NOT many people still remember that there was a project called the National Rural Telephony Project. Laudable at conception, the project was given life during the Obasanjo administration.

Having licensed GSM firms to do business, the thinking was that rural folk in the countryside all over the nation might not be able to afford GSM rates and thus might be shut out of the benefits that improved telephony will bring to life and living.Mast-412

Thus the project was conceived to cover 218 local government areas in the first phase and provide over 636,256 Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), lines in the 774 LGAs and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in the second phase. With GSM dominating the urban landscape and CDMA lines ruling the countryside, nobody would feel left out — there was, at least, something for everybody. Or so the thinking went.

The status of that project now has all the indices that make us Nigerians — a people so unique in their way of doing things the way most other nations will not and achieving zip.

Available information indicate that three Chinese firms — ZTE Corporation, Huawei Technologies and Shanghai Bell jointly won a $200 million contract to execute the project. As of today, the only thing that is clear about the project is that it is not live, rural folk are talking on GSM lines, while the CDMA sub-sector of the telecoms industry is flat on its back.

Ab initio, was it right to have attempted to set up a CDMA business for rural folk to provide services expected to compete with offerings from the GSM operators?

Now, we have used $200 million borrowed from the China EXIM Bank, in addition to another N5 billion counterpart funding from the Federal Government to finance the project to purchase equipment that more or less now has only scrap value, given the rate at which technology gets obsolete in the ICT industry. Even government has said, since last year, that it may have to abandon the project.

But the Nigerian Communications Weekly reported recently that “the inability of the Ministry of Communications Technology to secure certificate of concurrence from the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) is delaying the conclusion of the National Rural Telephony Project (NRTP).” I pray that journal is right, or else, we have spent $200 million to buy zero value.

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