By Etuka Sunday
Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari yesterday urged African Telecommunications Regulators to protect Consumers against the rising e-fraud activities in the continent.
Buhari made the call while declaring open the 2nd Edition of the Conference of African Telecommunications Regulators on Consumers Affairs (CATCO) 2019 in Abuja, Nigeria.
CATCO 2019 was organised by Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for telecoms regulatory bodies across the length and breadth of Africa to exchange ideas and compare notes on how best to improve telecoms services experience for the consumer.
The first edition of the programme was held in October 17-18 2013 in Lagos, where for the first time, telecom regulators from some African countries including Nigeria, came together to discuss issues on how to harness regulatory policies to protect telecom consumers in Africa.
Represented by the Director, Chief of Staff of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Polycarp Shambo, President Buhari said, “globally, technological evolution has facilitated innovations in various sectors of the economy such as banking, agriculture, healthcare, commerce, entertainment, transport, and so on, bringing a lot of efficiency in service delivery as we are witnessing in Nigeria.
“However, these channels may also be hijacked and manipulated to the detriment of vulnerable consumers as can be demonstrated by rise in e-fraud activities and cybercrimes.
“It is in this light that I wish to charge telecoms regulators in Africa that, as you focus on deepening access to digital services in your respective countries, attention must also be paid to how consumers are empowered to be protected from the antics of abusers of these technologies.
“This, therefore, underscores the relevance of this forum in our digital ecosystem,” he said.
Buhari said, “the contribution of telecoms to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) now stands at over 10 per cent by the first quarter of this year. We want to see telecoms industry playing even bigger role as an enabler of economic growth and development not only in Nigeria but also across Africa.
“The need for every country to keep herself abreast of the fast paced technological evolution from the first, second, third, fourth and the fifth generation of technologies cannot be overemphasised.
“Today, we now talk of Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Cloud Computing, Blockchain, Smart Cities and various smart technological renovations, all of Which are targeted at certain group of consumers of digital services, Whether individual or corporate entities.
“As regulators of one of the dynamic sectors of the economy in Africa, therefore, telecoms regulatory agencies should be concerned about the effects of this technological changes on the consumers,” he said.
He said, in Nigeria, the focus of the Federal Government has been to leverage ICT as baseline for economic growth and development in every sector of the economy.
“In this direction, Nigeria is already tackling challenges associated with broadband deployment in order to boost accessibility, availability and affordability of digital services across the nooks and crannies of the country.
“Through the regulators, the Federal Government is working tirelessly to address challenges associated with Right of Way issue, multiple taxation and regulations, vandalism of telecoms infrastructure among others.
“We are also ensuring that Nigeria continues to attract Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) into its digital space through creating the enabling environment for businesses to thrive,” he said.
Earlier, in a Keynote Address, the Executive Vice Chairman, NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, said, the CATCO 2019 provided another veritable platform for regulators to discuss the technological evolution that has characterised the telecommunications space in the last six years.
“It will also help us to reach concrete resolutions on how we, as regulators, can better empower the ever-growing consumers of telecoms/Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools and services in the light of the technological advancement in the industry.
“Indeed, today’s event is considered a bridge builder, as we hope to continue to host this amongst ourselves annually as telecom regulators of the African continent,” he added.
Danbatta said, the NCC has gone further to introduce two major initiatives as part of measures to empower the consumers.
“These are the Do-Not-Disturb (DND) 2442 Short Code, which the consumers can use to control what they receive on their phones as unsolicited text messages or calls.
“With the DND, consumers have the power to stop all unsolicited messages on their mobile devices or choose specific messages they would like to be getting from service providers.
“I am happy to inform you that, more than 21 million subscribers have signed up for the DND as we continue to create more awareness on it through our various outreach programmes and other stakeholder engagement fora.
“The second initiative in this direction is the NCC 622 Toll-Free Line set up specifically to ensure improvement in service delivery.
“Consumers can call the 622 number to escalate their unresolved complaints by their service providers for effective resolution through the Commission’s intervention.
“Hundreds of ‘complaints’ calls are received and successfully handled to the delight of the consumers on weekly basis.
“Total Complaints received from January 2015 till July 2019 is 276,103 (Two Hundred and Seventy One Thousand, One Hundred and Twelve, with 95% of these Complaints having been successfully resolved,” he said.