By Okoh Aihe
THE country’s Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has taken advantage of every little opportunity to spruce up its image lately. One of such moments was the bunkum decision taken by the National Assembly to allow electronic voting in the amended Electoral Bill but not allowing transmission of results electronically as the country was not technologically matured for it. The amended bill also now mandates INEC to consult with the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, before taking such far-reaching decision.
Really that was good for INEC because if you recall the last governorship elections in Osun and Kano states where the processes suffered abracadabra infusion midway, nobody will want to credit INEC even with the minutest respect. But Nigerians love peace and they had to let that pass so that peace could reign, although the peace we see is as stable as quicksand. In perpetual motion with little prospect for anchor hold.
INEC’s pride has been injured and now it has come out smoking, telling Nigerians the story that was always there but subdued for selfish intents, that it has laws insulating it even from the President of the nation. There was such occasion last week when the body, at a press conference, pointed the attention of the media to Section 160 of the Constitution, which says:
“Subject to subsection (2) of the section, any of the bodies may, with the approval of the President, by rules or otherwise regulate its own procedure or confer powers and impose duties on any officer or authority for the purpose of discharging its functions provided that in the case of the Independent National Electoral Commission, its powers to make its own rule or otherwise regulate its own procedure shall not be subject to the approval or control of the President.”
The aforementioned has been in existence, for which INEC was in deficit in terms of compliance. It is encouraging that a catharsis has taken place causing INEC to go on image burnishing. The body enjoys my sympathy and support. I want to observe that the law makers were not ignorant of this provision, instead, through unnecessary mischief that could be very harmful to the nation on the long run, they voted against a clear emergent need in the polity in these trying times, thus putting the shenanigans of a party over and above every interest of the people.
It is not only clear from the foregoing that INEC cannot be subordinated to the whims of the NCC by law but the law makers should be duly informed, even if they already know but pretend to the contrary, that the NCC is already overburdened by a minister sitting astride the Commission and subjecting every of its action and decision to very parochial politics. Why can’t the lawmakers find out what is choking the NCC to near helplessness even when officials of the system pretend that everything is fine while choking to absolute paralysis?
Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, is a politician whose love for politics, sunshine and media exposure takes precedence over every other interest. Everything must be manipulated to secure advantage, including media attention even if it means obfuscating the import of the subject matter.
For instance, the policy on 5G technology deployment was approved last week by the Federal Executive Council, FEC, and so much attention was splashed on the development by the media. The NCC has since completed a trial run of 5G in the country with only one outcome: that it is safe to do 5G in Nigeria and some of the operators can scale up their operations to provide the services, should they be able to pay for the licence.
I am happy that such significant step has been taken for which I reserve a little praise for Pantami; but there is too much politics in the process, too much media attention grab. I have spoken to some technocrats to find out if such media spin was necessary. What they tell me is that it should have been managed within the ministry with the tacit tech support of the NCC which will implement the policy.
Discretion is a stranger to some of the people in this administration. But there are other things that trouble me: the most significant one being that the 5G licencing process should not be subjected to politics. Technology has serious aversion for politics because the latter stifles its advancement, progress and expectations.
Some decisions have been taken previously for which the nation continues to suffer, unable to reap the benefits of the kind of tech explosion people expected. One of such decisions was the sale of Etisalat which transmuted to 9mobile overnight. The process wasn’t properly interrogated and whoever bought it wasn’t in the right standing to do so at the time, no matter the considerations.
Proof. A company with about 23 million subscribers under 9mobile has plummeted to 12, 908, 092, which is only 6.89 per cent of the market. A company that was competing for market space has lost it all of a sudden; its failure is putting pressure on the other operators. Politics.
The coming of mobile money operations were eagerly anticipated by Nigerians who dreamt of the opportunities to do money transactions without heading for the banks whose operations and efficiency have been impaired by COVID-19. Unfortunately, during the licencing which was done by the Central Bank with other bodies like the NCC making ancillary contributions, decisions were taken above capacity and competence. Today there are mobile money operations that remain as infantile as when they started. The sector is unable to generate the job explosion expected.
Oh, how they hurt. Politics and misdirected patriotism. This is why I want to inform that the coming of 5G is a major development. This is one reason the National Assembly must remove extraneous weight from the NCC so that the regulator should concentrate on its core functions. But it should also be very interested in the execution of the 5G licensing process so as to stem failure before we induce it.
The licencing should not be about empowering a part of the country. Nigeria is a nation. This nation shouldn’t be a scorn or a scum because of adventurers who chanced into very vital positions without capacity to understand public expectations from such offices. Let there be no mistake about it. At some point there will be punishment for the malfeasance acts of those who deny us the opportunity to smile today, although there are those who are stubbornly convinced that Nigerians don’t get punished for their failures while in office.
If not properly handled a 5G licencing failure will be one burden this administration will bear forever. I do not expect failure anyway. I pray that those involved in the process will shield their biases and be able to take sound decisions that will make Nigerians happy.