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Telecom Revolution is Key Driver of Development-Ndukwe

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Ernest Ndukwe, executive vice chairman and chief executive officer, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is a professional engineer with over 28 years of local and international experience. The NCC he is leading has completely transformed the country’s telecom landscape with the now world famous revolution which ahs placed phones on the hands of Nigerians and connected many nconnected. He spoke about the revolution and next big thing in this interview with Ken Nwogbo.

 

Prediction on Telecom Revolution

Looking back, nobody could have predicted the amount of success that has been recorded in the industry. Remember that we started from a very low level and almost zero-subscriber level compared to what we have today. We had just over 20,000 wireless mobile line and 200,000 fixed lines – hardly anything for anyone to care about. But over the years, we have seen this growth to the level that by the end of July, 2008 we have netted 58 million connections and there was no way we could have predicted this in 2001 when this journey started. But it has been a pleasant development and we thank God for his favours and for what He has enabled us to do in this area.

Growth in Subscriber Base and Capacity

The capacity is also growing. The problem actually comes from where we started. Most countries that transited from wireline infrastructure as their base and moved to mobile already had very good wire line infrastructure. That is why I laugh when people compare Nigeria with places like the UK, the U.S and some European countries. These are countries that had very good landline infrastructure. The incumbent operators in those places had obligation to make sure that lines were available to all people in the country no matter their location. But the situation we found ourselves in here in Nigeria from 1960 at independence until recently was that lines were growing in the country at an average of 10,000 lines per annum. Today we are talking about 1.2 million lines per month, so you can see the difference. In terms of capacity, let me say that all the operating companies are installing capacities at such a fast rate and within the possibilities available to the environment. One of them recently said that in the month of July, they had about 150 base stations – that is definitely a record. Most people do 30, 50, at the best, 100 – that will show you how much capacity that is put into the network in order to enhance it. I am sure what you will also be saying is that they do not have headway in their capacity to be able to take anything that is out of the ordinary and I will agree with you on that. That is why when they try to offer free calls at a particular weekend, the whole network gets jammed. So if we start from a very shallow base and start building the network to what it is today, for the whole country to be covered, for enough base stations to be available everywhere and for us to now have that critical headway that will make it possible for us to handle extraordinary occurrences so that networks are not thrown into any form of confusion. But today, capacity is growing rapidly.

Broadband and Mobile Growth

It would never be possible for broadband and fixed lines to keep pace with the mobile growth. I say that because when you look at what happened in the years when fixed lines infrastructure was in vogue – in the 60s, 70s and 80s before mobile services became widespread, Nigeria did not take advantage of that period and most of Africa did not. Today, to build a landline infrastructure, you need permission; you need approval from local and state government and that may be delayed. Secondly, it takes more time to build a fixed line infrastructure unlike that of mobile. For fixed line/wire line, you have to draw cable on individual basis to the various targets where you have your customers. So, it is a difficult thing to do in a fast manner. That is why I said it would be impossible for fixed lines to catch up with mobile lines because of the nature of deployment. What we should be talking about is how much we can improve on it. Even in this age of fixed mobile substitution, you find some people (especially young people) abandoning the fixed lines in preference for the mobile lines, so that they can stay connected in their offices, homes, anywhere they are without restrictions. I think the challenge from your question is – how do we further improve the penetration of broadband in Nigeria? We are working on that and companies are gearing up to provide broadband internet services in the country.

Impact of Financial Sector in Telecom Revolution

The telecom revolution has been a major driver of development in the country in the past seven years. It has affected nearly all other sectors of the economy – the financial sector, business community, government services, security services, medical services, legal services. All these have been impacted positively by the telecom industry. The advertising companies have never known it so good, telecom has suddenly become a major (if not the primary) contributor to advertising in the country. When we look at the ordinary businessman, people are able to use their phones to reach their customers and run their businesses more efficiently. It has improved commerce and industrial development; it has improved interactions – doctors today do not need to be glued to a particular location when they are on call; they can be on the move and still be on call in a hospital and can attend to emergency cases regardless of their locations. So all these have been major contributions of the telecoms industry, a major facilitator of growth in the national economy.

Revenue from in 7 Years

What I can say is that investment in the industry is over $12 billion. I mean all forms of investment in the telecoms industry – licensing, roll out of networks, investment in various companies. So it is over $12 billion.

Consumer Parliament as Alternative Dispute Resolution

The consumer parliament has been a major factor on the Nigerian telecoms scene. What it has done is empower the consumer more. We pride ourselves for raising consumer awareness to a higher level in the country today. Before the telecom parliament, most consumers in the country were basically left in the dark and not used to complaining. We have demonstrated that we can transparently meet the consumers and discuss with them on the issues and problems they have. This was never happening in this country, most people hardly complained – they did not have a say. But the consumer parliament and consumer-based programmes have given the consumers a new voice and we very happy for that. Right now, we are looking at bringing out the education part of the consumer parliament because what people don now is just come and make complaints and their complaints are discussed; we listen to their grievances. But we want to go beyond that; we want to use it as a platform for consumer education and awareness as a veritable tool in the hands of the consumers to be able to assist them evaluate services offered by operating companies and be able to make fine decisions on their own. So that is what we want to do with parliament.

Addressing Issues of Quality of Service

Yes, the quality of service situation has been topical because of this consumer awareness that we have instilled. In terms of quality, the commission has done a lot in addressing the issue of getting quality of service here to meet international standards. That is why recently, we published a few things on key issues in the industry addressing questions like congestion, call related problems and others. Operators of telecoms should ensure that they meet minimum quality of service requirements and we have also committed that when they fail, we will ensure that they pay the consumers in compensation. If you noticed, for the first time in the African continent, the telcos are paying compensation to the consumers for poor service rendered. So we are working hard at it and we hope that they continue to improve in quality. The heat is on and we know that there is a lot of installations going on in the various networks and this will over time enable them provide an optimum quality of service in the environment.

Hosting Commonwealth Telecom Organization Forum

The Commonwealth Telecom Organization normally has annual meetings and the venue moves from one country to another. The one two years ago was in Malta, last year’s was in Jamaica. It was during the Jamaican conference that Nigeria indicated interest in hosting this year’s Annual General Meeting. So, it is something that countries hold on rotational basis. CTO has been an important organization in developing ICT across the Commonwealth countries. Apart from the Annual General Meetings which is usually a one day or two day affair, CTO’s tradition has it that together with the AGM is a forum which targets discussions on very topical issues in the ICT industry. So, the CTO forum will hold from the 6th – 9th of October and then on the 10th, we will have the Annual General Meeting. It is an important event and we will be hosting a number of ministers from various Commonwealth countries. The acting chairman of CTO is a regulator from Uganda. Usually, CTO is headed by chief executives of various regulatory bodies around the Commonwealth. The organization is solely handled by the Commonwealth Telecom Organization office but here, there is also a local organizing committee that would see to the preparations – It is going to be a major event.

Next Big Thing in the Industry

We have not really done enough in the broadband area so; the next big thing for this country is broadband where we will good Internet connectivity in the country. We are licensing some companies to roll out broadband services in the State capitals and commercial centers across the country. Another big thing is to ensure that services are extended to rural areas – reaching the unreached.

 


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Nigeria Economy – A New Quarter but Same Old Story

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By Lukman Otunuga, Senior Research Analyst at FXTM,

Africa’s largest economy entered the new quarter with a strong likelihood of following the same old story, namely COVID-19 headwinds, recessionary trends and widespread local and global market uncertainty.

What are the chances of a plot twist?

In a year full of twists and turns, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) surprised investors with a 100 basis point interest rate cut from 12.5 percent to 11.5 percent. The monetary policy signal is a green light for more affordable lending which could stimulate economic growth and temper recessionary pressures. However, the same green light could speed up the inflationary pressures which weigh on the economy.

The currency markets may view the CBN’s rate cut as a sign that monetary policy no longer prioritises foreign investors seeking high returns on deposits.

Until now, the CBN’s hawkish monetary policy helped to maintain and grow the banking system’s foreign currency reserves, providing the Naira with a cushion against further weakness. The current weakening global and domestic economic outlook does not support a high-interest rate environment in the short term. Faced with a protracted recession or runaway inflation, the CBN appears to have chosen the lesser of two evils. The central bank’s latest statement indicates that high interest rates have not been successful in checking inflation, which the CBN blames on structural factors like rising fuel and electricity prices.

This raises the question of why an Oil-producing country faces inflation in fuel and electricity prices when fossil fuels are locally produced and ought to be more affordable. The answer is the strange economic distortion created by COVID-19. In this case, Nigeria applied to borrow $3.4 Billion from the IMF in order to bail out the economy because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The money will have to be repaid – cue a hike in electricity tariffs to increase government revenues from utilities and bolster its repayment capacity. This would be credit-positive as the last thing Nigeria needs in such extraordinary times are doubts over its creditworthiness.

Weaker global Oil prices make Nigeria’s creditworthiness even more of an important factor because the state is hard-pressed to cover its budgetary needs in the current climate of low demand for crude Oil.

Now that the CBN has put checking inflation lower down in its priorities, does this signal further rate cuts in the near future?

The case for further pandemic-driven rate cuts appears to be strong. The COVID-19 outbreak shows no signs of abating. On the contrary, at the time of writing, the number of new cases in Nigeria is on the rise after lockdowns eased. Further monetary stimulus to the economy appears unavoidable.

Of course, it all depends on what happens with inflation. If the inflation rate keeps rising in sectors like fuel, electricity and food it may drag on consumer spending, outstripping the economic benefits of lower interest rates. Medical costs have also risen because of COVID-19, according to the August inflation statistics.

The pandemic comes at a time when Nigeria is exposed to external and domestic risks. Locally, the drive to diversify the economy stayed stuck in first gear. Border clashes between herders and farmers led to border closures, further dampening economic activity. Externally, Oil prices remain in a slump, the US Dollar is appreciating and global sentiment struggles with the COVID-19 circumstances.

Further elevating fears over a technical recession in Nigeria, the World Bank forecasts an economic contraction of 3.2 percent for the full-year 2020, a five percent drop from its previous projection.

Summing up, Nigeria’s outlook remains influenced by the same old themes. If Oil prices stay depressed, foreign currency reserves and government revenues will likely decline. Low Oil prices also impact the CBN’s capacity to defend the Naira. A falling Naira could accelerate inflation and further weigh on economic growth. Will the final quarter of 2020 see a continuation of these themes, or will the economy offer a positive surprise?

The banking sector remains a bright spot in the cloudy outlook. Easier borrowing terms might boost the banking sector’s income while encouraging economic activity. Another bright spot is that growth in China has returned, promising to hike demand in the Oil markets and further supporting Oil prices.

After the year we’ve had so far, one thing’s sure: surprises are only to be expected.


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FG Mulls Renewable Energy for Improved Power Supply

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Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, minister of Science and Technology, has said that the federal government plans to diversify the country’s energy supply sources to include renewable energy towards accelerating socio-economic development.

FG Mulls Renewable Energy for Improved Power Supply

Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, minister of Science and Technology

Onu stated this when he declared open the forum on ‘Scaling-up interconnected mini-grids development in Nigeria’, ‎organised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP-GEF) and the Energy Commission of Nigeria, in Abuja.

He said that renewable energy will help the nation meet its electricity needs in a functional and sustainable manner, adding that it will also improve the quality of life in the country.

‎“Nigeria is endowed with substantial energy resources such as coal, crude oil and natural gas; renewables such as hydro, wind, solar, geothermal, waves and tides, as well as biomass.

‎‎“The challenge before us, has always been on how to efficiently transform these resources into adequate and reliable energy for national development using our enormous capacity in science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship”, he said.

The minister explained that since the inception of the present administration in 2015, electronic power generation capacity had increased at an annual rate of about 390 megawatts per year.

He, however, said that while this is commendable, it could not adequately meet the needs of the country’s population and sustain the desired level of economic development.

Onu further observed that Nigeria’s desire to industrialise cannot be realised without adequate power supply.

He stressed that every effort must be made to ensure that homes, offices, factories, schools, hospitals and laboratories in the country have adequate, reliable and affordable electricity supply.

“Renewable energy could meet Nigeria’s energy needs in the area of job creation and improved standard of living in rural areas,” he said.

He added that the development of solar photo-voltaic (Pv) in the country triggered by increase in demand for rural water supply, lighting, health services and micro-enterprise needs to be regulated to stimulate private sector participation.


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ROAM Africa Reports Over 2,400 Candidates Applying for One Role as Jobs Stiffens

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ROAM Africa (Ringier One Africa Media), the leading digital classifieds group in Sub-Saharan Africa, has released figures that highlight the current state of the jobs market in Africa, with one standard role attracting 2,417 applications.

Analysing 69,511 jobs listings from January 2019 to August 2020 across 5 African countries (Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda), ROAM Africa’s data sheds more light on the challenges facing both job seekers and employers in the African jobs market.

The standard job listing that attracted 2,417 applications was for a Receptionist/Admin Assistant in Kenya while another listing for call centre agents and team leaders attracted 2,283 applicants.

Similar is observed also for other markets: In Ghana, 2,299 people applied for an Administrative Assistant role and 2,265 people in Tanzania applied for a Sales Representative role.

In Nigeria, the highest number of applications for a single role was 2,095 and it was for a Sales Representative role.

According to ROAM Africa’s data, Kenya contributed the highest amount of new job listings in 2019 with 33%. Nigeria was in second place with 31% and Uganda was in third place with 17%. However, so far in 2020, Nigeria is leading the way with 40% of new job listings, with Kenya in second place with 28% and Uganda in third place with 13%.

A closer look at ROAM Africa’s data reveals that, apart from Nigeria, there was a drop in overall job listings across all job levels during the last months.

However, there was an increase in graduate trainee and ‘no experience’ roles in Nigeria, Tanzania and Ghana from May to July 2020, which offers some hope for new entrants into the jobs market.

Interestingly, recruitment agencies contributed the most roles, with 16% of overall jobs, closely followed by IT and Telecoms with 15% and Advertising media and communications with 12%.

Some candidates have also reported applying for more than 20 jobs a day for multiple months and only getting to the interview stage on a handful of occasions. This is why ROAM Africa’s jobs platforms Jobberman (Ghana and Nigeria) and BrighterMonday (Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania) are focused on matching technology.

The company’s technology helps employers to identify and score the right candidates faster. Suitable candidates are made visible to prospective employers, and helped across the finish line by providing data driven career development tools and training programmes.

Job seekers using the platforms can expect to improve their CV, gain interview tips and sign-up for online training courses designed to bridge the gap between education and employment.

Commenting on the data, Clemens Weitz, CEO of ROAM Africa said, “The high ratio of applications per job listing really highlights how challenging the jobs market is for employers and job seekers.  Both employers and job seekers are struggling to connect with the right opportunities and more needs to be done to address this.

“Employers must rethink their hiring strategies and clearly define what they are looking for, based on data and insights. Job seekers must also invest in personal development that will make it easier for them to stand out in such a crowded and competitive market.”

Weitz also added that, “We believe that Africa’s greatest asset is its people and their entrepreneurial spirit. With the expected growth in the continent’s population, we must begin to put structures in place that will make it easier for African businesses to make the most of this resource.”

According to Hilda Kragha, Managing Director of ROAM Africa’s Jobs platforms, “With the current state of the jobs market, Africans cannot afford to continue with the antiquated recruitment processes that are commonplace in many organisations.

We must prioritise a digital approach to recruitment, which brings transparency to Africa’s labour market while connecting people to work opportunities that will improve their livelihood.

We must also embrace objectivity in the recruitment process by incorporating innovation that makes it easier to fairly and consistently sort for the best candidates. This will ensure that only qualified candidates are applying for roles and employers get an accurate picture of jobseekers’ capabilities. A win-win for both job seekers and employers.”

“Our data highlights both the challenge and opportunity that come with the African jobs market. We must address the challenge of rampant unemployment but also embrace the opportunity to transform how recruitment is done. By doing this, we will not only be addressing the current problems but also future-proofing our businesses and organizations for generations to come.”


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