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Telecoms: When lawmaking endangers industry progress

By Osalumese Anegbe

Where does somebody begin this story – the story of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the National Environmental Standard Regulatory Agency (NESREA) which festered for a time before medications became expedient?

The sealing up of a particular base station in Abuja and the opening of same, and the re-sealing of that very base station seemed to have brought the differences between the two government organisations to the fore and of course also heightened the noticeable effects of such differences on the entire telecom industry. When you shut a base station you shut out phone users depending on that station to communicate.

However commonsense eventually prevailed as the two ministries, Communication Technology and Environment and their agencies sat together to resolve what seemed an intractable relationship.

Mainly on issue was the distance of base stations from dwelling apartments. While the NCC approval to operators is five metres, NESREA says only ten metres is safe enough for people living near base stations. NESREA canvasses a position that harmful effects of base station especially radiation could be a health hazard and therefore has to take all actions including shutting base stations in order to protect the Nigerian people. The question could be asked, was the fears or concerns of NESREA empirically based or based on mere gut feelings?

Militant and near patriotic as NESREA action was, that position, from industry knowledge was based on  ignorance and makes the country a laughing stock before the international community. From all indications, no research has been able to link base station emissions to radiation.

Thus it became more absurd and extremely laughable when the House of Representatives Committee on Environment went into a dying fire of hate to invite the NCC to begin to relive all over, the trouble that was being conveniently laid to rest. The Committee obviously nursed a paternalistic protection for NESREA.

Perhaps responding to some vexatious questions from the National Assembly,the NCC EVC, Dr. Eugene Juwah , explained that the regulator follows the Act setting it up  and other international standards to superintend the telecommunications industry.

His remarks: “The major cause of the conflict comes from the fact that NESREA Act came four years after the establishment of the NCC. So, adequate care was not taken to harmonise certain conflicting issues that were inherent then, but moves are on to resolve those issues.

“The issue of setback of five metres is not in any Act. They are contained in our regulations. The law empowers us as regulators to make regulations and they become subsidiary laws.

It is just that in harmonising, we did not quite agree, which is what is causing this conflict. So, the issue of setback does not require any amendment.

“As a matter of fact, the radiation from a telecommunications mast is less than what we get from our television. This is empirical that can be measured. So the issue of pollution is very minimal.”

So many people including the former EVC of the NCC, Engr Ernest Ndukwe hold same view as Juwah’s that emission from a base station is far less than that of a domestic TV or radio.

But why would the House Committee on Environment goad the activities of an ancillary agency instead of touching base with the House Committee on Communications and probably compare notes?


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