By Emmanuel Elebeke
The Senate took a swipe at practitioners in the nation’s information and Communications Technology , ICT sector , over alleged non utilization of their expertise in the ongoing fight against the Boko Haram insurgence in the country.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on ICT, Senator Gilbert Nnaji, heavily criticised the sector and its experts as the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, presented a N54.4 billion 2014 budget to the committee last week.
Of the total budget, NCC said N14.8 billion was allocated to recurrent expenditure while N15.8 billion was allocated to capital expenditure while the sum of N7.4 billion was allocated to USPF projects.
According to the commission, its revenue dropped in the previous year, which led to a flight in the capital budget.
In a meeting with the NCC and the Universal Service Provision Fund, USPF in Abuja, scheduled to hear breakdown and prospects of the budget, Nnaji said that in the spate of recurrent insecurity in the country, it was a shame for the sector to be regarded globally as having wealth of knowledge and expertise.
Nnaji, could not hold his anger and blasted: ‘‘The palpable spate of insecurity in the country makes one wonder if ICT is of any use in our country. Inspite of the wealth of knowledge and expertise that Nigeria parades in this sector, it is bewildering that the rising insecurity in the country has been met with an embarrassing quietness from the ICT sector. Is it that this sector is devoid of the appropriate solution or technology to fight insecurity in Nigeria? Is it that this nation does not have competent personnel in the public and private sectors of our nation’s ICT to counter insurgencies?’’
He however, urged the NCC to partner with other stakeholders in the sector to convene a stakeholders’ retreat to share ideas on the available and potent technology to be deployed to stem the tide of insecurity in Nigeria.
‘‘It is our view as a Committee that the regulator and other relevant stakeholders in ICT and security sectors in this country should convene a Stakeholders’ retreat where ideas can be shared on the available current and potent technologies to be deployed to stem the tide of insecurity in Nigeria.’’
Nnaji also conveyed his committee’s disappointment that rural telephony initiatives in the country were not yielding expected results.
‘‘The Committee is dismayed to note the ever increasing digital divide between the rural and urban areas in the country. While mobile penetration is high in major cities across the country, it is not the case in rural areas where, on average, two-third of the country’s population lives. Aside from the National Rural Telephony Project, NRTP being conceived by the Federal Government, the Committee is of the strong opinion that rural connectivity could be enhanced if telecoms operators in the country can collectively address the issue very seriously. In this regard, the Committee believes that the Commission can best drive this objective through regulation. We believe the Commission has a major role to play in this regard so that majority of Nigerians in the rural areas can enjoy the benefits of mobile technology,’’ he said.
He described the low broadband access in the country as worrisome, insisting that if the aim of achieving national connectivity in Nigeria is to be realized, there must be sustained effort by the Commission to speed up its fibre optic programmes and projects, especially the State Accelerated Broadband Initiative, SABI.
‘‘The fact that our nation has little access to broadband services, even with the number of undersea cables running across the country, is worrisome. Though we are a global example in the telecoms milieu, we still lag behind in terms of broadband and internet penetration. If the aim of achieving national connectivity is to be realized, then there is need for a sustained effort by the Commission to speed up its fibre optic programmes and projects especially the State Accelerated Broadband Initiative, SABI. If I may ask, what is the direction of the Next Generation Broadband Network, NGBN in Nigeria?,’’ he said.
On poor quality of service across the country, he said the committee would continue to raise alarm until there is a seamless network service, with other attendant factors militating against quality service delivery, were addressed.
Responding, the Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Dr. Eugine Juwah told the law makers that the synergy between the commission and security agencies is deliberately kept out of public knowledge for security reasons.
According to him, because it is not everyday news could seem as if technology was not involved in some of the breakthrough so far.
He however stoutly claimed that his commission was working hard to provide the security agencies with all the necessary services needed to perform their duties.
He also promised to step up action on sanctioning all the operators that flout the enabling laws.
Also speaking, the Secretary of USPF, Abdulahi Maikano promised that the rural telephony project would be completed in three years time and that the Fund would ensure that every part of the country is covered with telephony and connectivity.
Meanwhile, the NCC presented N54.4 billion budget for the 2014 fiscal year.