Telecom companies must respect the law – Fashola
The Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr Eugene Juwah recently paid a working visit with his management team to the Governor of Lagos State, His Excellency Babatunde Fashola. Our Corporate Services Consultant, ANNABELLE MACFORD, hereunder reproduces the governor’s off-the-cuff speech verbatim.
Commendation for Juwah
First of all, this is a meeting that should have taken place a long time ago, I must commend you for the thoughtfulness and initiative of the broadband, it will bring about the necessary collaboration that we must have if we are to succeed in the various responsibilities that we have.
I will try and give clarifications, explanations and respond to some if not all of the issues you raised because they are irons in the fire, in a manner of speaking. Some of them have been caused by personnel differences while some have been caused by a lack of appreciation in some cases, and in some cases, to be downright honest, some mischief by some members of one of the other side to ensure that the two levels are not leveled. Whether we like it or we do not, telecommunications and your regulatory roles are multi-jurisdictional responsibilities, that is the honest truth.
You will regulate the allocation of frequencies, you will regulate bandwidths and so many other things but you cannot regulate where the towers and mast are positioned, you need me as indeed you need all of my colleagues to determine where the right of way will be and under what conditions and this was the point that we took. I remember far back as 2003 when I was Chief of Staff here but the Federal Government disagreed then. They went to court and said we were trying to take over NCC’s work. At the end of the day, masts and towers are physical structures on land, they’re no different from buildings, so they must be properly erected, they must be safe where they are because when they collapse and kill people, it is the municipal government that is the first respondent, so they can’t spring up just anywhere. The quality of what is there also must be regulated. Indeed, if you look out of here just behind this building , I have decommissioned an existing mast there because they used an improper material ,so I’m regulating from within, they used hollow pipes, you don’t use hollow pipes for mast and towers, you use galvanized angle steel for safety, so these were the things we put in place. The telecommunications operators at a time found comfort with NCC and the dispositions of the federal government and went to court, what were we agitating at that time? Let us collocate to save cost, so if one company builds one mast, we can specify that they build it in such a way that others can use it, and they said no and we said okay, we will not give approval, so these are the issues and I think that we have lost such a long time. The case is hung up somewhere in the Court of Appeal and we’re trying to get all the parties now so that we can resolve it and come out of court.
I understand the import of telecommunications and data, so you’re preaching to the converted but there are multi-jurisdictional issues and the Federal Government and its agencies must understand and I repeat this, that the prosperity of the federation must start from the prosperity of the state and the prosperity of the state must start from the prosperity of the local government and this takes me for example to the issue of multiple taxation. I disagree sir, there’s no such thing as multiple taxation. Until you have different levels of government taxing the same item from the same source, that’s the only time you can say you have multiple taxation and some of the things we call taxes are sometimes administrative costs. I applied for a radio license to transmit FM for my traffic rules, I applied to the federal government and we paid all the rates, inherent in those rates are administrative cost, they’re not taxes, because the agencies that gives those services must of necessity keep a cost balance, print forms and so on and so forth, and so if a telecommunications operator comes to you and he gets a license to operate, if he comes to me and wants to erect a tower on my property, he must pay for the land, the land is not free, so that cannot be multiple taxation and you don’t have that to give. It is an incidence of the nature of business that he has entered, the issues we should be talking about is how to mitigate cost and that is what I’ve told my colleagues that we cannot make revenue from the cost of right of way or from the cost of setting up mast and tower. Lagos State does not seek to do so, we see the revenue in the business growth that ICT and stronger broadband and fiber optic capacity give to citizens, that’s where I see money. The revenue that comes from businesses, more people employed, paying more income tax is much more than what any government could ever collect. I can’t license for example a tower every day, it’s a one-off thing so we understand this and like I said it’s the personnel issue. Now the cost that we have accrued is also caused by the attitude of some of the telecom operators , there must be some level of corporate governance coming from operators themselves, what are the quality of contractors assigned to go and lay their cable? After we’ve built a new road, the next thing you see, they cut it off, why should the citizens of Lagos have telecommunications at the expense of good road? I think they can have both and so it’s my joy to give them both. Thus we’ve put docks in all our roads, there’s no road that has been built since 2008 that does not have dock, but instead of asking us, they chop off our roads. The roads are not enough really, and some of the things we have done is first to call them and say look, we’re going to build ‘x’ number of roads this year, if you want to lay any mast come, they won’t come until when you finish the road , especially the inter-locking ones, they’ll just pack it especially in the dead of the night. What I am concerned about is the replacement of the roads for the citizens, those are some of the cost that was escalated to you as multiple taxation. The reason is simple, in all the other countries that I’ve been to, they dig up their roads, they lay gas pipelines, they lay cables and all sort, yet they still have their roads, the same should happen here and I’m going to make sure that it happens, so there must be a sense of patriotism from the contractors and I choose my words very carefully, by the contractors being used by the telecom operators in laying their infrastructure, a sense of ownership and duty to protect the existing public asset. They’re not enough, so the few that we have, we must protect, it can’t be I want to do business, I want to give people telephone, I don’t care if we get lost, so this really is the heart of the matter, I’m trying to get the parties out of court , so that we can set a regulatory regime in which everybody can work together. Last year alone, close to N100 million was spent for street lights for our own safety. People cut them and remove the copper and they’re recipients of such goods, it’s a failure of security. We can pass all the law, we have stressed our police, we have moved from petty crime, to kidnapping, to armed robbery to terror and until we accept that multi-level policing is an essence of the federation, so that the states and even the local government should have their own police because these are the things that instill fears at all levels, the federal police can’t deal with every security problems that we have. The sooner the National Assembly accepts this, the safer we will be, my heart bleeds when I hear this feedback that they have voted against state police, it is an essence of federalism, the only way we can choose to get rid of it is to cease to be a federation. It is an idea that has come to stay, we’re just delaying and postponing it, I don’t know any serious federation that does not have that multi- level jurisdiction in security, even in unitary government, there are several levels of policing there, we’re only pretending. If that is the work for example to protect public assets, it is work that is well worth doing.
So I want to thank you, the power of data and how it will redefine our civilization as human beings is very clear to my team and we understand. We already have our own broadband initiative in place, we’re talking to a lot of people, we understand its capacity to assist in education, traffic management, with healthcare and virtually everything, our systems are already positioned to operate that way, we already have electronic verve card and electronic seal, we have data about the whole property of Lagos State, the land mass and every property have been documented in a digital form but people can’t access it because there’s no carrying power, so people still come to Alausa to check title deeds which should not happen but we have to carry loads of graphics and images, so we understand the need for this. Like I said, you’re preaching to the converted, but it’s a situation where we have to sit down and say, this is where my jurisdiction starts, this is where it ends, this is where the federal jurisdiction starts and where it ends, so some people should stop setting up one level of government against the other. If you need permit with federal government, go and take it there. If you get to the state level comply with their law, that’s how they do business and at the local government level, if you go and place advertisement, they’ll collect advertising money, that’s the constitutional right that they have, so those are the things being escalated as multiple taxation, they’re not.
So when a man has frequency tower, I give him permit he now puts his sign, the local government will go after him, because the law says that advertising is a local government responsibility. People who do business in this country must take legal advice, what their rights and their duties are in setting up their business plan but we will continue to interact as we have done and I think our interactions have helped. Some of my cabinet members have been meeting on a regular basis and we are coming to closure on a couple of those issues, but I just thought I should be much more detailed in my response because of the issues raised , the age of those issues and because of the initiative that you have taken so that we can have unpolluted familiarity about where we stand on this. It’s something that we are committed to do. I don’t know what services the national call centers initiative that you spoke to me offers but I can say that I don’t believe people should be compelled to take quality. If it’s better than what I have, I will certainly migrate to it, but I will like you if you still have some time, to quickly stop by our center and acquaint yourself with what we have here so that you won’t see it on just slides. And whatever you feel we need to do, I will be one phone call away (and he offered Juwah his calling card).