Until this point, I had always thought we had a sensible regulator. A watchdog; until I realized that the “watchdog” needs a watchdog.
Excessive “attitude” giving in the hospitality industry, poor banking services, an over-hyped cashless policy within a defective e-channel environment, non-existent electricity, uncollected refuse, award-winning potholes, comatose customer call centres, health services that make you ill, all describe Nigeria, our beloved country. It goes without saying that the title “Giant of Africa” no longer finds applicability to this side of the Sahara. Here, service delivery is bad (make that ‘non-existent’), among the chief offenders is the telecommunications providers whose new slogans should read “impossible to have a decent phone conversation anywhere you go”.
In the last two weeks alone, having a one-minute mobile phone conversation has felt like breaking the world record of climbing the highest peaks in all seven continents of the world.They were dangerously daunting, time-consuming, frustrating, tiring, haunting expeditions, made worse by the fact that I paid my hard-earned money for it and got absolutely nothing in return. Not even a “sorry”. If only my service provider had a neck…if only a proper legal system could be wished to existence.
We can all identify with the poor quality service as most of us have experienced (actually, suffered from) the incessant call drops, blocked calls, inability to dial a number, network congestion, network failure, static on the line and text messages that have been sent but will never ever arrive. Over the years, poor quality of service and high tariffs have made Nigerian telecom consumers subscribe to virtually every one of the service providers available, with possession of numerous mobile phones as testament. We’ve complained about the lack of service delivery yet we seem totally unable or unwilling to put such companies out of business.
Statistics from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) show that the number of active GSM, CDMA and fixed lines was 96,150,836 in January; and with an ARPU* (Average Revenue Per User) of N1,000 per month, subscribers must have spent an average of N96.1 billion on calls in January alone. The active lines increased by 465,744 lines to 96,616,580 in February, meaning that subscribers would have spent over N96.6 billion on calls. With 99,145,013 active lines in March, subscribers’ spending on calls was estimated to be about N99.1 billion. When added together, the country’s over 99 million subscribers must have spent over N291.8 billion on voice calls alone in the first quarter of 2012!
To ‘solve’ this serious breach of KPI standards, the NCC, in a rare show of “fang-bearing” and “big-stick-wielding”, threatened, imposed, demanded for and finally collected a $7.3 million fine from the four leading service providers. Penalize the telcoms was so important it ventured into the Senate Committee on Communication discussions where our lawmakers wondered why the NCC had continued to condone poor telecommunication services in the country for so long and vowed to (dare I say) conduct a public hearing in the near future. Until this point, I had always thought we had a sensible regulator. A watchdog; until I realized that the “watchdog” needs a watchdog.
In their defense, the telcoms lamented the lack of critical infrastructure—for example, Nigeria only has 20,000 base stations serving a population of 150 million people. For the networks to provide world-standard services, the industry will need to roll out base station sites in excess of 50,000 nationwide. Operators also sited insecurity, theft, militancy in some parts of the country, multiple taxation, tariff wars and poor power supply that have caused capacity constraints. Yet the NCC, with such glaring lack of infrastructure, announced mobile number portability early this year.
That led me to one conclusion: poor service delivery is a fallout of the quick-fix nature of doing business in Nigeria, arising from the quick-fix nature of even administering the entire polity. The worse cases of poor quality service delivery come from the public sector itself – the same ones who are collecting fines from the private sector. Who is the watchdog who will fine PHCN? Why are subscribers who paid for and still pay for these services not getting any compensation? How will collecting a huge sum of money as fine serve as a deterrent or ensure that operators remedy barriers to quality service delivery? How long will we go on complaining about poor service delivery without action to address the situation?
The real question though: Why do these failures persist? Because they represent a political equilibrium where politicians and service providers benefit from the status quo and therefore resist attempts at improving services. For we can think of several “gimmicks” to make service providers accountable, but unless the underlying politics is conducive to those innovations, they are unlikely to work.
*ARPU is a financial performance benchmark in the telecoms industry that measures the average monthly revenue generated by operators from each customer.
Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.