Twenty hours to the official take off of the new data tariff regime, the Senate and the Presidency yesterday ordered the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to immediately suspend the policy.
The suspension order came after the country’s biggest service provider, MTN, had sent messages to its customers informing them of the impending rate hike effective from December 1, 2016.
But the upper legislative chamber resolved yesterday to commence a comprehensive investigation into allegations of service failures in the operation of the service providers.
It directed its Committee on Communications to invite the NCC leadership, telecoms operators and other relevant stakeholders in the telecommunications sector and report back within one week.
The Senate’s position followed a motion of urgent national importance moved by the Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Na’Allah (APC, Kebbi South), who condemned the planned data tariff hike, saying it would cause serious hardship on ordinary Nigerians.
Similarly, Solomon Adeola (APC, Lagos West), in his contribution to debate on the matter, declared the policy as not only “unholy”, but also “unfriendly”.
“We are up to the task and I can assure the Senate that we will swing into action immediately. We will invite all the necessary agencies involved in this policy that is unholy and unfriendly and get back to the Senate unfailingly on Tuesday,” he said.
Speaking on the motion, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, lampooned NCC for not doing enough consultation before initiating the policy. He also asked the committee to investigate allegations of non-compliance to regulations against mobile operators.
Meanwhile the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, denied the Federal Government approved the NCC data tariff increase.
Speaking on Raypower’s programme ‘Fact File’ on Wednesday, Shittu said “logistics” may have informed NCC’s decision.
“But I want to say that I was not privy to it, I was not party to it. Government never gave any such instruction and as the representative of the people, it has never done that; that the voice of Nigerians must not be muscled.
“This government came into the democratic process and it has a duty to continue to protect the interest of Nigerians and I can assure you, we will do that and we will do the needful in protecting the rights and privileges of Nigerians.”
However, despite denying it ever issued such directives, investigations by Daily Sun revealed that the commission actually issued the directives to all the telecoms operators across the country.
In one of the letters jointly signed by Josephine Amuwo and Yetunde Akinloye, Director, Policy Competition and Economic Analysis and Head of Regulatory Affairs Services respectively, the NCC emphasised that the effective interim price floor is December 1 and that customers should not be automatically migrated to pay-as-you-go and that all service providers should ensure that tariff for data services reflects the determination.
In a statement signed by the Commission’s Public Affairs Director, Mr. Tony Ojobo, suspending the directive yesterday on data segment price floor, it clarified that the price floor was not an increase in price but a regulatory safeguard put in place by the telecommunications regulator to check anti-competitive practices by dominant operators.
Meanwhile, Nigerians have described the Federal Government’s reversal of the planned data raise by NCC as a welcome development that would go a long way in further boosting the economy.
Speaking to Daily Sun on phone, the Lagos State Chairman of Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Deji Elumoye, said the reversal was a relief and a step in the right direction because service delivery has never been commensurate with the money paid by subscribers.
“It became worrisome when the messages were sent that data rate would be increased from today but this data pricing suspension is quite good. I should, however, advise that the NCC and telecoms operators should never contemplate tariff increase for now because of the state of the economy,” he said.
Also speaking, Executive Secretary of Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Ajibola Olude, noted that NCC has done well by reversing itself but that it still needs to go back to the drawing board to work out the best possible increase in data service rate.
“I think NCC should be applauded for being sensitive to the yearnings of Nigerian subscribers. NCC has to go back to get it right. Like two months ago, the Federal Government hiked the prices of petroleum products and that in turn affected the operators because they have to power their generators and they would also need to cover their overhead cost,” he said.
A telecoms subscriber, Mr. Adesope Joseph, disclosed that at the rate the Buhari administration is going, the increase in data tariff at this time of recession was not good enough.
“But the suspension came as a relief to Nigerians especially the youths who engage in social media activities. It will also allow people to use their data unhindered and that would increase the country’s GDP,” he said.
However, in his comment condemning the planned hike, Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, said the President Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) Federal Government’s plan was to tax Nigerians to death, calling on Nigerians to resist any attempt to impose new tax on them.
The governor described the Federal Government’s plan to increase the cost of data as wicked, adding that, “most Nigerians are still alive today because they are kept busy by their access to social media. They relieve themselves of the burden of hunger and despair placed on them by the Federal Government’s lack of policy direction by reading news and jokes, chatting with friends, watching comedy movies, etc. Denying them this opportunity through increment in the cost of internet subscription will mean that the Federal Government deliberately wants many Nigerians, especially the youths, to die of depression.”
He hailed the Senate for directing the NCC to suspend the planned increment, saying, “the government must be sensitive to the plight of the people. Today, despite all the taxes and increments in services rendered by Federal Government agencies, minimum wage has remained at N18,000 while millions of jobs have been lost.
Do they want Nigerians to pay with their blood?”
In a release issued in Ado-Ekiti on Wednesday by his Special
Assistant on Public Communications and New Media, Lere Olayinka, Fayose said, “if the only way the Federal Government believes it can take Nigeria out of recession is to impose obnoxious taxes that will further impoverish the people, it is not being fair to Nigerians.”
Also reacting, the National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers (NATCOMS), in a statement issued in Lagos on Wednesday by its President, Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, described the NCC directive as “insensitive and callous”.
“We view the directive as insensitive and callous. Since NCC is an agency of the Federal Government, the purported directive is one more design by the government to cast more financial burden on the already depressed citizenry.
“The Communications Service Tax Bill, which proposes to impose a monthly Communication Service Tax of 9 per cent on all electronic communication services, which include voice calls, SMS, MMS and data usage is still before the National Assembly.
“There has been a lot of hue and cry against the bill by the citizens. The NCC directive is therefore nothing but a huge effort aimed at enforcing the obnoxious provisions of the bill through the back door.
“The inimical directive, if implemented, has grave and far reaching consequences as the gains of telecommunication revolution we have made so far will be eroded,” he said.
The NATCOMS boss noted that if the planned increment is not put on hold, Nigeria’s desire to achieve 30 per cent broadband internet penetration by 2018, which at the moment stands at 13 per cent, will not be realistic.
According to him, the already staggering unemployment situation in the country would be worsened as a lot of businesses that depend on data and internet connectivity for service delivery would be forced to close up.
“This is a retreat to pre -2001 era. Within the current suffocating economic situation in the country where prices of goods and services go up everyday and thereby undermining the people’s standard of living, the directive is just a mirror of an inconsiderate policy maker.
“NCC did not do due-diligence and did not carry out any consultation whatsoever, through any of their consumers engagement platforms like the NCC Telecoms Consumer-Parliament, the NCC Consumer Outreach Programme and the NCC Consumer Town Hall Meeting before this insensitive anti-consumer,” he said.
He pointed out that telecom bigwigs like MTN and Etisalat had already sent out millions of text messages to their customers, informing them of the NCC data increase directive.
He emphasised that data or internet accessibility means more engagements for the youths who use data for software programming and to develop applications.
“With what the NCC has done, these young minds, who develop apps will be slowed down and be limited. Data/internet service is the ‘petrol’ of all electronic driven businesses, which means that the cost of doing business will also increase.
“The directive is ill-advised, illegal and parades all features of economic adversity and should be withdrawn forthwith,” he said.