January 27, 2023

Vanguard Personality of the year: Umar Danbatta, the African regulatory model

•Prof Umar Garba Danbatta

By Prince Osuagwu, Hi-Tech Editor

OUR Regulator of the year, Professor Umar Garba Danbatta, the Executive Vice-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, can easily be described as a model to other African regulators. A respectable scholar and responsible academic, Danbatta has a lion’s mien in discharging regulatory functions. He is calm, calculative and takes fair but firm decisions, to steady the Nigerian telecom environment. Little wonder, many African regulators have adopted Nigeria’s model to galvanize their country’s regulatory activities.

Appointed in 2015 straight from the classroom, many people thought that keeping pace with an industry already cruising on enviable growth record would be a herculean task to an engineer whose major comfort zone has been the four walls of the university lecture rooms. But, just like he described himself as a fast learner, the transition was fast and smooth. A professor of telecommunications engineering, Danbatta before his appointment, was a lecturer at Kano State University of Science and Technology, where he supervised more than 60 PhD, M.Eng and B.Eng projects in diverse areas of telecommunications, and subsequently rose to the position of acting Vice-Chancellor.

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However, Danbatta was not totally new to the sector. He had a stint at the Digital Bridge Institute, DBI; an international centre for advanced communications studies established in 2004 by the NCC for capacity building in diverse areas of Information and Communication Technology, ICT. He even became the Vice President of that Institute.

While at DBI, Danbatta developed expertise in major areas of ICT implementation, policy and regulation, including Regulation of the Telecommunications Sector of the Nigerian Economy; Competition, Interconnection and Price Regulations in a developing economy; and Issues Concerning Authorization of Telecommunications Services in a developing economy.

He was also an expert in formulating Strategies for ensuring Universal Access and Service to Telecommunications Services; Strategies towards Effective Spectrum Management in a developing economy; Issues on Institutional and Legal Framework for Effective Regulation of Telecommunications Services; and, Emerging Technologies and Impact on Regulation of the Telecommunications Sector of a developing economy, among others.

His first five years in office saw effective regulatory regime through cutting-edge initiatives. The initiatives strengthened the role of telecommunications sector as a major contributor to the growth of country’s Gross Domestic Product GDP, and the boosted telecoms investment inflows from $36 billion in 2015 to over $70 billion. He spearheaded a campaign to improve Nigeria’s broadband penetration from the paltry five per cent at the time of his appointment to about 30 per cent in 2018. Before the deadline, the sector not only achieved, but surpassed the target. He was re-appointed in 2020 and is currently serving a second term of five years in office. He has set a new national broadband target of 70 percent by 2025 and is leading the charge to realizing it.

The multiple award-winning professor is truly an achiever. In December 2021, Danbatta guided the industry to a successful auction of two 5G spectrum licenses. The network is widely known to possess the potential to let emerging technologies advance socio-economic developments in the country. His strides in reviving the Emergency Communications Centers, ECCs, and the introduction of harmonized national emergency communication number, 112, helped the NCC to win the International Public Relations Association Golden Award in the year 2021, because of a pivotal role they played in containing the COVID-19 pandemic.

His stellar leadership style was recently rewarded by the organizers of the prestigious Zik Prize, as they bestowed on him the Zik Prize award for Professional Leadership. Danbatta has also served two five-year terms as a Member of Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, COREN. He is a Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, NSE, Nigerian Academy of Engineering, NAEng, Renewable and Alternative Energy Society, RAES, and Nigerian Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, NIEEE.

Danbatta earned BEng, MSc degrees from the Technical University of Wroclaw in Poland and received his PhD from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. Yet, in spite of his towering achievements, Prof Umar Garba Danbatta, remains an epitome of modesty.