News Column

Telcos, subscribers groan as lawmakers sit on key telecoms industry bills

June 9, 2014

OLABISI OLALEYE



Nigeria's telecommunications stakeholders' dream of building an industry with world class infrastructure continued to suffer more setbacks as the two chambers of the National Assembly may have resolved to stalemate discussion of key private sector bills presented before them.

Investigation by Daily Sun reveals that in the last 5 years, over 10 of such bills have been presented to the legislature without any being passed despite their relevance to the growth and development of the industry.

Prominent among the bills before the House of Representatives and the Senate are  the Critical National Infrastructure Bill, Local Software Bill, Proposed Software Hub Bill, Cyber Security Bill, Law Interception Bill and The Amended Nigerian Communications Act Bill.

For instance, the critical infrastructure law is expected to help protect telecommunications equipments from vandalisation, while the Cyber security bill is designed to protect networks, computers, programes and data from attack, damage or unauthorized access by hackers.

Commenting on this, President, National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers (NATCOMS), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, decried the slow pace at which the lawmakers are moving with telecommunications and information technology bills while lamenting the effect the unpassed  bills will have on over 160 million subscribers in the country.

"I must say the Cybersecurity Bill as well as the declaration of telecoms equipments and masts as Critical National Infrastructure Bill among other bills are being unnecessarily delayed. One American President was quoted to have said that the opposite of progress is congress. In this context,our NASS is the opposite of congress. To pass the bills, I think that the lawmakers are looking at being lobbied and to lobby them means that you have to pay money, known in democracy parlence as 'motivation' to pass the bill.

"So what is motivation to pass a bill? It means that they have to be motivated with a huge amount to pass any bill. They know that the bills are necessary,expedient and their purpose but the question is, why don't we fight cybercrime? But the Senators and Honourables at the NASS want to be lobbied before bills are passed. The president should look into that and ensure the right things are done. Perhaps the President can motivate them the way they want so that we can get the bills."

He also alleged that Critical National Infrastructure bill is having issues because state governors are instructing House of Representatives members and Senators not to pass the bill because it will halt all the frivolous  amount they charge telecoms operators.

Said he: "For instance, a mast cost between N500,000-N800,000 depending on the state now but it used to be N10,000-N20,000. They are deliberately delaying the passage of the bill because they will no longer earn what they are currently charging."

Meanwhile, Managing Consultant, Telecom Answers Associate, Engr Titi Omo-Ettu agreed that some of the bills have been at the NASS for a long while.

According to him, all the bills have to pass through all the readings, get public opinions and sensitization to create awareness before the bill is enacted as law.

"The beauty of the situation now is that we have a responsive telecoms regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and most of the things we are agitating for  in those bills, are already being used to regulate. You will agree that in those days, we have many litigations but now, they are very few, that is because our regulator has been responsive and professional. I think that is even more important than saying review the law. If we review the law and the person reviewing it is not responsive, we can not gain anything".

Omo-Ettu however, pleaded with the lawmakers to move fast in ensuring that these bills are passed into law and take necessary steps to ensure that they become good ones.

According to an industry watcher, who doesn't want his name on print, it takes about N100 million to lobby the legislature to pass a bill .It cuts across the continent and Nigeria is not exempted.

"In fact that is what has been delaying passage of cyber security and other IT bills. And that is why the enactment has been slow since most of these agencies involved are also part of the government".

In a chat with Daily Sun, a source at the National Assembly disclosed that some NASS members believe that most of the bills  presented are not necessary because some of them have been included in the Nigerian Communications Acts (NCA)even the way the critical infrastructure issue was addressed is so narrow.

"We want a bill that will encompass the ICT sector. Moreso, see the way the petroleum industry is tackling their issue, but even at that, it is not as fast as they wanted but despite the slowness, they are still pushy. I quite disagree that the Communication Technology Minister has lobbied, you know, they have to bring it to the committee. And this our job requires training and re training and most times, we don't have much time on our hand. Lawmakers have other responsibilities aside passing bills into laws, it is not only enacting laws. We have to maintain a link with our constituency. If the Assembly doesn't pass it, we push it over to the interception, it is only the one that we can do that we will do".

He further explained that it was one of the reasons that some NASS members prefer motion, saying, "That is why some of us prefer motions but they may not have the full weight of the law but it sometimes solves some of these problems.  That is why most of us fight the President when he says motions are mere advisory. Take it or not if it is the law, it stands with its full weight.

It is not about money alone. Some of them are so lazy even when they have their NASS representatives or manager to do the job and instead of ensuring how the bills are passed, they do other things.  Yes, if money is given, it is ok.

"All over the world, that is the way it is done, people use money to lobby and that is why many have taken that advantage and are pursuing it. In recent times, Nigcomsat has started such pursuit and I have never seen any other bill that fast.

 

 

 

You have to use what you have to get what you want. There is a professional lobby institution in the United States of America and such should be adopted and established in Nigeria. Let's assume there is a kind of challenge affecting a particular company, for instance a Tobacco company engaged some people to mediate for  it when lots of people are clamouring for total ban of tobacco, this company used professional lobby to kill the agitation because of the money it is making",  he said.

However, the President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, (ATCON), Mr. Lanre Ajayi noted that the issue of lobbying before bills are passed into laws is inappropriate and corrupt practices.

"And it is a very unacceptable way to do their jobs. I am not able to confirm its authenticity. The bill is an important bill, the infrastructure bills are critical for the use of Nigerians. If telecoms service is down, the sector will go down including ATM transactions, online transfer. This infrastructure should be protected without goading the parliamentary with unnecessary incentives, they should be able to do their jobs accordingly", he said.

Meanwhile, the First lady of Nigeria, Dame Patience Jonathan disclosed last year,  that the much expected cyber security bill at the National Assembly will be passed into law before the first quarter of 2014 .

Jonathan also explained that the law would seek to protect online information from being hacked, and that it was one of the reasons that the Federal government was creating awareness as well as striving towards identifying online risk.

She also tasked that stakeholders should create and execute policies that will protect children in the cyberspace.

 


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Source: Sun, The (Nigeria)


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