In this exclusive chat with Mobileworld, Olusola Teniola, President Association of Telecommunications Companies Of Nigeria (ATCON) says Foreign Direct Investment is important to the growth of ICT in Nigeria. The affable techie shares this and many more. Excerpts….
What are your plans to encourage further investment in the sector through trade mission to other countries of the world?
I think the first thing that we need to seek as a priority is Foreign Direct Investment which is very pertinent to the Nigeria ICT sector. Over the years, since we have recorded the largest subscriber base in Africa of 158 million subscribers, we have noticed that 32 billion dollars has been generated as FDI and as recognition that the industry depends heavily on private sector which is predominantly foreign based.
ATCON in its wisdom views reaching out to other associations abroad as important in our ability to advocate and influence decisions to encourage further increase in FDI. We don’t have specific names but I am deeply encouraged that we have met with certain foreign delegates who have shown interest. We are yet to sign a MOU yet. We however want to try and contribute to the next development of the ICT industry which has obviously recorded a very high voice to telephony penetration, but now the next one is broadband.
That’s for our experience and we have evidence to support that. We require a significantly high investment than we have already made to date. The examples of Australia and what is going on in the UK in terms of their broadband delivery, progressively points to the fact that we can only do this through further FDI.
What is ATCON putting in place to encourage small and medium ICT companies/tech start-ups in the country, such that their survival under the unfavourable condition is guaranteed?
I have always been of the opinion that ATCON speaks to a 150 members. We have obviously seen some of our members no longer existing and the fixed operators are struggling. We are welcoming new members to our association which we have always encouraged and we act as the umbrella organization of all telecommunications companies of Nigeria including ALTON.
I have also recognized the fact that lot of the SMEs especially in the digital age are e-dash related, e-commerce is one of them. I am personally readily involved in recognizing the SMEs that are contributing to that e-commerce ecosystem.
I know of a hundred, they are not members of ATCON, but I would like to encourage them to consider. I believe that the journey for ATCON is to remain relevant to the changing digital transformation. So there would be consideration for us to put in plans that speak to not SMEs in totality because in Nigeria there is allegedly 17 million SMEs. ATCON membership it is not about quantity but about quality. The government wants to deal with a singular voice and not multitude of voices. The plan really is to first reach out to the e-dash type companies. Some of the start-ups companies have joined us already.
One of the strategies is to incorporate business code of ethics. If you look at the history of Nigerian companies, the way it is run is usually a one man show or one person show. We found that in ICT, which is a very complex industry and its knowledge requires some form of corporate governance to be in place. So you have the diversity of ideas, the robustness of ideas and also the ethics put in place to ensure that the one man or a single person doesn’t start to affect the structure of the company, because certain decisions if not checked will lead to demise of start-ups.
The statistics about start-up successes is about one in every five start-ups. If a start- up can reach the fifth or seventh year, it can survive any onslaught.
We are very much looking to help some of these techs start-up to become the new Facebooks of Nigeria. We are very encouraged that some of our members are indigenous former start-up companies that are now in their thirteenth or fifteenth year of operation and are contributing significantly to the telecom ecosystem. A strategy that we would like to encourage is to enable them to also participate in some of the programmes we lay out. We are giving out an IPv6 programme in August, which enables the transition from IPv4 to IPv6, which is the new technology that all Nigerian and African companies should embrace because it underpins Internet of Things (IoT), without IPv6 there is no Internet of Things.
This is our third time of running this programme. So we are deeply encouraged to continue that programme and then there would be other programmes where we would be engaging the regulator to speak about their strategies and plans. We would also like to invite not only our members but also other tech start-ups, so they can understand the landscape of this dynamic industry. We would continue to encourage further training, especially for our partners to enhance the capacity and the capability of tech Start-up companies to access fund.
We obviously are looking for new tech companies that would speak to more environmentally friendly energy consumption. The green energy is a very important point. We look to reaching out to those companies that will address hybrid power management.
What are the latest developments on National Telecom Advisory Council (NATC) and Association code of Ethics?
The Basic Code of Conduct is a two page that governs the behavior of each of our members, the expectation in between ourselves and also the expectations of members delivering product and services to consumers. It also sets out guidelines, stiff sanctions against behavior that is deemed unethical.
This was put into place last year, it was publicized to the public during our 21st anniversary and it was widely applauded not only by ATCON members but the general stakeholders in the industry.
It is a development that was long overdue but we are happy that we have got one in place. The development till date is that anyone who joins and who are current members adheres to it. We have not had to sanction anyone. But we are very much involved in the industry consumer’s affairs forum. It allows civic society and other consumer groups to hold us to account if there is a need to.
One of the things that I will say is that it is only through the power of the consumers that we know if the code works. But amongst ourselves, we are self-regulatory.
In terms of the National Telecommunications Advisory Council, Again, this was a great initiative formed this year, in March. Since it is just recently formed, I have not invited the council; I have not had any issues at my table; nothing complex in nature, that requires their attention at the moment. Obviously, we want an industry that is balanced, so there input will be sought.
What is the support and direction ATCON has been given towards policy, formulation and implementation in the country?
ATCON itself has always been an advocacy body since 1993. So the association is not new to this so we have been doing this for more than 21 years. One of the areas I think is the most visible one and I use the visible one. It is good to understand that a lot of what government does is influenced by ATCON.
The first one is SIM registration, it was actually advocated and introduced by a past President of ATCON and that time government didn’t even support it. But remember that SIM registration is not a Nigeria phenomenon it is also adopted across Africa and global.
ATCON forms a key component in almost every ICT policy government makes. They have quiet dialogues behind the scenes to influence what will benefit millions of consumers.
The ability to ensure that the federal government is executing relevant policies is important. Ability to advocate to the National Assembly about legislation that they may want to put into place, and also prevent laws that are against the benefit of consumers count a lot.
What benefits or values will being a member of ATCON attract?
There is strength in unity, and I believe that anyone who is a non-member will see that the voice that ATCON brings to those very important argument and very important issues can only done be with unity than just having a singular voice.
We are a matured well-recognized association and the association has stood the test of time. Also, government recognizes ATCON, a former EVC was once the President of ATCON. It is a recognized institution of seriously minded players, and we want to encourage those that are non-members to see it as where they can benefit their interests as well.
What do you plan to achieve during your tenure?
The industry has to improve on its ability to influence government and I think that’s like reaching out to NITDA, NCC, and reaching out to the Ministry of Communications, which are three main bodies that we usually interact with on year on year basis, in the areas that we need to address, like affordability, accessibility, and availability of connectivity. It is something that is definitely of a strong thrust and theme for all our members.
The next thing is the expansion of our programs, definitely for our members. I think we have tried to repeat what we have done in the past. But I will be looking out for some other ones that will be relevant to the new age, those will be shared as they come up.
I also believe that having telecoms awards events is something we have not pursued; it is something we will be looking out to do. Training is also another important one.
Finally, strengthening our Secretariat is of great importance.
Could you describe yourself in three words?
I am assertive, tenacious and determined.