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Group tasks govt on content policy in telecoms sector

Published by Guardian on Thu, 06 Sep 2012

CITING the increasing job loss in the nation's telecommunications sector, especially those with local content touch, an advocacy group, Youth Arise For Nigeria (YAFN), has called on the Federal Government to implement a sustainable local content policy to remedy the situation and stem capital flight.According to the group, 11 years into the telecommunications revolution in Nigeria, one may be quick to say that the country must have benefited so much from operators in the area of job creation and economic development, considering the huge profit declared yearly by the telecoms operators.Already, though faulted, the Foreign Direct Investments attracted to the sector within the last 11 years have increased to $25 billion, according to the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Eugene Juwah.A research conducted on the players in the sector revealed that in 2010, they earned in revenue about $8.6 billion and it is projected to hit $11 billion by 2013.But, it appears the local players are yet to benefit meaningfully in the success of the sector.According to the National Publicity Secretary of Youth Arise for Nigeria, Mr. Liborous Oshoma, government must act fast to ensure the survival of local contractors and increase job creation from the sector.Oshoma lamented that in spite of the impressive growth of the telecoms industry, the benefits accruing to indigenous players were just too insignificant.According to him, at the inception of the GSM revolution in 2001 local companies, were involved in fabrication of equipment like towers, equipment shelters, among other anciliarry services.He however decried that aside from Nigerians in the employ of mobile network operators in the country,indigenous telecoms companies' income from the industry had been on a steep fall yearly.This, he said was due to massive entrance of foreigners and foreign companies in areas where indigenous operators are known to have the capabilities to carry out such task.According to him, if this trend continues and not nip in the bud early enough, the impact will be increase in the joblessness of Nigerian youths.Oshoma, who is a legal practitioner and telecoms consultant, said YAFN investigation had revealed that over 900 cell sites recently deployed by mobile network operators in Nigeria were done by foreign equipment vendors and technology companies such as ZTE, Huawei, Ericsson, Alcatel -Lucent and Nokia-Siemens.He claimed that local contractors were only asked to engage in site acquisition despite the fact that some of them had the requisite capacity in cell site construction among other things.'Even the installation and maintenance jobs that were hitherto the preserve of our local contractors are massively and aggressively also being taken over and awarded to foreign companies, at the expense of our economic growth, while the local contractors are asked to work as sub-contractors to the foreign companies even in areas where the local contractors are technically better.'Even though, by virtue of the Nigeria Investment Promotion Council (NIPC) Act of 1990, these jobs, also known as in-country services, are supposed to be the exclusive preserve of our local contractors since their profit is domiciled in Nigeria which in turn stimulate economic growth and create employment for our jobless graduates and youths who are the engine room of the nation, none of these jobs currently being awarded is given to any Nigerian contractor to handle, despite their technical expertise and capacity', he stated.In his own submission, telecoms analyst, Jiti Ogunye said the laws governing telecommunications in the country are so weak and liberal, given foreigners investors to seized the opportunity and neglects Nigerian graduates and contractors, by giving telecoms jobs and contracts to expatriates, to the detriment of the Nigerians and the Nigerian economy because lots of money are being repatriated in the process.Ogunye, a legal practitioner noted foreign telecoms operators that are licensed to provide telecoms services in the country, are bent on giving jobs and contracts to foreign companies and expatriates, thereby denying Nigerians of jobs they are competent to do, stressing that there is serious imbalance of trade.'From the inception of GSM in 2001, the picture was clear that government was only concerned about allowing the foreign operators to provide services for Nigerians, without making attempt to protect Nigerians and the Nigerian economy. Government failed to put in place the right regulatory policy that will checkmate the activities of foreign investors, but rather gave them endless windows of opportunities to operate in the Nigerian market. They were not given specific timeframe of operation that will enable Nigerians become part of the business and become co-investors. Government rather gave them endless windows of opportunities, and that is why no GSM operator has indicated interest to be listed in the Nigerian stock exchange market, after 11 good years of operation in the country, Ogunye said.According to him, we are not saying foreign operators should pack and go, they should rather observe global best practices in the process of delivering telecoms services to Nigerians. 'The point is that it is in their best interest to observe global standards and operate in the manner that is acceptable globally. They should provide jobs for Nigerians and give contracts to Nigerian contractors, rather than concentrating only on foreign contractors. They should be able to add value to Nigerians in the process of doing business in Nigeria.'Corroborating these claims, another legal practitioner and communications consultant, Mr. Ikechukwu Ikeji, agreed that there was the need for immediate intervention in enforcing local content policy as provided for in the Nigeria Immigration Act and The NIPC Act of 1990 Laws of the Federation to check the ugly trend in the telecoms sector.He lamented that mobile network operators were over dependent on foreign vendors who even imported towers and equipment shelter that could be locally fabricated, thereby encouraging capital flight.'This has created series of hardship and unhealthy competition for the local firms in the industry, some of whom have been forced to close shops and return their employees to the labour market, thereby defeating the government policy on job creation,' he said.According to Ikeji, a local content legislation should discourage the use of international contractors with global sourcing capabilities; discourage repeat use of preferred suppliers, which lock out capable and competitive local suppliers; reduce pre-qualification criteria for domestic firms.He added that local content should be a factor in a tenderer's technical or commercial submission.Ikeji posited that going by what is obtainable in other climes such as Ghana, South Africa, and the entire Europe, it was important for local telecoms contractors to get a fair share of the industry revenue, adding that this would not happen until local content was properly enforced.Admittedly, the minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson stressed the need to have a sustainable local content policy in the sector.Johnson, who stated this during an interaction with industry associations, including the Information Technology Association of Nigeria (ITAN); Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), Computer Professional Registration Council (CPN) in Lagos recently, said it has become necessary to have a sustainable local content policy in the sector. She assured of government's desire to work with local operators to be able to create the right environment for the growth of the sector.According to her, the Federal Government would soon come up with guidelines for local content policy for the sector, which according to her, were part of government's move to encourage growth of the local industry, particularly the indigenous hardware and software sub-sectors.Reacting to the issue in an interview with The Guardian on Monday, a former president of the Association of Telecommunications Company of Nigeria (ATCON), Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, said it has become very essential to protect the local industry.Ekuwem, who is the Chairman of a leading Information and Technology Company in Nigeria'Teledom Group International, said the move where Foreign companies deny indigenous players the opportunity to prove their worth in the industry was totally against local content development, stressing that some telecommunications firms are guilty of this.'You will recall that when I was ATCON's president, I had times without number kicked against this practice. It is killing our industry. What this foreign firms does by doing that is creating more jobs in their country and repatriating money home from here.'I mean, there is no rocket science in creating a cell cite; building equipment racks; towers and others. That these firms outsourced to their home country, which ordinarily, Nigerians are capable of doing', he stated.According to him, the issue is being addressed by the ministry of Communications Technology, 'I believed that by the time the ICT policy is fully endorsed and goes into operation, all these issues will be adequately addressed.
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