like NB to raise prices; some like Procter & Gamble to quit manufacturing in-country or others like GSK and Bayer to contract third parties to distribute their products.

There is one sector, however, that has seen little action in this direction.

The Imperative of Telecom Tariff Revision

At the nexus of connectivity and commerce, the telecommunications industry in Nigeria plays a dual role: as an economic engine and a societal enabler.

The sector’s investment profile in the country stood at $75.6 billion as of 2021, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). Nigeria’s 221.7 million active voice subscriptions and 160.2 million data subscriptions now support a substantial 14% of GDP.

The country’s rising teledensity is such a critical linchpin for economic growth and infrastructural development that any disruptions exact a heavy price.

A 2021 SBM Intelligence survey found that 53% of respondents were “very” negatively impacted by an NCC-mandated shutdown of telecom services in the North-West due to regional security operations.

Moreover, the sector stands as a significant employer, empowering millions of Nigerians with opportunities for livelihood and advancement.

As such, the industry’s health is not merely a matter of corporate profit margins but a national imperative intertwined with the fabric of its progress.

Central to the sustenance of any industry is a conducive economic environment that allows for sustainable growth and innovation.

However, the existing regulatory framework, which shackles tariff adjustments, undermines this fundamental principle.

While other sectors have adeptly responded to economic fluctuations by revising prices, the telecom industry remains bound by regulatory constraints, impeding its ability to adapt to changing market dynamics.

A Perfect Storm: Challenges Hinder Growth      

While Nigeria’s four Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) relentlessly strive for service excellence through consistent network upgrades, their efforts are stymied by environmental and infrastructural obstacles.

Frequent fibre optic cable cuts due to road construction and vandalism; multiple taxation, coupled with the ever-present challenge of acquiring rights-of-way including charges related thereto, act as significant impediments.

These issues, further compounded by exploitative rent-seeking practices, have long plagued the industry, defying resolution despite concerted efforts.

These challenges are not lost on key stakeholders like the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the Ministry of Communication, Innovation & Digital Economy, and a well-informed consortium of governmental and media entities.

MNOs have proactively engaged through media platforms, highlighting these issues and advocating for urgent government intervention.

The industry’s push for Critical Infrastructure Protection for ICT/Telecommunications and the reduction of exorbitant right-of-way (RoW) charges exemplify this proactive approach. Katsina, Nasarawa and Zamfara now lead the country in eliminating RoW charges but much of the country remains an operational nightmare for MNOs.

The Unsustainable Squeeze: Rising Costs, Stagnant Tariffs                         

Despite the advent of GSM technology 23 years ago, a disquieting public perception persists – that of consistently poor Quality of Service (QoS).

While this perception may have elements of truth, it’s crucial to recognise the mitigating factors beyond the control of the operators.

Economic hardship has led to an exponential increase in the cost of all consumer goods and services, with a glaring exception: telecommunication services.

The reason? Price regulation by the NCC.

This price stagnation stands in stark contrast to the reality faced by MNOs.

The industry is heavily reliant on foreign exchange (FX) for crucial equipment and services.

Most telecommunication equipment are imported with the absence of local alternatives as there are primarily four to five core manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and none is situated in Nigeria, or even Africa.

The depreciation of the Naira has significantly inflated operational costs, further straining already tight profit margins. It is unsustainable to expect ever-increasing network investments in the face of frozen tariffs.

The Current State of Play            

Nigeria’s approach to setting tariffs in the telecommunications sector has evolved through a combination of regulatory frameworks, market dynamics, and economic considerations.

During the industry’s transformation in the early 2000s with the issuance of licenses to private operators, tariff regulation was crucial in ensuring consumer protection and promoting fair competition.

The NCC implemented tariff guidelines to prevent anti-competitive practices and safeguard consumers from excessive charges. Tariff regulation also aimed to balance the interests of consumers with the need for MNOs to generate revenue for network expansion and improvement.

For an industry in its infancy striving to offer Nigerians access to new forms of technology and communications, it was necessary to guide pricing to enhance market adoption.

Competition added extra pressure on prices, a wealth of choices ultimately benefiting the consumer. Through it all, the margins were sufficient to incentivise operators to carry out the most extensive investment rollout in Nigerian history.

The market is more mature now and the booming economy of the 2000s is a fading memory.

Mobile phone, and broadband penetration are now at over 100 and 40% respectively, while the entire country is practically covered by 3G and 2G.

The digital economy with the immense success of content creators, e-commerce, software education, financial inclusion, cross-border freelancing and social connectedness has been built on the back of the telecom industry’s investment priorities.

The cost of providing existing services, the competitiveness required to sustain the continued rollout of 4G and eventually 5G technology and wider market dynamics have meant the current tariff structure is less a cushion for customers and more a shackle for operators.

The Path Forward: Rethinking Tariffs                    

In advocating for tariff revision, it is imperative to contextualise the industry’s plight within the broader narrative of economic sustainability and national progress.

Urgent measures must be taken to safeguard an industry that serves as a catalyst for economic growth and societal empowerment.

Tariff revision is not merely a corporate prerogative but a strategic imperative essential for the industry’s survival and a calculated investment in Nigeria’s future.

The additional revenue generated will directly translate into network infrastructure upgrades and modernisation. This translates to tangible benefits for all stakeholders.

A conducive regulatory environment is important in fostering the telecom industry’s resilience and vitality. Responsible government policies that prioritise infrastructure protection and investment incentives are indispensable in fortifying the industry’s foundations. Moreover, enhancing the operating environment for telecoms is not only in the national interest but also a catalyst for attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) essential for sustainable growth.

Many may argue that reviewing tariffs at a time of stagnant wages, decreasing investments and rising prices is unreasonable but ensuring the long-term viability of a critical industry requires a collaborative effort. Regulators need to consider a data-driven and transparent tariff review that reflects the economic realities faced by the sector.

Aminu Maida, the NCC’s Executive Vice-Chairman rightly told the Nigerian Information Technology Reporters Association (NITRA) in February that customers expect excellent quality of service and operators will be held accountable for poor service delivery. Indeed, customers deserve the best possible service, and operators, going by the billions of dollars in present and future investment commitments, appear dedicated to delivering it.

A sustainable and well-regulated telecoms sector is the cornerstone of achieving this shared vision. It starts with rethinking how much operators are allowed to charge their clients.

Effiong is a legal practitioner, Partner and Head of Research at  and Chairman of the Technology Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law.

 

 


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MTN Pays $3.3Bn Tax across 19 Markets in 2023

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MTN Group recently released financial tax report for 2023 revealed that the group paid $3.3 billion in tax contributions across 19 markets.

MTN Pays $3.3Bn Tax across 19 Markets in 2023

This is coming as the company inches closer to celebrate its 30th anniversary next month.

As per ITweb reports, Tsholo Molefe, group chief financial officer, underlined that the company makes “impactful socio-economic contributions” to society through an evolving tax environment across the world and in Africa.

“These represent significant contributions to the fiscus of the jurisdictions in which we operate. These contributions are used to grow and enhance economic development in our various markets. We are very pleased to play our part in supporting Africa’s progress, and giving Africans hope, dignity and opportunity. Beyond the continent’s borders, the tax landscape continues to evolve,” said Molefe.

She acknowledged that faced with reduced fiscal revenues and the need for greater public spending to support economic activity, many African governments have sought new ways to generate revenue, among them broadening the tax base and increasing tax types and rates.

“We recognise the important role our tax contributions play in uplifting communities across our footprint. Our voluntary Tax Report is an effort to explain our tax affairs in a comprehensive and transparent way, thereby underpinning the trust of our many stakeholders,” said Molefe.

MTN’s corporate social investment is realised annually through various Corporate Social Investment (CSI) Foundations and divisions across their footprint ensuring that the Group reaches the most vulnerable, marginalized communities and members of society.

“In supporting the attainment of sustainable societies across our markets, we take seriously our responsibility to be a compliant and transparent taxpayer,” added Molefe.

She said MTN is committed to leveraging its core capabilities to enable the socio-economic development of the communities in which it operates, underpinned by the Group’s core belief that everyone deserves the benefits of a modern, connected life.

The mobile giant says its corporate social investment strategy aligns to this belief by focusing its core initiatives on digital jobs creation.

This, she said, allows MTN to address the digital skills shortage in Africa while simultaneously creating opportunities for economic growth through ICT-enabled programmes, including its flagship MTN Skills Academy platform.

According to the MTN Tax Report, a secondary focus area aligns to the National Priority Areas (NPA) of the respective host countries and disaster relief projects in times of crisis.

 

“Through these ICT-enabled and NPA programmes, we continue to serve and support the communities in which we operate, growing our impact year-on-year. In 2023, MTN’s generic corporate social investment totaled R220 million. This investment impacted the lives of 3.6 million members of our communities, 2.9 of which were youth, as the largest and most impacted population group across our markets,” said Molefe.

Furthermore, 126.2 million women and young girls were empowered. MTN programmes allowed young people to engage in activities to grow their knowledge, access education, learn new skills, and develop through a diverse range of uplifting activities.

Operating in 19 markets, MTN says it has tight measures in place that manages its tax affairs which are directly relevant to its shareholders and other internal and external stakeholders.

The measures, the company said, do not only mitigate risk but also ensure that society fully benefits from the economic participation of the MTN Group in their jurisdictions.


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Joe Levy Appointed CEO of Sophos as Jim Dildine is Named New CFO

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Sophos, a global leader of innovative security solutions for defeating cyberattacks, today announced that Joe Levy is now chief executive officer (CEO) of the company.

Levy has been acting CEO since Feb. 15. To drive a critical role in the execution of his strategy to shape the future of Sophos, Levy has named Jim Dildine Sophos’ new chief financial officer (CFO) and a member of his senior management team.

Levy is a nearly 30-year veteran of innovating and leading cybersecurity product development, services and companies.

During his nine-year tenure at Sophos, Levy drove the transformation of Sophos from a product-only vendor into the global cybersecurity giant it is today, including an incident response team and managed detection and response (MDR) service that defends more than 21,000 organizations worldwide.

Levy also created SophosAI and Sophos X-Ops, an operational threat intelligence unit that joins together more than 500 cross-departmental cybersecurity operators and threat intelligence experts.

Sophos X-Ops shares real-time and historical attack data with all of Sophos’ solutions, making them smarter and faster at defending customers from persistent cyberattacks.

Levy has in-depth experience working with the channel, including managed security providers (MSPs), throughout his career, which he started in the mid-1990s as a cybersecurity practitioner and product and service innovator at a value-added reseller.

As CEO, Levy plans to expand Sophos’ already strong customer base in the midmarket, which includes nearly 600,000 customers worldwide and generates more than $1.2 billion in annual revenue.

As a leading provider of cybersecurity solutions for the midmarket, Sophos has a unique ability to further scale its business and the business of its partners by helping organizations in dire need of basic and expanded defenses against opportunistic and targeted cyberattacks.

These organizations include the critical substrate, small- to mid-sized organizations that comprise the machines of the world’s economy and are just as susceptible to cyberattacks as major corporations.

In fact, the critical substrate, including smaller organizations within the classic 16 critical infrastructure verticals, are prime attacker targets, as evidenced by Sophos’ Active Adversary report and 2024 Threat Report. Both intelligence reports reveal how attackers are repeatedly abusing exposed Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) access at midmarket organizations, as well as going after them for data theft, spying, ransomware payoffs, or supply chain attacks to gain entry to bigger prey.

“When midmarket organizations – the global critical substrate – are paralyzed due to ransomware or other cyberattacks, business activities linked in our supply chains also stagnate, slowing our economy down. Operations of all sizes and shapes suffer collateral damage when dependencies in their supply chains are attacked. This can be devastating in often unpredictable ways because of the increasing complexity of how the modern industrialized global economy works,” said Levy.

“Our goal is to help more organizations in the midmarket – the estimated 99% of organizations that are below the cybersecurity poverty line – be better at detecting and disrupting inevitable cyberattacks.

“Our envisioned approach to achieving this is to work with MSPs and channel partners that can scale alongside us with our innovative critical cross domain technologies – endpoint, network, email, and cloud security – and managed services that they can resell and co-deliver.

“Cyberattacks against the midmarket could severely impact the world’s ability to function; they are relatively under-protected compared to the 1%, and Sophos is on a mission to change that.”

Levy’s leadership strategy includes adding Dildine as CFO to help Sophos reach its business goals and propel the company on its future growth trajectory. He brings exceptional operational expertise to Sophos, as well as a strong background in channel partner-based cybersecurity business.

Dildine joins Sophos most recently from cybersecurity software and services company, Imperva, where he was CFO for more than four years. Before Imperva, Dildine was CFO for Symantec’s $2.5 billion enterprise security business unit for three years. Dildine also previously held key financial leadership roles for nearly nine years at Blue Coat Systems, where Levy also served as chief technology officer.

While at Blue Coat Systems, he oversaw a dramatic growth in market value while guiding the company to a go-private transaction by Thoma Bravo, sale from Thoma Bravo to Bain Capital, and subsequent sale to Symantec for $4.6 billion in 2016. Dildine also spearheaded the acquisition and seamless integration of six security-focused companies, which were valued at more than $750 million during his tenure.

“Having worked in technology and finance for more than 30 years, it is exciting to join Sophos at this juncture, when the company is well on its way to breaking through to the next level. Everything the company has accomplished thus far is impressive, including how dedicated Sophos is to constantly be innovating its cybersecurity technology and managed security services for customers in the midmarket. Sophos is also equally committed to supporting its channel partners, MSPs, and staff around the world,” said Dildine. “I am looking forward to helping Joe accelerate growth and further position Sophos as a leader in the industry.”

“Thoma Bravo has worked with Joe through successful investments in SonicWall and Blue Coat Systems, and our relationship and experience together, coupled with his authentic style of leadership and impeccable reputation across the cybersecurity industry, make him the ideal CEO to lead this next chapter at Sophos,” said Chip Virnig, a partner at Thoma Bravo and a Sophos board member.

“We’re also excited that Jim is joining Sophos as CFO and is a member of Joe’s senior management team. We’ve worked with Joe and Jim at various companies for well over a decade, and we’re confident their combined expertise will reap big rewards for the future of Sophos.”


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ATCON Offers Solutions to Fibre Cable Cuts in Telecom Industry

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Association of Telecommunication Companies Of Nigeria (ATCON) has highlighted fibre cuts as a major stumbling block to the Nigerian telecom sector’s growth and affirmed its readiness to take strategic measures to tackle submarine fibre disruption in the country.

ATCON Offers Solutions to Fibre Cable Cuts in Telecom Industry

Tony Emoekpere, president of ATCON, at the first edition of ATCON’s Critical Conversation Breakfast Meeting held in Lagos with the theme: ‘the Direct And Indirect Cause And Impact Of Metro, Terrestrial And Submarine Fibre Disruptions (Cuts)–Short, Medium And Long Term Sustainable Solutions’, stated that, operators cannot continue to pay lip service to issues and challenges that have constituted stumbling block to the telecom sector growth.

The president recall that few months ago, there was a reported case of submarine cuts which significantly impacted Nigeria and some African countries, adding that, “The incidences of Metro, Terrestrial and Submarine Fibre Disruptions have become a recurring decimal which must be addressed by relevant agencies at all levels of government. Our members have had to pay a substantial amount of money to have all these disruptions fixed and this is impacting on their operational expenses which should not be if the perpetrators are brought to book.”

On advocacy, the president said ATCON is seeking ways going forward, adding that ducts should be built when new roads are being constructed. “There is a need to enforce and implement the provision in the Nigeria National Broadband Band Plan 2020-2025 which states that NCC should have a desk officer in each state of the Federation who is expected to be in charge of the fiber network in order to minimize Fiber cuts during roads construction,” he recommended.

The president averred that the telecom sector has been reported to contribute over 14 per cent to the nation’s GDP, adding that, the sector could have done much better if issues like fiber disruption which has constituted a threat to the manifestation of its inherent potentials, is dealt with.

Emoekpere however stressed the need for more collaboration between telecoms operators and government, with developers and road contractors to mitigate the challenges of fiber cuts.

“There must be compensation for fibre cable cuts. Training and awareness creation on the importance of fibre cable and the danger and negative impact of fibre cable cut, cannot be overemphasised. The federal government should declare telecoms assets as Critical National Infrastructure (CNI).

“Government should come up with policies like ‘Dig Once Policy’ for the implementation of fibre laying to avoid operators damaging cables of other operators during cable laying. There must be a clear database of government agencies giving approvals for road construction to enable telecom companies to have an idea of who they are dealing with as well as the need to have a status update on task responsibilities of ATCON for a follow-up of ATCON activities,” he advocated.

In the same vein, Lekan Balogun, CEO of NetAccess, said, the major causes of fibre cable cut includes Govt/Private Contractors, Man made, planning and Design and Natural causes, while stressing that, there is need for constant engagement between ATCON members, the government and developers.

Balogun proposed short, medium and long term recommendations to forestall fibre cuts, adding that the use of protective materials like metals rather than plastics will help protect the cables from unwanted cuts.

Credit: Leadership


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