Akunyili, Ndukwe and the sale of a radio frequency

Casmir Igbokwe

First published June 21, 2009

Of recent, I try to do a little exercise before I leave for work every morning. Even if I skip press-up or hip-swinging, I don’t miss the tummy trimmer. This is because a few people have noted (I don’t know if it is true) that I am gradually developing pot belly. Hence, I need to shed some weight. And I don’t need to go for a tummy tuck to be able to remain trim.

I wish to recommend this tummy trimmer to the Honourable Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, and the Executive Vice-Chairman of the National Communications Commission, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe. Please look not at their bellies, for that is beside the point. Rather, their quarrel and the concomitant effect on the communications industry have developed a pot belly and they need to trim.

The issues at stake have to do with the reported sale of a 2.3GHz radio frequency band by the NCC. The Commission advertised this sale on April 30, 2009. The advert reportedly gave the applicants five working days to pay N1.368bn to the NCC account.

Ndukwe and his supporters believe there was nothing wrong with the sale. Akunyili and her own supporters believe everything was wrong with the process leading to the sale. Hence, the media has been inundated by write-ups either for or against the two government officials, who incidentally are from Anambra State.

For supporters of Ndukwe, Akunyili is a busybody who pries into what should not concern her. They say NCC, by virtue of the NCC Act, is an independent body within whose purview it is to regulate the supply of telecommunications services in the country. Some commentators have also quoted the Nigerian Communications Act of 2003 (Section 121), which empowers the NCC to grant licences for the use of the frequency spectrum.

In conformity with some of these laws, Ndukwe had supervised the auction of GSM licences some years ago.

So, why has this particular sale generated a furore? Akunyili and her supporters believe the NCC did not follow due process. A company called A3 & O Ltd reportedly petitioned the minister, alleging that the NCC advertised the sale in a non-transparent manner. The petitioners urged the minister to investigate. Akunyili enquired and discovered that the NCC allegedly ignored pleas made to it by the National Frequency Management Council and the National Broadcasting Commission to follow due and constitutional process.

Consequently, she reportedly asked Ndukwe to halt the processes pending when she would be able to brief the President. The NCC boss reportedly flouted this directive. I gathered from some sources close to the information minister that one of the companies interested in buying the frequency, Galaxy Wireless, paid only one per cent of the fees before the deadline. Having purportedly been announced as one of the winners, Galaxy was said to have paid the remaining fee on May 18, 2009.  This same day, the NCC allegedly replaced Galaxy with Multilinks Telecom.          

I gathered that there was a meeting of all the interested parties where it was agreed that the release of the frequency band to NCC for sale did not follow due process because the FMIC did not ratify it. Hence, the meeting cancelled the whole process and directed that all the money collected be returned to their owners.

There are so many other allegations and counter allegations on this controversial sale. I don’t need to regurgitate them here. Our concern should be: was due process followed in the sale of the band? Was there an attempt to favour some companies as alleged? What is the position of the law on the whole process?

This is where the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice should have stepped in. He should have interpreted what the law says and then advised the President on what to do.

Unfortunately, we have an A-G that tends to pursue rats when his house is on fire. What quality of advice is he giving to the President?  It shouldn’t be my headache if the President, for reasons best known to him, decides to still keep him in the saddle. But for goodness sake, certain things are not going on well in the country; and as a government that professes rule of law and due process, the type of problems trailing the sale of the band should not be allowed to linger without direct intervention of the Presidency.

The communications industry in Nigeria is not yet what it should be. Our GSM operations still have one hiccup or the other. Drop calls; text messages not going through; high call rates and inability to recharge lines are some of the problems besetting the industry. We should be thinking about how to solve these problems. 

The problem now is that Akunyili and Ndukwe will be waiting for who blinks first. Since the Federal Government is delaying in bringing amicable settlement of the problem, other stakeholders should come in to broker peace. And it will not be a bad idea if Ndukwe, being the junior player in this highly-charged chess game, initiate moves to meet the minister and iron things out with her.

 Whichever way the combatants decide to handle the situation, all Nigerians want is that the pot belly is trimmed now to avoid it leading to some other crises.

1 Comment »

  1. 1
    Developmentaircraft Says:

    Okay Whom,director extra that give grant male joint tomorrow deputy affect amongst relief commitment freedom report tiny physical base similar cause future refer studio hence fall market flow rare about material pressure around photograph stand ordinary owner own skill vital moment partner piece experience light high anyone initial gold display market conclude spread land driver still raise temperature inside prospect long walk club popular later road sample cause release deep ahead show mechanism assumption support tradition stick treat dress message last representation damage sound large

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