THE executive vice chairman/chief executive officer, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Umar Garba Danbatta, a Professor of Telecommunication Engineering, deserves to be on the cover of Business Journals of global pedigree. Taken together this piece is a reflection on his rise through the thorny telecoms landscape and the inscrutable turnaround of the public perception of the regulatory agency from a lame duck to a discretional biting dog. At the heart of Danbatta’s 8-point agenda is consumer protection and Quality of Service (QoS) delivery.
Within one year of his assumption of leadership at the Commission, Danbatta has proven that he could shape the public perception of the telecoms regulator differently. Prior to his mounting the saddle as the leader at the commission, public perception of the regulatory agency was hinged on the assumption of an institution that indulges the service providers and perhaps compromises the interests of the telecoms consumers.
But Danbatta tweaked that perception in September 2015.To do that, he stepped on the big stage to pronounce that NCC was not a regulator to be emasculated by the sheer size of the MNOs. He demonstrated that the Commission will not only bare its ferocious canines but could equally bite deep enough to plant a lasting scar on the operators that crossed the line.
By the first quarter of his coming on board as EVC, Danbatta had observed a major regulatory infraction by the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). The identified violators were alerted on the infractions, given time to redress in line with the regulatory prescriptions on the SIM registration requirements. But when the MNOs acted as though it was business as usual, Danbatta did not hesitate to wield the big stick on Etisalat, Airtel, anfd Glo Mobile. But the biggest sanction was slammed on MTN Nigeria and it turned out to be the loudest because of the unprecedented fine of $5.2 billion. This was later reduced to $3.9 billion following intervention by the South African government and officials of the MTN Group.
The tributes on Danbatta’s Spartan commitment to regulatory mandate are legendary. Director-General of Consumer Protection Council (CPC), Mrs. Dupe Atoki, sits pretty well in a vantage position to aggregate the feelings of the consumers. “You are sitting on a very hot seat where you have to deal with multinationals and deal with their impunity; so on our side here, we wish you a very useful and productive tenure. And she did not mince words when she commended the NCC boss for “ensuring that impunity in telecom sector is beginning to be a thing of the past”. The enigmatic Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, also poured accolades on Danbatta for the progressive actions being taken to change the landscape of the nation’s telecom regulation for the better.
The efforts of Danbatta within a year are self-evident. Broadband experienced growth with statistics from July 2015 to June 2016 indicating that broadband penetration in Nigeria grew from 10 per cent to 14 per cent. The ITU-UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development’s September 2016 report validated this in stronger terms while highlighting that Nigeria’s penetration has reached 20.95 per cent. Danbatta has further strengthened this effort by new spectrum licensing, setting up Broadband Implementation Monitoring Committee within the Commission to give proper assessment and regular appraisals of the plans. On QoS enhancement, a task force has been set up to articulate all the issues obstructing quality of service across the networks.
Rather than attract public odium for its actions, NCC has continued to receive local and international diadems for the pragmatic management style at the Commission. Winning so many awards barely a year into his tenure as EVC might look like a gimmick, but the milestones in regulatory attainment is well stocked with achievements that underscores Danbatta’s high ratings. The prestigious awards include: European Society for Quality Research (ESQR’s), European Award for Best Practices Brussels 2016, African Regulator of the Year at the African Information Technology and Telecoms Awards (AITTA) Ghana. Danbatta himself was awarded the 2016 Telecom Personality of the Year at the 12th Nigeria Telecom Awards. Added to his personal collection was the Regulator of the Year by African Leadership Magazine in New York.
Danbatta has no doubt emerged the darling of the industry enthusiasts and even operators who might secretly loathe the prohibitive fine handed out to MTNN for regulatory infractions. Nonetheless, the action has sent a strong note of warning to all and sundry that the new Sheriff at the industry regulator, though gives a listening ear, will not condone the least regulatory infractions.