Danbatta: Buhari got this right, by Ken Ugbechie
While many argue, and it’s true, that some appointees of President Muhammadu Buhari are mere flotsam and jetsam and therefore unfit for their positions, there are still a few who have manifested uncommon managerial elan and light-years-ahead vision in the discharge of their duties. One of such bright spots in a darkling horizon of political appointees is Professor Umar Danbatta, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
Since his appointment over a year ago, the Professor of electrical cum electronics engineering has stepped into the ring with the confidence of a skilled pugilist. And in barely one year, he has not only stamped his feet on the ground with unwavering boldness, he has also held his nerves to guide the telecom sector out of the economic storm that knocked other sectors and in fact the nation down on their knees. Experience has shown that in Nigeria’s public service space, most people come into their offices unprepared, sometimes unschooled and unskilled. But Danbatta came with the carriage and candour of a man fully primed for the job. He reeled out an 8-point agenda, a carefully crafted corpus of plans and ideas that would define his leadership. To date, he has rallied the diverse stakeholders in the sector to buy into his dream for telecom. And the results are there to show for his industry.
America’s Dwight Eisenhower’s style of leadership recognises getting someone to do something you want done because he wants to do it. Just one word: Passion! President Buhari adopted this style by appointing a man who wants and desires to get things done; and he is doing it with evidential totems to show for his stewardship.
One outstanding highlight of the Danbatta days was the fine imposed on MTN Nigeria for the non-registration of SIM cards in its network. It was a challenging moment for the nation’s telecom regulator and indeed for Nigeria. Prior to that moment, public perception of the NCC as an independent regulator has not been pleasant. Many Nigerians, erroneously though, would swear that the regulator has been compromised by the operators; that some of the operators were simply above the law and cannot be cautioned, regulated or exerted upon. The engineering professor put a lie to that misconception by bringing MTN to account and instilling order in the system. That singular gesture shored up international confidence in the nation’s telecom sector. It portrayed Nigeria as a marketplace where order not disorder is the rule of engagement.
But by far, the most remarkable feat is the resilience of the telecom sector in the face of recession. Throughout 2016 when other sectors reeled and roiled under treacherous economic strain, telecom remained largely bullish. Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) suggest a steady growth in the sector from 2015, reversing the declining trend in total real GDP from 2010 to 2014. In the heat of the recession, telecom contributed N 1.4 trillion to GDP in the third quarter of 2016, or 8.0%. Even this represented a decrease of 1.8% points relative to the previous quarter (Q2), when the sector contributed N 1.58 trillion to GDP or 9.8%.
Experts have attributed the insulation of telecom from recession to Danbatta’s non-combative, stakeholders’ participatory approach to regulation. Globally, the news is that Nigeria is in a recession complete with job cuts, degrading value of the naira and grossly eroded purchasing power of the people but telecom has managed to stay afloat. Investor confidence is growing. And if there was ever any doubt about this, the recent International Telecommunication Union (ITU) conference in Bangkok, Thailand (ITU World 2016) fitting indexed Nigeria’s growing status in world telecom. The presence of the immediate past ITU Secretary General and the incumbent, Dr. Hamadoun Toure and Mr. Houlin Zhao respectively, the horde of foreign investors who thronged the venue of the Nigerian Investment Forum, an unprecedented number, and the resonating references across different conference halls to the resilience of the Nigerian telecom market in a moment of national economic recession were evidential attestations to the profile of Nigerian telecom.
As at July 2016, the Nigerian telecom market has maintained an upbeat run, notching up to $68 billion in investment, the highest volume in Africa. The catalysts for such phenomenal growth are hinged on regulatory excellence and strict adherence to global best practices. In recent years, Nigeria has remained on the cutting edge of world telecoms as one of the markets with the highest returns on investments. The fact that out of this figure, $35b comes from Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) fittingly illustrates the global confidence on the Nigerian market.
Such phenomenal landmarks coming from an African market have not lulled Danbatta to rest, rather he has rolled up his sleeves in a new push to birth a broadband revolution capable of doubling the investment profile in the sector in a few years. Danbatta believes that the Nigerian telecom value chain is so robust that it can accommodate more players, from small telcos to mega telcos, value added services providers to other operators providing diverse genre of services including the almost extinct Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) operators.
His ceaseless exertion is not lost on the international community. Aside the ITU which has commended his regulatory leadership model that has helped to sustain good corporate governance and nuture a culture of order in the telecom ecosystem, echoes of his regulatory model resonates to far-flung jurisdictions.
For his effort, the NCC was last year severally adjudged the Regulator of the year by different organisations. The Commission also won the European Award for Best Practices 2016. The award ceremony which held in Brussels, Belgium was hosted by the European Society for Quality Research (ESQR), an affiliate of the European Union (EU).
No fewer than 63 countries participated in the award ceremony out of which the NCC clinched the European Award for Best Practices. The award is “in recognition of NCC’s outstanding commitment, support and results in quality management strategies” in the Gold category, the organisers said.
The NCC’s management style, its impact on the community that it serves and the professional manner it carries out its regulatory activities in supervising a sector that contributes immensely to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the nation were some of the considerations for the award.
The organisers referred to investors’ confidence in the Nigerian telecommunications sector as a result of the transparent regulatory activities of the NCC.
Throughout 2016, the telecom sector, according to data from the NBS, rode the recession storm, maintaining a resilient gradient even when other sectors faltered and fell.
Those who stood on the same podium with Nigeria’s NCC included selected organisations and companies from Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa and Australia in recognition of their outstanding commitment and results in quality management strategies.
Many Nigerians have criticized President Buhari for putting round pegs in square holes. Senator Ben Bruce, recently on the floor of the Senate, advised Mr. President to rejig his cabinet by redeploying some appointees and appointing persons who are ready, prepared and willing to do the job. Even in the midst of his anger, Bruce acknowledged that some appointees are up and flying and have become the tools that the nation would need to chisel its way out the crushing economic cul-de-sac. Danbatta belongs to this army of round pegs in round holes. The results speak for themselves.
- Ugbechie, Executive Secretary of Africa Telecom Development Initiative (ATDI), writes from Lagos.