The Nigerian Communications Commission was questioned by the House of Representatives on Monday over remittances and expenses from the Universal Service Provision Fund.
In response to the telecommunications industry’s underwhelming coverage and distribution in Nigeria, the House had invited regulators and operators.
Other invitees, such as the Federal Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, MTN Nigeria, Airtel Nigeria, Globacom, and 9Mobile, either sent representatives or failed to appear before the parliament, while the Executive Vice-Chairman of the NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, appeared before the House.
The ad hoc committee’s notification states that the Federal Inland Revenue Service, the Governing Board of the USPF, the Accountant General of the Federation, the Auditor General of the Federation, and vendors of telecom equipment will also testify before the panel.
The House’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Need to Investigate the Nigerian Communications Commission’s Failure/Inability to Promote Widespread Availability and Usage of Mobile Telecommunication Network Services throughout Nigeria, as well as Accruals/Utilization of Funds in the Universal Service Provision Fund, therefore called them to a hearing.
The Nigerian Communications Commission questioned the 1014 projects funded by the USPF, including an e-library project that cost more than N2 billion, as it interrogated Dambatta.
The Nigerian Communications Commission’s request for N700 billion to guarantee that 27 million Nigerians have access to telecommunications coverage was criticized by lawmakers.
Bamidele Salam, the committee’s chairman, said that because the contracts were written in a way that made them difficult to follow, there was no explicit description of what was done in them. He claimed that 80% of the projects lacked a clear location.
Therefore, the committee decided that by Tuesday at 2 p.m., the NCC should supply the precise address, description, and specification of each project whose contracts had been awarded and were listed in the 91-page document sent to the panel.
Approximately 1014 different contracts, on which a few observations have been made, have been awarded by the USPF since its beginning, according to Salam. Another requirement is the submission of the USPF’s annual audited report, which has been due since 2007 but has a few years missing. Several questions have been raised as a result of that, and I ask the members to give us time to address them so they can consider the solutions as a whole.
Danbatta stated in his reply that the USPF regulations required the NCC to periodically choose the contributions to the Fund.
The legislators countered that the NCC’s enabling Act cannot be superseded by a regulation it issues.
“The difficulty is that the NCC has given itself the power to annually decide what it is going to allocate to USPF,” said committee member Mark Gbillah. According to the records, administrative costs increased from N19 million to N127 million. The cost of hiring employees increased dramatically.
“Let me emphasize that it is necessary for the NCC to let us know the basis on which you decide to allocate the USPF annually or not, and what annual allocation they have suggested and implemented from conception till today.
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“We need to know how the money was spent. For instance, you spent approximately $2 billion on the e-library alone. How functional is the library based on the funding that has been given to them when, in my opinion, far more funding should have been given to the installation of base transceiver stations to have wider coverage throughout the nation?
Another senator questioned why the organization’s wage bill increased by almost 100% from N434 million to N824 million in 2015, even though the number of employees fell from 48 to 45.
Danbatta had already recalled that in 2013, the NCC had hired a consultant to find areas of the nation where access deficits were concentrated. He claimed that since then, 27 million fewer individuals still lack access thanks to the efforts of the Commission.
He explained, “Thanks to the consultancy that was carried out in 2013, what we have done to bring telecom services to those living in rural, unserved, and underserved areas of this country, totaling 37 million people.
“Through the deployment of the required infrastructure needed to bring services to people living in rural, unserved, and underserved areas of the country, we had succeeded in lowering the clusters of access gaps to 114 by 2019. The base transceiver stations are the infrastructure that is being deployed.
“I’m going to give information about the base transceiver stations we have so far,” the NCC boss continued. Nigerians living in those clusters fell from 37 million to 31 million as a result in 2019. We decreased the number of access gap clusters from 207 in 2013 to 97 by 2022.
As of right now, there are 27 million Nigerians without access, down from 37 million in 2013. How did we accomplish that? In order to do this, a total of 79 base transceiver stations were deployed between 2009 and 2011. We installed an extra 124 base transceiver stations between 2013 and 2018. We deployed a total of 364 base transceiver stations between 2019 and 2022. As we speak, there are 567 base transceiver stations in all that we have deployed. It is significant.
“We have a figure of about N700 billion as a result of the decline in the naira’s exchange rate to the dollar. It is the total amount necessary to entirely fill up the gaps within the earlier-mentioned clusters. This is not a difficult task. It is possible.