(A review of Ernest Ndukwe’s recent lecture series)
by titi omo-ettu
One of the drawbacks of the public sector is a lack of continuity as there is never a succession plan. In our environment, sitting officials who plan their succession have done so even for selfish, sometime very callous, reasons. This lack of continuity and consequently inability to plan for the future is sometimes put forward as an argument for the ‘limited’ state – one which has no role in business. NITEL is an interesting case in point which we have successfully deployed as a template to demonstrate that government has no business running a business.
Ernest Ndukwe, the telecommunications engineer and manager who had in the last ten years sat atop the operations of Nigeria’s Regulator of telecommunications appears to have now joined the public lecture circuit discussing what he thinks the future should be for Nigeria beyond 2010. He can talk about a future, because he has done something worth talking about. It was by no means plain sailing and if he is vindictive, he probably will also use his lecture to fight back as he has been battered and bruised along the way – a ‘parting shot’ especially now that his exit is imminent. However, the scars on his back tell us he has earned his stripes to surely have some say in what (not necessarily who) succeeds his tenure in office… and he is worth listening to.
Some few weeks ago, he listed about ten important issues which taken together, may translate to having advised the market on the unfinished business as he leaves office. Last week was the third and latest time he discussed those things that contributed to unprecedented success in Nigeria’s telecommunications and how they can be sustained.
His speeches have taken a holistic approach to the requirements of the future addressing the kind of attributes that whoever government eventually appoints into the Commission should possess; what the focus of attention should be; as well as the role of all stakeholders – government, the regulator, operators, and consumers in taking the industry to the next level.
The one issue on which Ernest Ndukwe has been relentless and discussed more than any other public official throughout his tenure is the central and critical role public electricity supply had been to the telecommunications industry. His unyielding stance on this thorny issue may be taken to mean that he has suggested an alternative procedure for government to look at the issue of power sector reform in the country.
Although there has also been a professed reform or even declaration of liberalization industry in the energy sector, the regime of implementation has been at best insincere. Some guys started by mushrooming ‘private companies’ out of the government octopus called NEPA and they went about telling us that is what liberalization is all about.
It was the same in the telecommunication industry when in 1994, just one year into liberalization, General Sani Abacha disbanded the Nigerian Communications Commission and also went ahead to put ‘a liberalisation unbeliever’ in charge of NITEL. By so doing, he stalled liberalization and there existed an NCC without a Commission. We ran such an industry till 1999 when the emerging regime changed tact
Perhaps what Ernest Ndukwe had been saying is that the liberalization process in the energy sector needs a rethink and it has something to learn from the telecommunications sector reform process.
Ernest also said that an efficient Frequency Spectrum Management and allocation is desirable. Those in the know, know he has already advised on the quality of who should be entrusted with the responsibility of day to day operation of the Commission. No doubt he must have based this view point of his personal experiences and the limitations of the Commission as it is today.
Other issues he has described in various words include:
Maintaining stability in the policy and regulatory space; Maintaining the operational and financial independence of the regulatory Agency; Invigorating an operating environment that is conducive to attracting investment; Emphasis on growing broadband infrastructure and catalyzing adoption and usage of broadband services by the citizens; Expansion of fibre optic cable transmission infrastructure nationally and internationally and striving for improved corporate Governance in the industry.
If there ever was a time for us to listen, it is now