Expectations from some quarters that Dr. Eugene Juwah, Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), would continue in office for another five years as Nigeria’s telecommunications chief regulator is set to be dashed following fresh revelations of the illegalities perpetrated in the quest to give him a second term.
Juwah’s tenure at NCC would expire on July 28, 2015, and the new All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government may not be disposed to allow him to continue in office due to perceived numerous infractions, including illegally procuring a letter of tenure extension several months ahead of the end of tenure, an action contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003.
Engineer Peter Igho, Chairman of NCC Board, on November 17, 2014, wrote to former president Goodluck Jonathan asking him to renew his own (Igho’s) appointment and those of Juwah and two other commissioners on the NCC Board.
Juwah was nominated on July 23, 2010, and assumed office on July 29, 2010, following his confirmation by the Senate. So his tenure is supposed to end on Friday, July 10, 2015, after which he can either be reappointed or not, according to the Act.
In Igho’s letter, he requested Jonathan to give a second term of five years to himself as Chairman of NCC Board, Juwah as EVC/CEO, Dr. Okey Itanyi as Executive Commissioner, stakeholder management, and Alhaji Mohammed Bintube as non-executive commissioner.
Igho said the NCC Board held a special meeting on Thursday, November 13, 2014, and noted the imminent expiry of the tenure of the specified board members.
Quoting Section 8 (2) of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003, he said the Board was vested with the responsibility of recommending the appointment of NCC’s chief executive and executive commissioners to the president.
But Igho failed to inform Jonathan that the NCA 2003 explicitly states that the president can only renew the appointment of NCC commissioners for another term at the expiration of the first tenure and not before. It was further gathered that the Igho-led NCC Board secretly procured a letter for tenure renewal from the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, as far back as March, this year as a reward for facilitating the secret sale of the Digital Dividend Spectrum licenses in March this year to Jim Ovia’s Cyberspace and Mike Adenuga’s Globacom, a transaction that raised a lot of suspicion and public outrage when it became public knowledge.
Meanwhile, the NCA 2003 on the appointment and tenure of commissioners states that: “Subject to 11 (3) and 11 (4) of the Act, each Commissioner shall serve for a term of 5 (five) years from the date of his appointment at the expiration of which the President may renew his term for a further period of five years and no more.”
The former minister of communications technology, Dr. Omobola Johnson, in a letter which was a reply to the State House letter asking the minister to comment on the renewal of appointment of NCC Board members, stated that Section 8 (2) of the NCA 2003 limits the Board’s recommendations for appointment to the posts of chief executive and executive commissioners only.
Johnson, who frowned at the letter directly written to Jonathan by Igho, said: “The appointment of the chairman and non-executive commissioners are therefore the prerogative of, and at the instance of, Mr. President. As such, both the chairman and the minister are constrained from making explicit recommendations to Your Excellency on these appointments.
“But permit me, Your Excellency, to humbly and respectfully suggest that, in considering the appointment of the chairman of the NCC Board and non-executive commissioners, qualities such as personal gravitas, strong and visionary leadership to direct and provide strategic oversight to the NCC far outweigh technical skill and competencies in the areas of ICT.”
Mr. Tony Ojobo, NCC’s Director of Public Affairs, confirmed that the first tenure of five years for Juwah and the above-mentioned NCC Board members would expire on July 28, 2015. He, however, said he not was aware whether or not their tenure had been renewed.
“I don’t have any information on that,” he said.
Also speaking on the issue, the President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Engr. Lanre Ajayi, said: “I am aware that the first term tenure of Juwah will end on July 28. Whether he has been reappointed, I cannot confirm,” adding that he could only make a declarative statement after going through the NCC Act.
Six months after assuming office, Juwah had rolled out a six-point agenda that dwelt on consolidation and integration of mobile wireless services; fixed line and broadband deployment for national development; enhanced competitive market; choice for the consumers; vigorous compliance monitoring and enforcement of regulations and directions; national connectivity for accelerated growth and enhanced international relations.
However, his tenure has been full of crises. He has overseen a telecommunication sector where nearly a dozen Private Telephone Operators (PTOs), popularly referred to as Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) operators, have collapsed. The only surviving PTO now is Visafone Communications Ltd.
Under Juwah’s tenure, telecom operators have witnessed a large churn-out of subscribers with about 50 million phone lines now dormant. Other low points include secret and underhand sales of Digital Dividend Spectrum licences in the 700MHz, 800MHz and 900MHz to companies including OpenSkys Ltd, Smile Communications Ltd, Globacom and Cyberspace without recourse to public auctions.
Commenting on this matter, a renowned telecom expert, who sought anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said: “The above spectrum deals which were done without competitive bids made the federal government lose billions of naira. A case in particular was the illegal sale of telecom spectrum belonging to Nigerian Police to OpenSkys Ltd owned by Chief Emeka Offor, a chieftain of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).”
He added that the telecom regulator has been partisan by aligning with the PDP and funding its campaign while banning the All Progressive Congress’ (APC’s) short message service (SMS) platforms to raise funds for its electioneering campaigns.
Other low points of Juwah’s administration at the NCC include the inability to attract local and foreign investors for the licensing of infrastructure companies (InfraCos) for the build out of broadband across the 36 states and the FCT, Abuja, and poor quality of service occasioned by frequent dropped calls.
“Under Juwah’s tenure, N6.1 billion was spent on SIM card registration which failed to yield the desired result, as contractors hired by the NCC failed to deliver on the project, forcing NCC to rely on an independent SIM card registration carried out by mobile telecom operators. The project also failed to aid the national security agencies in fight against insurgency as touted by the NCC,” the telecom expert added.
Industry sources also said the EVC had used an iron first to rule the telecom industry, with frequent imposition of fines on telecom operators which spoiled the cordial relationship which hitherto existed between NCC and the telecom companies in Nigeria.