The Nigerian Communications Commission: Time to Wake Up

Last year there was an almighty battle between the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and MTN over whether MTN met its obligations of ensuring that every user of MTN was captured biometrically. The NCC imposed huge fine of several billions of naira for the failure of MTN. I am not a fan of MTN but there was no doubt that the fine was excessive and deliberately too punitive. One had the impression that what we were seeing was the expression of a fight somewhere else. The question is, if NCC can impose these massive fines – who then can impose a fine on NCC for dereliction of duty?

The network providers continually charge its subscribers for calls they do not make, for services they have not asked for and so on. These practices are carried out with the full knowledge of the NCC but not a whimper comes from the regulatory body.

When I was overseas and the record companies wanted to sell their records they adopted the questionable tactics of sending you one supposedly free record and a further three records for which a bill will be sent to you later on the dubious claim that you were a member of a Record Club. But the practice put an onus on you to return the records, including the free one if you did not want to join the Record Club. If you did not return the records, you received three records weekly, and before you knew it, you were owing several hundreds of pounds. If you did not pay, the Record Club would report you to some financial house which has the ability to obliterate your credit worthiness. If you have lived overseas you know that you cannot live there with a bad credit record.

The GSM service providers have an arsenal of goods or products they sell to their clients who if they do not send text to a certain number to refuse the product, the hapless customer is obligated to pay. A customer is told that he is now a member of a love letter SMS system but if he does not want to be, he/she should send an SMS (for which he is charged) to decline the offer otherwise his account is debited at N50 monthly. This scam is repeated for ring tones and a host of other offers. What is NCC doing about this?

Another scam is when a call is answered by the service provider’s synthetic computerised voice that the number you were calling is engaged in another call or if you wished to leave a voice message for the person you have called. I would not waste your time by detailing several other scams – football results, Naija news, etc. offering services you have not asked for but insisting you send anSMS to decline the offer.

The principle that stopped the scam in Britain was simple and should be applied here: if a record club sent records to you without you asking them to do so, then you were not obliged either to pay or even return the records. Similarly, if a GSM operator makes an offer to you, he should not put an obligation on the customer to accept or reject the offer. He definitely has no right to charge you if you do not respond. The NCC should do something about this.

GSM operators charge exorbitantly for overseas calls. The truth of the matter is that all calls go through the satellite and costs pretty much the same. It does not cost more to phone Accra than for you to phone Lekki from Tinubu Square. This matter was taken up in Europe and soon all calls in Europe were charged at the same rate; definitely not the exorbitant roaming rates which the GSM suppliers in Nigeria charge both to the caller and the person receiving the call. In fact, some of the GSM providers in Nigeria now canvass a lower rate to draw customers away from their competitors. The same rules should apply for SMS between Nigeria and overseas. What is the NCC doing about this?

Bisi was speaking on her phone at Alagomeji bus stop when someone snatched her phone and ran away. Vivian was at Balogun market when someone snatched her purse with her phone in it. These stories are repeated over a hundred times every day in Lagos. The stolen phones are sold to other Nigerians or to Ghanaians. In Europe, phone thefts have decreased by 95 per cent because they have put in place systems whereby a stolen phone cannot be used in Europe.

A cellphone has a PUK, which a long time ago, was once a deterrent. It is no longer so because it is so easy now to unlock a phone’s PUK and someone else could use it. It is true that if you report the phone as stolen, that number could be blocked by the GSM provider since there is a biometric verification of the owner of the SIM card. But technology has gone much further than that. All smartphones have an anti-theft device. But this feature only works if the GSM provider has a corresponding anti-theft capacity on its platform. I would have thought that the NCC would by now have encouraged the system providers to have this capacity. You cannot use a stolen iPhone when its owner has triggered off the anti-theft feature in the phone. If you try to use the stolen iPhone, after navigating successfully the phone ID and password, you will see a message telling you that the phone has been stolen and cannot be used. A similar system exists for all phones but they have to be activated by the GSM providers.

Another benefit for doing this is that Nigeria which is now the dumping ground for phones stolen in Europe would no longer be so. The point really is not that phone thefts can be eradicated totally. It is that NCC must put in place a continuous policy to make it difficult and unprofitable for phones to be stolen and sold in Nigeria. Now GSM providers overseas are forced to stop their system being used for many criminal activities. My phone for example, tells me that certain numbers or SMS have been reported as possible scams by so many thousand subscribers.

There are other crooks who use the GSM to scam others. You may, for example, receive an SMS to say that your BVN had been rejected by the CBN. You should call a certain number for verification. The GSM providers must have a duty to stop their system being used for criminal activity. There is a technology to detect this also.


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