Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State at the weekend relieved how the defunct Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) ‘wasted’ $7 billion of tax payers’ money on “nothing.”
El-Rufai, who stated in Lagos that he was happy that the former national telecommunications firm “died”, added that the organisation had become a “dinosaur that failed to innovate when it mattered most, and gradually, it died.”
I am happy that NITEL died. It deserved to die. It was retarding the progress of the nation. The telecoms revolution caught them unawares,” he added.
Speaking during the 20th anniversary of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), the governor stated that despite the huge investments made by the Federal Government, the extinct NITEL management was only able to provide just 450,000 telephone lines for the millions of Nigerians, “the service, which was very epileptic and most expensive network in the world.”
El-Rufai was into telecoms business in the heydays of the dead firm, before becoming the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) during the regime of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, that was saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that the firm was privatised to prepare it for the challenges that the GSM companies were coming with.
He decried how NITEL ‘muzzled’ private telecommunications operators (PTOs) by “fixing outrageous interconnect fees with the intention of remaining the only operator in the market.”
According to him, the non-operational company controlled almost 98 per cent of the market, leaving the remaining two per cent for PTOs to compete, ‘’even at that, NITEL was not ready to leave the 10 per cent for the PTOs. On so many occasions, NITEL disconnected these PTOs, and that became a huge problem for some of them, which relied on Interconnect fees to sustain in the market.’ ’
El-Rufai recalled that though the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) was already operational then, NITEL never allowed the commission to regulate things.
The governor lauded the erstwhile Minister of Communications, Major-General Tajudeen Olanrewaju (rtd) during the era of late maximum dictator, General Sanni Abacha, stating that he was the first minister that saw the need for private telecoms firms to be licensed.
In his remarks, ALTON chairman, Gbenga Adebayo, who claimed that operators had contributed over N15 trillion to the Nigerian economy, called for protection of telecoms infrastructure in the country.
He maintained that if the sector was to continually perform optimally, the NCC must be autonomous.