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Reps query NCC over multi-billion naira USPF project

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The House of Representatives on Monday queried the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) over 1014 projects under the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), inducing an e-library project that was carried out to the tune of over N2 billion.

The House kicked at a request by the Commission for N700 billion to ensure that 27 million Nigerians who do not currently have access to telecommunication get coverage.

This was as the Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Prof Umar Garba Danbatta, appeared before the House Ad-hoc Committee investigating the failure and inability of the Commission to promote widespread availability mobile telecommunication network service throughout Nigeria as well as accruals and utilization of funds in the USFP, during its inaugural hearing on Monday.

Prof Danbatta, along with other officials of the Commission, as well as representatives of telecommunication companies.

The Committee headed by Hon Bamidele Salam pointed out that there was no specific description of what was done in the contracts and they were counched in a manner that they would be hard to track.

It noted that 80 percent of the projects had no specific location.

The Committee therefore directed that the NCC should provide the specific addresses and project description and specifications for each of the contracts that were awarded and listed in the 91-page document it submitted by 2pm on Tuesday, may 9, 2023.

The Committee noted that most of the contractors also had no addresses specified on the document.

The lawmakers also queried the Commission for unilaterally deciding how much money goes to the USPF.

According to the Chairman of the Committee, “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 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.”

The Committee also summoned the Minister of Telemcomions and Digital Economy, the Accountant General of the Federation, the Auditor General as well Chief Executive Officers of telecommunication companies over the issue.

They were summoned to appear before the Committee alongside the NCC on Wednesday, May 10, 2023, when the hearing would resume.

A member of the Committee queried the NCC, “You mentioned that of the 2.5 percent that comes to NCC you determine that one percent should go to USPF. But looking at what you provided here for 2022 for instance it says N9.8 billion came to the fund. But what came to the NCC was N65 billion and if 2.5 percent is 65 billion then you should have about 26 billion as one percent. What comes USPF is far below one percent. Why is that so?”

Danbatta replied that the USPF regulations stipulated that the Commission would determine the contributions from time to time.

But the lawmakers argued that a regulation made by the NCC cannot supersede its enabling Act.

A 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 allocate 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 2 billion 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.”

Another lawmaker queried why in 2015 despite the staff strength reducing from48 to 45 there was an almost 100 percent increase from N434 million to N824 million.

Earlier Prof Danbatta said in 2013 there was a consultancy driven by the NCC to identify clusters of access gaps in the country.

He said 207 clusters of access gaps according to that study and in these clusters of access gaps there were about 37 million Nigerians.

He said since then through the Commission’s efforts the number of people without access had been reduced to 27 million.

According to him,“What we have done 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.

“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.

“But when you look at the gap. The 97 clusters of access gaps with a total population of 27 million Nigerians still without access as we speak. This is also not desirable. It is not something that we can allow to continue. That is why in our presentation we have indicated additional things we have done to be able to bridge these gaps. And giving an analysis of the amount of money that would be required to completely bridge the 97 clusters of access gaps in the country.

“Arising from the deterioration of the exchange rate of the naira to the dollar, we have a figure of approximately N700 billion. It is the total amount required to completely bridge the gaps within the clusters that I have stated earlier. This is not a tall order. It can be done.

According to him, a 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.

However a member of the committee responded, “We should be wary of being misled. We should stick to the core issue. The primary purpose is to investigate funds that have accrued to you and how you have used it and why targets have not been met. I don’t think the first thing is for you to start telling us you need more money. We are here to investigate the money you have received and the judicious use of that money.”


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