You probably read ‘resolution’ instead of ‘revolution.’ Either way, you are not far from the subject matter of this piece as it touches on both words. While ‘revolution’ applies to something radical or dramatic I will like to see happen, it will require the ‘resolution’ of the authorities to make it happen.
My desire for the revolution I have in mind arises from a curious consideration of what has been acknowledged and celebrated all over the world as Nigeria’s telecom revolution. Within a mere eight-year period, Nigeria’s telephone subscriber numbers grew from just 400, 000 to over 74 million. Nigeria now has the highest number of connected lines anywhere in Africa, including South Africa. Nigeria has achieved telephone network coverage of over 90 percent of Nigeria’s population with digital mobile network spread across the six geo-political zones and the 36 states of the federation including the FCT, Abuja.
Interesting as those unusual positive statistics about our telephony sector are, they are not the subject of my interest. What has caught my fancy is something else that could only be possible because of the Nigerian factor. It has to do with the high tariff regime that has continued to hold sway in spite of strident public complaints against it. There is a curious dimension to the tariffs that beats my imagination. Can anyone explain how eight years after the telecom revolution began tariffs for domestic calls are still higher than those for international calls?
Let me give an example. I am able to use a local landline to call another landline in the United States, Canada, London or Hong Kong among other international locations at N10 or N12 per minute and a mobile line in any of those locations at N25 but I pay the same N10 for a local intra-network landline call, at least N18 for calling a landline on another local network and N30 for landline to a local mobile line. On GSM lines sometimes I am able to call international locations for less than what it would take me to call a mobile line on another local network.
This is one interesting offshoot of our telecom revolution that I would love our authorities to make a New Year resolution about. Government should as a matter of priority begin to look into ways by which this fascinating aspect of the telecom revolution can be extended to other sectors. For example, the authorities should consider how we can duplicate this revolution in the aviation industry to bring down fares for international flights and make them lower than fares for domestic flights. Imagine having to pay less than N15, 000 (which is about the fare for a local one-hour flight) as fare for a flight to London, New York, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, etc. from Lagos.
The revolution should also reach courier and postal services, reducing the cost for dispatching overseas mails and parcels until they are lower than the cost for doing so locally. It should be extended to money transfer services, cutting down the cost for transferring money abroad until they are lower than existing rates for local transfer. Government should as its New Year resolution, make effort to spread the revolution to every aspect of the people’s life with a foreign component that is currently more expensive than its local counterpart. Any such policy will turn out to be as populist as it is pragmatist.
However, if you think that my proposal is unrealistic and preposterous because it is based on an anomalous situation, then maybe we should turn to Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), the telecom industry regulator, and ask them how that anomaly came to be. It does not seem to bother NCC that such a situation exists. It has never occurred to them that they could prevail on the telecom operators to adopt whatever ‘magic’ operators in other climes have used to keep their tariffs low and enable us in Nigeria connect with relatives, friends and business partners residing in those countries at rates unbelievably lower than our own local tariffs. When I say ‘magic’ it makes it seem as though it is something extraordinary or supernatural that operators in other climes are using, but that is not the case. They are using technology that is no more state-of-the-art than the one employed by local operators.
It is because of illogicalities and incongruities like this that many Nigerians remain opposed to the planned deregulation of the downstream sector of our oil industry. People believe that through the exercise government will deliver to itself, using the NNPC and other players in the industry, a blank cheque to freely assign as it pleases the prices of petroleum products with no upper limit or cap but based on so-called forces of demand and supply (euphemism in Nigeria for ever-higher prices). Nigerians know with the benefit of hindsight that it will only be a matter of time before Nigeria achieves the distinction of being the market with the most prohibitive petroleum products prices in the world.
When that record is set, it will not come as a surprise to hear such untenable arguments by experts and technocrats in government as Nigeria’s crude being actually different from the rest of the world’s, thus costing ten times more to refine; and also that our overdependence on oil and gas for energy supply accelerates wear and tear in our refineries which maintenance expenditure has to be factored into the pump price. (I hope I have not unwittingly supplied the experts with the justifications they will try to push down our throat in future.)
If my proposal for government to spread the revolution to other sectors sounds unpalatable to government for a New Year resolution, then it shouldn’t be too much to ask that it directs NCC to correct the anomaly in telecom tariffs. If the issue can be resolved and that very quickly, that will be a resolution more welcome than any revolution.