May 27, 2020

Right of Way: Why right to development now rests with governors

From left— EVC, NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta; Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Ibrahim Pantami, and Governor of Ekiti State and Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, in one of the several meetings to resolve RoW issues.

*Ekiti, Imo, Kaduna, Katsina, Plateau reduce RoW prices
*NCC moves that led to new normal

By Prince Osuagwu, Hi-Tech Editor

When the International Telecommunications Union, ITU carried out a study on Africa and declared that a 10 percent broadband penetration would result in an increase of 2.5 percent of GDP per capita, the federal government, moved immediately to cash-in on it to create a robust economy on the backbone of technology development.

The ITU is a specialized agency of the United Nations that is responsible for issues that concern information and communication technologies, and so, its position on a strong correlation between a country’s broadband penetration and its Gross Domestic Product, GDP, is established and incontrovertible.

In 2013, the federal government’s National Economic Council, NEC set up a Committee comprising State Governors and Ministers to review the issues of multiple taxation in the Nigerian telecommunications industry and its impact.

The Committee, after extensive and wide-ranging consultations, resolved to harmonise the taxes applicable to broadband-related activities and streamlined the taxation management processes across the Federation. Specifically, to deepen broadband penetration for the social and economic development of the Country, the Committee agreed to the uniform Right of Way, RoW, charge of N145.00 per linear meter of fibre.

ALSO READ: Minister lauds Kaduna, Imo, Katsina, Plateau governors for complying with Right of Way Resolution

However, before now, majority of the states refused to abide by that harmonisation but rather hiked the prices as far as N6000 per linear metre of fibre. This has frustrated the operators who appeared to have abandoned investments, especially, in terrestrial fibre cable deployments.
It also resulted in Nigeria being one of the countries with lowest last mile broadband deployments in the world.

So, successive administrations of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC and the ministry of communications technology, from Engr Eugene Juwah and now Prof Umar Garba Danbatta, and their supervising ministers, including Dr Omobola Johnson, Adebayo shittu and now Ibrahim Pantami have consistently engaged various governors on the Right of Way issue among others that would enable support for smooth roll out of telecom services but to no avail.

On assumption of office in 2015 the current Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC evolved a Regional Stakeholders Forum to discuss the RoW issue and other sundry ones such as the issue of multiple taxation, vandalism, theft of teelcom equipment, indiscriminate closure of telecoms facilities among others. He also held various meetings with the Nigerian governors forum NGF on the need to reduce exorbitant RoW charges  and comply with the NEC- approved N145 right of way charges per linear meter of fibre cable deployment.

He also took time to adequately brief the new minister of communications and digital economy, Dr. Pantami on the RoW issue, describing it as “one of the biggest issues slowing down broadband infrastructure deployment across the state.

On the crest of this understanding the Minister, in October 2019 fired a letter to the governors explaining why it was pertinent to comply with N145 RoW charges. He followed this up with a visit to the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Dr. Kayode Fayemi.

His letter reminded the governors of their agreement to support the realisation of the National Digital Economy, but warned that without fast-tracking the deployment of broadband infrastructure for the provision of affordable internet services to underserved and unserved areas, digital economy would be a mirage.

He noted that “It is true that the digital economy today is strategically dominating the world economy. Oxford Economics puts the current value of the digital economy at $11.5 trillion which is about 16 percent of the world economy. “Furthermore, the World Economic Forum revealed that 60 percent of the global economy is expected to be digitised by 2022.

With the renaming of the Federal Ministry of Communications to Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy as well as the unveiling of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy by Mr President, we are on the path of realising the potentials of the digital economy.

“It is, however, disheartening to hear that some States have decided to disregard these resolutions and have, in some cases, increased the RoW charges by over 1,200 percent. This will no doubt impact negatively on the efforts being made by the Federal Government.”

However, in January 2020, about 14 state governors gave notices of their intention to still increase the RoW charges again. It left the whole telecommunications industry confused. Although the federal government expressed dismay at the development, there was very little that could be done to tame the governors.

Apparently, the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic may have changed the status quo as governor of Ekiti, Dr Kayode Fayemi announced a drastic reduction of RoW from N4,500 to N145 per linear metre in his state.

Following the national applause that greeted the new development at Ekiti, other states such as Plateau, Imo, Katsina and Kaduna states have followed the footsteps.

The reduction of RoW charges means the cost of broadband penetration in the states will reduce drastically as laying 1 km of cable will now cost about N145,000 as against the N4.5M previously.

In the case of Kaduna, however, the State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai totally waived the RoW payment for broadband/telecom infrastructure deployment in his state.

The Chairman of Association of Licensed Telecom Operators in Nigeria, ALTON, engr Gbenga Adebayo, his counterpart at the Association of telecom companies of Nigeria, Engr Olusola Teniola and technology entrepreneur and Chairman of Zinox technologies, Dr Leo Stan Ekeh, have taken time to applaud both the governors, Danbatta and Pantami for the latest development.

They also urged the rest states to see it as a duty to their states to follow suite on the right of way matter, so as to attract development to their respective states.

According to Adebayo, “this is a new dawn in the telecom sector. Wait and see the level of development these states will attract in coming years. In fact, right to development now depends on how far the state governors can compete in the reduction game.”