By Mohammed Kabir
Given the hype, hyper-attention and the spin given to the imaginary wrangling between the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Pantami and the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), Professor Umar Garba Danbatta, it will come as a huge shock that last week President Muhammad Buhari, on the strength of the recommendation of the Minister of Communication, reappointed Prof. Danbatta for a second term.
The reappointment no doubt proved wrong insinuations about relationship between the two eminent personalities. As the Minister of Communications would later sayx when he received the NCC management, the achievements of Prof Danbatta in his first four years was what ensures him a fresh mandate for his legacy and vision for the telecommunication sector to be given chance to further consolidate the reforms the NCC under his leadership has initiated.
But the biggest winner of the reappointment is indeed Dr Pantami. The high achieving minister has surprised his detractors who erroneously thought that he would throw Prof. Danbatta under the bus and send the rumour mill into overdrive. But the minister being a visionary who recognises competence and hard work gives no heed to the perceived difference between him and the head of the NCC in deciding to pass a vote of confidence on Danbatta by recommending him for reappointment. As they say: competence not just begets competence but recognises it as such.
As the NCC boss said it himself, when he led his management to thank the minister, it was Dr Pantami who chose to lead the process of his reappointment and ensured that President Muhammadu Buhari was not misguided into appointing anyone else. It was an action that manifestly put the leadership qualities of the minister out in the open. He did not allow the so-called rift or the oft-stated contempt Danbatta is said to have for him, to take over his sense of judgement.
Friction between supervising ministers and heads of agencies under them is inevitable. This is more so for Pantami who is someone of an insider and as a minister who came with clearly-headed mission of developing the digital economy of the country. What was blown up as squabbling of epic proportion between Pantami and Danbatta was in the end nothing more than a “point of convergence” for the betterment of the telecommunication sector.
Some people, including some newspaper commentators and others on the social media have in the past accused the minister of being stiff in leadership, some even said handed. They count those alleged traits in the man in wrongly forecasting what could have happened at the NCC. Alas, they got it wrong. Those making those allegations against the minister are either those who have not studied him closely, or those for whom insistence on the right thing meant being high-handed. From my own reading of the man, Dr Pantami was only being a leader, showing due diligence and ensuring that only the best comes out of his team, including CEOs of agencies under his ministry. This certainly is not popular demand among lazy or dishonest subordinates.
For Pantami this was a trait. Whether as Pantani the highly revered Islamic scholar, or Pantami the computer specialist and lecturer, he has marked himself out splendidly as an enviable achiever. He expects nothing less from those around him.
Some people tend to forget that Pantami was made a minister after he served with assiduity as the director general of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). Through that characteristichard work, he moved NITDA from relative obscurity into a frontline regulator agency that was efficient in pursuance of its mandate. Under his watch NITDA critically and gainfully intervened in outlining a robust ICT development policies for the country. During Pantami’s tenure, the agency has also successfully intervened in the provision of ICT facilities in many higher institutions of learning across the country. Pantami has also excelled in ensuring that NITDA has secured the ISO27001 certificate and provision of Data Protection and Regulation Frameworks and other frameworks in the area of cyber security (which has become even more critical given the centrality of the internet and ICT generally to the world economy).
However Pantami’s biggest manifestatition of vision is in the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy which he now heads. Realising the need to reposition Nigeria’s economy from its archaic, if not suicidal mono-footing, Pantami spearheaded the redesignation of the Ministry to encompass and leverage digital economy development for the country. The IT industry the world over has profoundly changed the outlook of world’s economy and affected economic productivity and output but has also engender the possibility of integrating disparate industrial processes in a seamless fashion which has never been imagined before. When the IT sector is developed, it follows, preternaturally, that the economy is also developed. And for Nigeria to tap into this industrial revolution the country needs ICT policies, which will enshrine innovations, technologies and their deployment across the broader spectrums. It is for this that Pantami formulated the digital economy policy unveiled a few months ago by President Buhari.
The point needs to be made with a trumpet sounding clamour that Danbatta has recorded several achievements at the NCC such as the licensing of the first 5G demo in the country by MTN; the launching of the new national broadband plan with a planned 70 percent penetration increase and wider coverage of 4G by the year 2025; marked improvement of the telecommunication services for the often short changed subscribers, including the introduction of the long overdue spam message control system, the Do-Not-Disturb code.
Through the leadership of Dr Pantami, the federal government earlier this month agreed to designate all telecommunication infrastructures as Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) which could warrant its protection by the security forces. The NCC also worked in spearheading the Central Bank’s Financial Inclusion drive through the Payment Service Banks granted to some telecommunication companies. On the instructions of the minister, NCC also saw to the removal of improperly registered SIM cards from the communication network, cutting down communication capaity for terrorists and other criminals. The reduction in the Right of Way charges by states, for which the minister is passionate, is expected to bolster investment in telecommunications infrastructure.
Despite these milestones recorded in the telecommunications sector, there are a number of hurdles which Danbatta should tackle if his second tenure is to be a success like the first. And these include: further increase of the broadband penetration target in line with the national broadband plan; reduction of the Right of Way charges by states, deployment of the 5G network following the temporary licensing given to MTN, improving the quality and reducing the price of data as well as the general improvement of the telecom services in the country and broadening the financial inclusion drive by telecom operators beyond the skeletal financial services they are currently allowed to undertake.
Overcoming these obstacles is Pantami’s broader vision for the NCC which, with the reappointment of Danbatta are the deliverables which the minister has set for the reappointed executive vice chair. With the renewed synergy between Pantami and Danbatta the telecommunication sector is going to play its part in the development of Nigeria’s economy. The change of the nomenclature of the supervising ministry is not going to be fluke.
Kabir, a public analyst, writes from Abuja.