Unionists in the telecoms industry under the aegis of The Association of Telecommunications, Information Technology, Cable Satellite Network Operators and Allied Services Employers of Nigeria (ATICEN) have emphasised the need to investigate the fund established for the provision of telecoms in- frasture in the rural areas across the country.
They called on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu as well as the National Assembly to critically investigate the utilisation of the Fund. They insisted that the immediate past Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami, as well as a former Executive Vice Chairman (EVC)/CEO of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Prof. Umar Dambatta, be summoned by the National Assembly to explain the perceived misappropriation of the Fund.
As reported by New Telegraph, it was alleged that the Fund, about N15.174 billion recommended to be approved as the Universal Service Provision Fund’s 2019 Budget, which was said to have accumulated over the years, has been mismanaged and diverted from the purpose it was established for.
The Fund was established by the Federal Government to facilitate the achievement of national policy goals for universal access and universal service to information and communication technologies (ICTs) in rural, unserved, and under-served areas in Nigeria. It is being managed by the NCC to facilitate the widest possible access to affordable telecommunications services for greater social equity and inclusion for the people of Nigeria.
The NCC charges telecoms operators 2.5 per cent of their turnover as licensing fees, of which 40 percent of the licensing fees is transferred to the designated USP Fund. Meanwhile, there has not been significant impact of the Fund on unserved rural areas, which prompted the 9th House of Representatives to set up an ad hoc committee to investigate the accruals into the Fund and its utilisation by the NCC since its inception.
However, the lawmakers could not complete the investigation until their tenure lapsed in May 2023. Speaking to New Telegraph on the issue, the President of ATICEN, Comrade. Adede John-Williams, said Pantami and Danbatta should be summoned since they were the Chairman and the Vice Chairman of the Fund.
He explained that there was no accountability of the Fund since it was established, which, according to him, has been affecting the broadband expansion. “The reason we are calling on the President and the National Assembly to investigate this Fund is that the two are not part of the Fund. So, we believe they are in the best position to investigate it. And investigating it critically is the way to go.
“We have done our investigation and we can categorically say that the Fund has been mismanaged. Less than 30% of the Fund was given out and it was not channeled to the course it was established for. How many infrastructure companies (infracos) have access to the Fund? How many telecom operators were able to access the Fund? And that is why many of the telcos could not take their services to the rural areas since there is no infrastructure there.
“The NCC did not create awareness of the Fund, the last time people were asked to apply for the Fund was about four years ago. We don’t even know how much has accrued to the Fund. We are seriously appealing to the federal gov- ernment and the National Assembly, as a matter of urgency, to thoroughly investigate the Fund to address the critical telecom infrastructure gap in the country.
The sector cannot grow if we continue this way,” he said. He claimed that the process of accessing the Fund was too cumbersome for many telcos to meet, urging the government on accountability of the Fund. “We have to know how much has gone into the Fund, how many people have benefited from it, what the Fund has been used for. There must be an emphasis on accountability if the government is truly ready to tackle the infrastructure challenges in the telecom sector.
John-Williams, therefore, appealed to the new Minister of Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy, Dr. Bosun Tijani, and the new NCC EVC, Dr. Aminu Maida, to put the Fund into useful for the development of the telecom sector in Nigeria. “We have seen that this administration led by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is ready to reposition the sector. This is seen from those he appointed as both the minister and the EVC, the two of them are experts from the industry.
This shows that the government is really ready to develop the industry. By this, nobody will have to blame the President but those experts appointed to lead the sector if there is any challenge,” he said. Meanwhile, the Minister has pledged to make sure the Fund is properly used for the growth of telecommunications in Nigeria, explaining how the USPF could be used for the betterment of Nigeria.