BARELY two months after the secret sale of National Arts Theatre at Iganmu, Lagos under the Ministry of Tourism, Minister of Communications Technology Mrs. Omobola Johnson has indicated plans by government to sell Nigerian Communications Satellite (NIGCOMSAT) by 2017 under the guise of privatization.
The ICT sector observers noted that in the last few years of its existence, NIGCOMSAT has remained a drain pipe to government’s yearly budget and waste of money as nothing good appear to have come out of the programme since its inception.
The minister apparently added credence to the fears of stakeholders when she agreed that if the facility must remain productive and perform its role efficiently, it has to go to private hands.
The minister was reportedly sighted in Lagos last week where she presented what could be said to be her four-year scorecard to industry stakeholders.
She said “If the full benefits of NIGCOMSAT must be realised, it must be privatised. We hope to complete this process in another two years from now.”
While listing what she described as the achievements of her ministry, she was silent on the botched ministerial campaign designed to use the media to drive internet uptake by Nigerians earlier in last year.
Stakeholders had expected to hear more on the reasons behind the abandonment of the broadband campaign but she maintained silence.
Investigation by Daily Champion revealed that lack of proper consultation with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) at the early stage of the campaign forced NCC to develop cold feet, thus nailing the coffin of the minister’s broadband campaign.
Much of the targeted N5 billion for the campaign was expected to be fleeced away from the UPSF coffers with the approval of the NCC which never came after all.
Analysts had queried the rational considered by the Minister to even think of such white elephant campaign to starch away money considering the clear fact that matters relating to encouraging Nigerians to take up internet bundles only depend on availability, and affordability.
At the fire-brigade arranged media briefing tagged soft-launch of the broadband campaign by the Minister in Lagos mid-2014, Mrs. Omobola insisted that the campaign is needed to drive usage so as to further drive investments, but aggrieved journalists asked the minister if the operators and service providers had informed her of poor internet patronage of lack of funds to carry out the campaign by themselves in the first instance or if the campaign is designed to bleed the government.
It was not clear if the barrage of question on the rationality of the campaign by the ministry forced the minister to run away from the N5 billion deal as since after the so called ‘Soft-Launch’ in Lagos in June, nothing has been heard about it again till today.
Industry pundits say the ministry does not need any multi-billion naira campaigns to urge Nigerians to use the internet but to see how the broadband deployment can move faster in other to raise accessibility and affordability.
To them, the minister should be more concerned on availability of product and allow the operators to market their products than planning to waste government money in a campaign that has no input of the operators.
According to them, the eight per cent penetration recorded in 2014 is still a far cry from expected impact, going by the level of work done and available bandwidth in the country, estimated at about 11 terabytes, this means that Nigeria still have about 92 per cent gap to be filled.
Facts have however, emerged that to bridge the broadband gap in the country, Nigeria might in the next five years require a major investment to the tune of about $10 billion for the facility to become ubiquitous and affordable.
According to investigations, Nigeria, which had six per cent broadband penetration as at 2011, had some leap, especially after the introduction of the National Broadband Plan last year, which targeted fivefold increase and 30 per cent penetration by 2018.
But, as at September 2014, telecommunications service providers in Nigeria have deployed about 106, 124km of fibre optic cables in service expansion across the country to boost both broadband and Internet connections.
Additional details secured by our reporter showed that the total of fibre cables deployed in 2014 is 38, 000km. In 2013 alone, the operators deployed 68, 124km, making a total of 106, 124km between 2012 and 2014.
The 68,124 km of fibre optic cables were rolled out by telecoms operators by the end of 2013 representing a 20.56 per cent increase from the 56, 505 kilometer recorded by December 2012.
Aggrieved analysts believed that for the Minister to leave campaigning for more investments in the sub-sector to spend billion on encouraging Nigerians to use what does not exist is a mark of disservice in the first instance and clear misplacement of priority.
In their views, the need for the about $10 billion investments should be driven by the minister even before budgeting to fleece N5 billion just to encourage Nigerians to use the scarce product.
Good enough, a cleaner idea to begin the needed investment drive arrived at the just concluded International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Telecoms World 2014 in Doha, Qatar.