Since his assumption of office as Minister of Communications, Barrister Abdu-Raheem Adebayo Shittu has never minced word on his resolve to judiciously serve the two most important arms of the telecoms sector, the subscribers and the operators, as well as sanitizing the entire sector to enable it boost the revenue base of the country. At every forum, he says it again and again that he has come to serve all stakeholders in the communications sector including telecoms subscribers and operators and that he will not allow any of the stakeholders to be shortchanged.
At the beginning of this year, the minister said the various complaints of telecoms subscribers across board and the challenges besetting telecoms operators in Nigeria are being looked into holistically with a view to finding lasting solutions in conjunction with relevant stakeholders within the possible short time.
Rather than abating, the litany of complaints by subscribers grows every day, hence, the need for a stern warning and the minister did not let Nigerians down when on Tuesday, March 8, 2016, he read a riot act to the operators at a press conference he addressed in Abuja. Reasons for his ‘final warning’ include but not limited to “ the poor quality of service, incessant dropped calls, unauthorized charging of subscribers for unsubscribed/ unsolicited messages, mandatory rollover of unfinished data bundles, under-declared revenue and profit, outsourcing and discrimination against Nigerian employees”.
He said, “My office has been inundated with complaints, petitions and calls on the fraudulent and un-authorized charges by GSM Network operators in the country. It has been alleged that these un-authorized charges have been so prevalent”. Some of the complaints listed by the minister include extortion of Nigerian subscribers by telecom operators – Many Nigerians have been complaining of unauthorized charges or deduction for unsubscribed/unsolicited messages by all the telecom operators e.g FUN, Music Box and Sports Den messages charged by Etisalat, Hausa Amazing Fact Service charged by Glo, N50 charged for MTN Backup every two weeks, N50 for MTN CallerFeel per month, CallerTunez, Easynews and HollaBack Tones by Airtel, etc. The minister said, “the NCC is hereby directed to properly monitor Telecom operators and prevent them from imposing dubious charges for services not rendered and provide regular updates on monthly basis. Any Operator found wanting henceforth will be sanctioned”.
Another area is incessant dropped calls on all networks. It was alleged by many subscribers that this action is deliberate on the path of network operators to defraud Nigerians by charging for uncompleted calls that terminated abruptly as a result of network issue. There is poor quality of service (QoS) as a result of poor signal strength on the mobile phones, poor signal quality and call set-up failure occasioned by network problems.
Dead or silent calls and cross talk is another one which usually happens after a call might have been connected to the other party. A subscriber initiates a call and the other party picks the call but the caller hardly hears any conversation or hears the voice of an unknown person.
Others are data bundle rollover, call tariff plans, deficiency in data penetration, which refers to an epileptic 3G network in some cities due to insufficient 3G sites or non-availability of 3G sites in many cities thereby forcing the subscribers to make use of 2G networks ((EDGE and GPRS), EDGE – Enhanced Data rate for Global Evolution and GPRS; under-declared revenue and profit by telecom operators, which has led the federal government to take advantage of new technologies to verify the amount of revenue generated by the telecom operators via government regulatory and revenue agencies like NCC, FIRS etc; disengagement of Nigerian tax paying employees by telecom operators through outsourcing to foreign companies, as well as discrepancy and Discrimination against Nigerian Employees by telecom operators. The Federal Government considers this as unfair and discriminatory to the Nigerian Employees and revenue loss to the government in form of tax payments. He promised that “the Federal Government will look into the agreement reached with the operators during the issuance of Licenses and decide whether there is any aspect of non-compliance”.
Barrister Shittu warned that these irregularities must stop immediately or else severe sanctions will be imposed on any operator that violates this directive. In addition, the minister said that “government hopes that all telecom operators will strictly comply with extant laws and rules guiding telecom operations in Nigeria in order to ensure mutual cooperation and respect between the government and operators. We should be seen as partners in progress and no operator should circumvent any policies of the Federal Government as doing so will lead to severe sanctions”.
This riot act is a bold step by the minister to protect inalienable rights of Nigerian citizens as embedded in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and encapsulated in the Telecom Consumers’ Bill of Rights fashioned by the NCC, the federal body responsible for regulating telecom service.
Part of the Telecom Consumers’ Bill of Rights strictly in tune with the minister directives include the right to be informed, which says that consumers have the right to be protected against fraudulent, misleading and deceitful information or advertisement or labeling; the right to choose- consumers have the right to be assured wherever possible to a variety of goods and services at competitive prices with satisfactory quality; the right to be heard- consumers have the right to get fair, inexpensive and quick redress of grievances.
Others include, the right of timely and responsive customer service, meaning that consumers have the right to be treated with courtesy and respect. Customers have the right to speak to a service provider if dissatisfied with customer service, and to be informed of this right during the initial complaint process; the right to quality service- consumers have the right to access vendor’s annual quality of service reports; the right to fair complaint process- consumers must have accessible knowledge of the complaint process and steps needed to lodge a complaint; and, The right to oversight and enforcement- consumers have the right to address how well the state and federal regulators monitor and implement consumer protections on their behalf.
Oluwadamilare writes from Abuja