The House of Representatives has queried the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) over 1014 projects worth over N2billion under the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) inducing an e-library.
This is just as it frowned at NCC’s request for additional N700billion to give access to about 27 million Nigerians who are not currently covered by telecommunication services.
The Ad-hoc Committee headed by Bamidele Salam, is investigating the failure and inability of the Commission to promote widespread availability of mobile telecommunication network services throughout Nigeria as well as accruals and utilization of the USFP funds, during its inaugural hearing.
While declaring the forum open, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, described telecommunication as the largest sector in Nigeria.
The Speaker, represented by Nkiru Onyejiocha, urged the NCC to always provide effective and efficient services at all times across all nooks and crannies of the country.
Looking at the documents presented, administrative expenses rose from N19 million to N127 million. The expenditure on staff rose exponentially.
In his welcome address, Salam said the Investigative hearing was sequel to a motion of Urgent National Importance moved during one of the plenaries, adding that the committee had invited different major stakeholders for their inputs to help in its reports and recommendations.
“There is a list of contracts awarded by the USPF since inception provided for us here, which is about 1014 various contracts on which a few observations have been made.
“There is also the submission of the annual audited report of the USPF, which has been from 2007 till date, but a few years are missing from the audited reports. A few observations have been raised out of that and I want members to let us address those issues so they can take the answers holistically.” Salam said.
Also, another committee member, Mark Gbillah, said: “The challenge is the NCC has given itself the power to annually decide what it is going to annually allocate to USPF. Looking at the documents presented, administrative expenses rose from N19 million to N127 million. The expenditure on staff rose exponentially.
“Let me say that it is important for the NCC to let us know the premise on which you annually determine allocation to the USPF or otherwise and what annual allocation they have proposed and implemented from inception till date.
“We need to know what the funds have been used for. For instance the e-library alone, you spent over N2billion on e-library. How functional is the library based on the amount that have been allocated to them when a lot more should have been allocated in my opinion to the deployment of Base Transceiver Stations to have more coverage across the country.”
What we have done is to bring telecom services to people living in rural, unserved and underserved areas of this country, totalling 37 million people courtesy of the consultancy that was conducted in 2013.
Responding, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof Umar Garba Danbatta, noted that the USPF regulations stipulated that the Commission would determine the contributions from time to time.
He said: “What we have done is to bring telecom services to people living in rural, unserved and underserved areas of this country, totalling 37 million people courtesy of the consultancy that was conducted in 2013.
“By 2019 we had succeeded in reducing the clusters of access gaps to a 114 through the deployment of the necessary infrastructure needed to bring services to people living in rural, unserved and underserved areas of the country. This deployment of infrastructure are the base transceiver stations.
“I am going to give information about the base transceiver stations we have so far. This resulted in the reduction of Nigerians in those clusters from 37 million to 31 million in 2019. By 2022 we had reduced the clusters of access gaps to 97 from 207 in 2013, according to Sustainable Economy.
“The number of Nigerians again have come down from 37 million in 2013 to 27 million as we speak. How did we achieve this? We achieved this by deploying from 2009 to 2011 a total of 79 base transceiver stations. In 2013 to 2018, we deployed an additional 124 base transceiver stations.
“From 2019 to 2022 we deployed a total of 364 base transceiver stations. The total number of base transceiver stations we have deployed to date is 567 as we speak. This is a landmark”.
He argued that one way to ensure adequate coverage was to declare a state of emergency that would lead to the bridging of all these clusters of access gaps in the country.
The Committee through a motion asked NCC to provide the specific addresses and project description and specifications for each of the contracts that were awarded and listed in the 91-page document submitted.
The Committee also summoned the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, the Accountant General of the Federation, the Auditor General as well Chief Executive Officers of telecommunication companies to appear before it today alongside the NCC over the matter.