Is The New Pension Act Inimical to Labour Welfare?

Stanbic IBTC pension - my PFA

Stanbic IBTC pension – my PFA

The Nigerian President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, signed the new pension reform act 2014 into law on 1st July 2014. The new Act of course repealed the previous Act of 2004, on which the current obligatory contributory pension scheme was built. However, aside the harm of possible fraud and embezzlement of the fund (on which we had once asked “Is My Pension Really Safe?“), it is our thought that the new Act as it stands is inimical to the interests of the labor it purports to protect.

It should be appreciated, ab-initio, that pension contributions from the employers is a cost many firms would not want to incur, they would rather such monies remain part of their working capital . As such, one would want to believe that the government would rather be interested in measures to not only coax employers not yet in the pension scheme to sign up but also massage the employers already in the net to continue without hurting the economics of either the firm or the staff. To appreciate it further, the federal government noted that only 2.4 million out of over 60 million of working age currently contribute to the pension scheme, and that means less than 5% of working Nigerians are covered leaving 95% grossly exposed to issues later in life. It is therefore disturbing that instead of attempting nice means of including the potential exposed employees, rather we just signed something that may start excluding many from the scheme. Or what happens should the employers rationalize staff strength to maintain the existing pay-outs?

It has always been that employers foot drag in reviewing staff welfare because of the automatic consequence of increase in pension cost to be remitted to PFAs – and that’s with the 7.5% contributions of the previous regime. In the new act (download a copy here), the new minimum monthly contribution has been reviewed to 18% with the employees’ contribution getting upgraded to 8% while that of the employers move on to 10% – and that’s 2.5% more than “normal”. Do you know many employers that would joyfully go around hugging the staff while announcing this important ‘life changing reform’? While many employees may be singing praise hymns for having additional 3% to their previous contributions, they should know this would definitely be at some cost.

Another feature in the new act with respect to the scheme is the basis of contributions. Now, it is going to be based on “monthly emoluments”. Though vague as used in the Act, the term could mean all items that are paid on a monthly basis, in addition to the usual aggregation of the basic salary, housing and transportation allowances. That means the employers will pay more, even if it were still on 7.5% contribution, without any raise in the employees’ monthly package. Worse still, is the fact that employees’ net pay will reduce taking away some bragging rights over their disposable income. The usual mantra was that ‘my take home pay, cannot take me home’; now the ‘take home pay’ would not even leave the office. Did they really think this reform through?

Little wonder employers have been utilizing several means to escape the “extortionist” laws by rather recruiting on casual basis (not minding labour unions picketing); or recruiting foreigners – regardless of their skill levels – on whom no pension is paid, and from whom the nation unduly suffer owing to regular capital flight; or outsource job functions to either some local businesses or foreign firms, who barely pay their Nigerian workers anyway – all in a bid to protect the bottom line. As far as the employers are concerned, “why should we care so much for these sulking staff anyway”?

Who then will benefit from the new Act? Maybe the PFAs; at least there will be in the short term some swell in the contributions to the scheme giving them some chance to grow the existing pension assets which was at N4.21 trillion as at March 2014. And maybe the fraudsters; who now have more to loot from – and that is believing that the usual wrist slapping treatment will continue when they get caught. And who else? In our opinion, definitely not employees whose interests were meant to be protected. There is therefore obviously a need to review the just signed Act, and amend for all these raised issues if the employees’ welfare is actually of concern to the government.

Share your thoughts on the impacts of the pension reform act by dropping your comments below

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Reintroduction of ATM charges: Good, not good enough!

ATM_UsageFor many, it was horrific waking up to hear the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announcing the reintroduction of third-party access charges of N65 per transaction for ATM usage. For them, it is the resurgence of capitalistic tendencies spearheaded by the new governor to the detriment of the masses; it is an attempt to ‘salamize’ their accounts thereby taking water from their bowls and pouring into the oceans of the banks, yet again.

It is true that some countries like India, had the policy of free access fee on all ATM terminals; however upon realization of the effects on the industry, they are all considering a review of the policy akin to what the Nigerian apex bank just did. In all objective sense, the policy of the removal of the third-party charge has been defective ab-initio. The issuing banks, which are required to operate, maintain and supply the ATMs with cash (all at some cost); are probably expected to cover such cost with some gains from other transactions. Where is the economic sense in that? What is known to all is that enterprises set up strategic business units (SBUs) for positive contribution to the bottom line, and naturally, under-performing or moribund units are either unfunded or closed down. How come we were expecting the banks to be really dutiful on ‘unyielding’ ATM operations. More like the inter-connectivity charges regime between telecoms operators; customers should not be despondent about paying a premium for enjoying some third-party service/access via their primary provider.

The CBN had said it took the decision of the reintroduction as a result of unintended consequences of the previous policy on banks; it should be noted that the policy hit the customers too, and real hard.  While small or regional banks “gained” by acquiring more customers with the promise of withdrawing anywhere without charge, others were wriggling and shivering under the effect of the policy: For many banks, there is the concern of undue depletion of the ATM cassettes by the third party customers at the detriment of their own primary customers; the burden of operating, maintaining and supplying cash for “strangers” without real incentives; and the concern of issuing banks paying for an expense for which there is no economic benefit.

For customers though, the chief issue has always been the oft alleged service gapping from banks. Some banks have been reputed to ‘de-cash’ those ATMs on which third-party customers often withdraw, apparently due to the points about banks above, and the possibility of the supposed charges received from the issuing banks not really covering the cost of service. Thus, more like the often used call gapping service in the telecom industry where a Provider A decides to limit the amount of calls flowing to Provider B for whatever reason -resource management, competition de-marketing, billing management etc; many banks do cash gap their ATMs, hence denying people the much economic benefit at their point of need.

It is our opinion however that the reintroduction of the fees is more than necessary and justified, but that the CBN could have even allowed some N3 for the issuing banks to compensate for the back end database running cost, or maybe requesting the switch to share the issuing bank from its own share of the N65, then it becomes win-win-win. Also, the fourth time charging could still be viewed by many banks as being too much – since many customers can arrange their withdrawals on weekly basis -the CBN could have opted for third time charging just like the Indian counterpart is planning.

For customers interested in avoiding the fees anyway, there is always the option of staying with one’s bank ATMs, use of cards for normal payments (POS), internet banking and of course, proper planning on withdrawal of three time from “other’s” ATMs.

Please share your view on the ATM fees reintroduction.

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Why Even Debate Child Marriage



The power of the social media – as a mobilizing platform – came to fore yet again in Nigeria after the penultimate Tuesday’s plenary session of the Senate. Much like it was used around the Middle East during the Arab spring protests and in Nigeria during the fuel subsidy removal protests of January 2012; sentiments were raised, names were called, petition signing was requested, and I even thought there would be a call to march unto the National Assembly, though there wasn’t any. But really, Nigerians, especially the youth, have the right and are supposed to be alarmed as to the import of an item raised on the floor of the senate – essentially on Citizenship Renunciation as described under Section 29 of the constitution – where a married woman is deemed of full age.

The brouhaha got louder particularly because it was the lone voice of Sani Yerima invoking a point of order to force a new vote on the restoration of the said sub-section into the constitution. Yerima, the erstwhile Sharia champion and governor of Zamfara State, had taken a 13 year old Egyptian girl into matrimony a couple of years back to the bewilderment of most Nigerians. A 13 year old? Has she really been weaned? It was for that spirit few people was willing to really review the issue at stake but, rightly so, the import…..a child bride is legally seen to be of full age.

However, of some interest was the religious backing the Yerima group were latching on, and the derisive review of the faith by the other camp….How on earth will a “revealed” religion allow pedophilia? It’s rather a cult of perverts……and bombers! Yerima & Co are actually lining up behind the fact that Muhammad (the Prophet of Islam) got married to Aisha at the age of nine……..and as such, it becomes permissible and possibly desired.

The issue really swung some apologetics and revisionists into action. Many came up with revised ages for Aisha claiming she was actually older than was reported at the time – 17, 18 or 21 were touted – while some even labeled her an outright liar for misrepresenting herself as noted in various books of Hadiths. To these people, we would say “Relax guys! You don’t need to get unduly agitated. We know you love the Prophet; but don’t attempt to rewrite the history lest even the Revelation becomes doubtful.”

In reality, the Prophet lived in an era (1,400+ years ago) where marrying a pubescent girl was normal and part of the lifestyles of the people. In fact, being within and around heathens, Jews and Christians; he was never rebuked or ridiculed on the basis of his marriage to Aisha, and that’s because it was not an alien nor an abhorrent norm to them. Betrothals and marriages of children and pubescent was widely common throughout the world in the middle ages, and the concept of “child marriage” actually lingered through centuries and civilizations – Europe, Africa and Americas – till recently when its abhorrence can not be ignored due to the attendant negative effects.

And it’s on the bases of these negative effects that all well meaning humans, irrespective of creed, ought to converge and struggle to disallow the ChildBride notion and practice. The world is not making up the issue of prevalent obstetric fistula (a.k.a VVF) ravaging the northern part of the country and many parts of the middle east – or how else discomforting for the girl and the family will the issue of incontinence be? -, nor is it making up the mental disorientation, low self esteem and livid anger in the girls having fallen victim to some men who prefer ejaculations to education. The world is not making up the fact that such girls get no education in this age and time thus becoming hopeless dependents, nor is it making up the fact that there is increased poverty and diseases within the ranks of such girls who are often abandoned by the “husband” who has already ported to another girl or woman. (Check Effects of Child Marriage here)

It becomes more disconcerting however, when you hear or read some hard nuts arguing that in conformity with the tenets of Islam, age was not part of the conditions which must be met before marriage can be solemnised. Well, there may not be a pronouncement of an exact figure, but there is a mention of a period which is definitely not infancy! In the verses revealed to exhort guardians in the treatment of orphans and their (orphans’) properties, this verse stood out:

“And test the orphans [in their abilities] until they reach marriageable age. Then if you perceive in them sound judgement, release their property to them. And do not consume it excessively and quickly, [anticipating] that they will grow up. And whoever, [when acting as guardian], is self-sufficient should refrain [from taking a fee]; and whoever is poor – let him take according to what is acceptable. Then when you release their property to them, bring witnesses upon them. And sufficient is Allah as Accountant.” Quran 4: 6

If one is exhorted to test the intelligence of the orphan in one’s care till s/he reaches marriageable age – an age or period widely acknowledged by the community – and confirm her/his supposed ability in dealing with emotional and economic issues, how much more one’s biological child.  You would ask: “Why then should one seek or offer in marriage a girl still in her diapers?”

More comforting however is that we have seen the age of consent for sexual activities (and by extension marriage) being set in different countries of the world and even reviewed by many perhaps due to socio-economic and health reasons. We have seen age of consent in Spain as 13, Portugal as 14, Japan as 13, England as 16 (12 as at 1275 AD), Canada as 16 (14 prior to 2008, and 12 prior to 1890), Turkey as 18, Vatican State as 12, Malaysia as 15, Kuwait as 15, Norway as 16 (onset of first menstruation in the Viking age, 20 during the Reformation, 16 during the ’60s). The age setting and the possible reviews suggest responsible governments’ readiness to face head long the ills of child marriage regardless of customs or traditions.

There is therefore no need to engage in any debate as to the allowance or perpetuating the ChildBride concept in a region like ours which is ravaged with poverty (of the pocket and the mind) and diseases. It is abhorrent, and against the spirit of personal and community development. Nigerians, and the Nigerian government, should hence not be cowed by self-serving voices in demanding and promulgating what is right for the Nigerian child, particularly the girl.

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Alas! The Berlin Wall Still Stands

Fall of Berlin Wall

Fall of Berlin Wall

It was beamed to the screens on the 9th day of November, 1989 as the almighty Berlin Wall was being chipped down by countless people who felt free to be part of the ‘real’ world. The wall, built in August of 1961, the physical separation of the Germany into East and West, but the somewhat logical separation of the world into being communist or capitalist. More importantly, the Berlin Wall symbolized the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States (and its allies).

It is true that there was no real shot of fire nor any drop of A-bomb by either side during the Cold War, but the world nonetheless felt the shockwaves of moves and inactions of the two superpowers. As each campaigned the world over for the establishment of its ideals of economy and politics across nations; it happened that virtually all the existing countries then chose either of communism or capitalism; or aptly put, chose to be on the either side of the Wall.

The “war” would be credited with both the arms and space race though. We saw the Soviet Union ensuring it detonated its own A-bomb in 1949 (4 years after America’s; show of might maybe). We saw the formation of NATO on the Allies side and the Warsaw Pact on the  Union’s. There was the Soviet’s Sputnik in 1957 and the America’s creation of NASA in 1958 leading to Apollo11 years and other space triumphs. In retrospect, it would not really be an overstatement to say the world actually benefited from the war considering the gains of the technologies emerging from the crisis.

The hardest and most bitterly fought confrontation between the Soviet Union and the western democracies during the 50 years of the Cold War, however, was on the espionage front…..The aim of each was to steal the secrets of the other side, to try to peer inside the mind of the enemy, to fathom his intentions, and to neutralize them before they could be executed. The soldiers in this war were the spymasters, the spies and their agents, all of whom operated in a world of shadows where deception and betrayal flourished. (BBC)

Even though not many countries currently proclaim communism as the de facto system of government, yet it is very easy to realize that not much has really changed in the relations of the warring countries post 1989. We have all seen series of vetoes of interest at the floor of the United Nations Security Council by Russia, China and United States, with Sino-Russia most often on the same side. We have also seen spies being caught or accused of espionage by either side…….. and then came the proliferation of super high information technology solutions, and the cyber war began.

With Edward Snowden’s leaking of US classified information including the revelation that America has been intruding into many Chinese government computers (though China may not be too clean of the inverse allegation too); and the refusal of the “other side’s governments” to play along with the States in detaining and extraditing him, it’s easy to say that the competition is still on.

Ironically, the preaching from the business schools and writers is that enterprises and governments are already doing away with competition and accepting the ethos of cooperation instead. Really we have seen the effects of the “supposed” cooperation in trade, with China allowed into the World Trade Organisation (WTO), prices of commodities  gone down owing to the abundant cheap labour available in China. This freed up the Western brains for research and development, and the production goes to China again, and the cycle continues. We have also seen more of China in Africa, with China’s investment rising from only $9bn as at 2000 to $200bn in 2012 – well, maybe it’s a segment of a new war that Africa is benefiting though. We have also seen astronauts from Canada, America and China in the same shuttle orbiting the skies and bringing down information that might benefit us all.

However, the naked truth as being evidenced in the ongoing Snowden’s saga revealed more of ensuing competition than cooperation. More of espionage activities than sharing, and more of betrayal than friendship. Look long enough at that long wall reportedly being demolished in 1989 and you will agree with me that the Berlin Wall still stands.

Share your thoughts on the ongoing frosty relations among the Cold War players by dropping your comments below.

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Snowden Effect: Would Nigerians mind such intrusions?

The Whisteblower - Ed Snowden

The Whisteblower – Ed Snowden

It used to be Julian Assange that’s heralded as the world’s chief whistleblower, bringing tothe public emails and cables of governments with respect to diplomatic deals and inactions through Wikileaks. But the emergence of Edward Snowden (the former US NSA contractor), “exposing” the covert operations of the National Security Agency (NSA) with respect to deep surveillance/eavesdropping on the different communications – telephone conversations and emails – of the US citizens, and other inter-continental cyber espionage may modify the view on Assange. Much like Julian, Ed’s actions have either be seen by many as heroic, and worthy of emulation or as treacherous bringing to ridicule and disrepute the same government that has been feeding him just because he’s having a psychological complex of feeling..”all spying is wrong”. The outrage against him is more because of his revelations concerning spying and hacking on/of foreign governments, particularly China, than the telephone tappings, on US citizens, expected to be in conjunction with Verizon or any other operator.

Invasion of privacy and confidentiality concerns in communications are the main reason why many are seeing him as a hero though. Lots are those who feel technologically abused by the government’s access to their personal conversations and deals. These are the people who always feel naked whenever they pick up their phone receivers or about to compose an email. But rightfully so anyway, everyone should have the right to his privacy in as much as what is being conceived, planned or discussed will not affect the public good. Till it becomes commonplace to deploy Tom Cruise featured Minority Reports‘ PreCrime systems to combat evil as it is being planned though, the government may have to use what it has to protect the society. Aside the possibility of abuse of the surveillance system by the government officials – the coordinator of PreCrime actually abused the system in that movie – such programs can go a long way to keep human lives and properties very safe.

Now, going by the recent terrorist activities in Nigeria – Boko Haram bombing and maiming in the North, MEND, and kidnappers in the South East and South South and ritualists and robbers in the South West – and noting the rise of corruption nationwide aided by various technological means; such intrusions should rather be campaigned for. It is true that the Nigerian government is trying to use satellite technology to undertake surveillance of the national borders to curb smuggling and circulation of small arms, but this will not attend to the real issue of prevention of terrorism and corruption in government corridors.

The Snowden Effect – the act of the government massively collecting information relating to telephone conversations and emails of individuals and corporate bodies with the motive of safeguarding the citizens and the national infrastructure from the vicious motive and actions of some disgruntled individuals or groups – is, in my opinion, required to combat the serious scourge of violent elements ravaging the country.

For once, the Jonathan government was trying to do something highly commendable by planning to commence a $40m internet surveillance programme which should assist in curbing internet frauds and the like, but outsourcing such a sensitive task to a foreign company (to be probably administered from a foreign country, Israel) caused serious hullaballoo within the populace. The National Assembly had to suspend the contract to quell public outcry. It is however a nice intention that should be localised and supported. It is high time we felt safe within our shores.

There is need for greater and respectful collaboration with the telecom service operators in getting access to information for this intelligence stuff, and the readiness of the government to underwrite possible losses the operators might incur while being suspected of assisting the government. It is on record that virtually all operators lost numerous base stations and other infrastructure in Northern Nigeria last year when they were being assumed to be assisting the national security adviser’s office in identifying locations of terrorists.

If the government is responsibly executing such intrusions as raised by Ed Snowden – I’m not really campaigning for the part of foreign espionage anyway – nipping evil acts at conception thereby satisfying their sworn duty of security, I think Nigerians would not mind.

Share your thoughts on the government invasion of privacy by listening to telephone conversations and emails by dropping your comments below.

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Multiple Levies on Telecoms Operators……Killing The Goose

telecoms_mastWhen the telecommunications sector in Nigeria got fully deregulated in 2001, many were more fixated on the social benefits – all Nigerians are now at liberty to carry mobile phone(s). Not many is really bothered about the real economic contribution of the industry, and the need to not only nurture but support motions to ensure adequate pervasiveness of the service. Rather they see another quasi-oil setup to be tethered and milked dry. This is true of many local government, state government,some federal agencies, and even hosting communities. There’s surely a genuine need to campaign against this wicked milking and extortion.

For the record, the telecoms industry in Nigeria has been one of the major drivers of the economy for the past 10 years. The industry is currently contributing about 7% of the nation’s GDP, with a year-on-year growth of over 30% since 2001. No other sector of the economy aside Agriculture (which is heavily subsidized anyway) can boast of such contribution, not even Petroleum and Natural Gas. Is this alone not enough reason to protect the industry from those elements bent on turning it anorexic?

We have seen Delta State government demanding over N276m as Ecological tarriff, Anambra asking for N500,000 per cell site as Environmental Impact Assessment fees, Abia State demanding N19m as Infrastructural development levy, Oyo State asking for N400,000 per site as Environmental Development Levy, Abuja adamant on N257m annual charge for operations within the capital, Department of Petroleum Resources(DPR) must get storage licence fees. Even NCC is charging operating levy of 2.5% on operators’ gross revenue!

While government agencies are milking the operators of their earned revenue, hosting communities are also ironically turning the companies into their state governments:

“You are making humongous money here, as such you must tar our roads and build our bridges”.

“You are supposed to contribute to the community, so you should roof our children’s school”.

“If you cannot sink some boreholes here, or give us electricity, then come and pack your equipment”.

Let me be clear. It’s true companies are expected to extend to the communities some corporate social benefits, but this should not be deemed an obligation especially when the company is not degrading the environment. If degradation is involved, I will be the first to champion the cause of the affected for compensation. The government that collects taxes is there, it should be accountable and responsible with no abdication nor transfer of duties.

It should be noted that these telecoms operators pay the statutory company income tax, value added tax, and import duties on equipment from which all these arm of government normally share. Must they now pay again for governments’ horticultural tendencies?

It is more interesting when you realize that all matters relating to post, telegraph and telephones are on Item 46 of the Exclusive Legislative list of the 1999 Constitution. Consequently, any issue relating to the three should be outside the jurisdiction of any state or local government authority. That suggests that all the so called levies may actually be illegal.

All the same, it should be noted that the “flower monies” as such may not really affect the operators, but the Nigerian  economy. Companies, annually, traditionally project their earnings, expenditure and net profit; as such any extraneous item (especially unnecessary ones) distort the financial arrangement. Will they let it go like that? For your information, they usually get round this and your taxman and you (as per your service experience) will be the worse for it:

  1. Reduction in the effective tax: Since lots of money has been illegally extorted, and of course allowable for tax purpose, the real tax getting to the normal government’s coffer gets reduced. The real contribution of the industry to the economy is thus stymied and blurred by the agents of “milking”.
  2. Off Cash-Book Deals: In order to escape the real effect of the extortion and thus meeting their “strategic goal”, the companies may create another ‘evil’, and that’s to engage in deals where revenues are not captured in the books. This is much possible in the case of charging companies gross revenue. The uncaptured revenue (black money) is then deployed as they wish with no tax, and maybe without any effect on the economy ever.
  3. Capital Flight: This is very related to the black money earlier discussed. Uncaptured monies in the range of billions may be taken out of the economy to wherever, in order to continue enjoying the no-tax status. You can imagine the effect of that on the economy, when additional investments could have been established here at home, but because of road side flowers, the monies find their way into some other economy oiling  it further.
  4. Poor Quality of Service: With the price wars raging and coupled with the regulatory stances at some points, their is already a huge pressure on the revenue of the operators as the average revenue per user (ARPU) continue to dwindle. Additional expenses, illegal as they are, may put the quality control efforts of the operators into jeopardy. They require money to buy equipment and to pay staff who are to ensure all works well, yet some agencies continue dipping their hands into the operators’ purses. The resultant effect will be sub-optimal quality of service. It therefore means the agencies activities eventually affect each one of us. No wonder I was having difficulty reaching my friend’s mobile when he’s even right beside me.

The time has come for us to blow the trumpet of reason for the relevant authorities to start calling these state and local governments to order in their indiscriminate levies and eventual lock-ups. The levies are not adding value to the masses, aren’t they eventually looted? Telecoms is the one laying the national golden egg currently, they should not kill our goose.

Add your voice to the call for the halt of illegal levies on the telecoms operators by dropping your comments below.

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Will The Number Portability Flop in Nigeria?

number_portabilityWith the eventual launch of the long awaited mobile number portability in the Nigerian telecomspace on 22nd April, not few people believe this is the time for the Nigerian mobile phone users to exact their own pound of flesh from the mobile network operators(MNOs) by taking their businesses elsewhere yet retaining the original numbers. Though, it’s true that the industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had earlier embarked on nationwide awareness programme of the portability scheme, but the video advert released by the market leader, MTN, of the popular Saka porting to the Y’ello network might be more descriptive and attractive.

As the sound of the launching drums and the guitars started to fade anyway, porting requests started rolling in (You can actually check here if that number is ported) and the reality dawned on all the stakeholders. One of the goal of the scheme is to deepen competition among MNOs, and surely we shall soon see products, services and practices designed to tie subscribers more to their current network. (Read “Winning The Mobile Number Portability War“). All of a sudden, I started to wonder whether this service will succeed or flop. Even though the NCC is believed to have dotted all the i’s with respect to preparation, implementation and testing; we will soon see whether all the t’s are crossed.

How do we measure the scheme’s success then?

Assessing a couple of countries where the service have been launched, we may be able to project the success of the scheme here going by the correlation of the concerned factors. It is noteworthy that the annual porting rate in many economies, especially those prepaid based like Nigeria, ranges between 2.5% and 5% of the active lines. So, Nigeria with about 111 million active mobile lines may be having an average churn of 3.3 million lines. Can we therefore say the number portability flops if the NCC does not record about 3 million porting requests? Or going by the NCC’s objectives, that if the MNOs got driven to adopt robust competition, low tariffs, excellent customer service, above par quality of service, and as such succeed in dissuading the masses from carrying multiple lines; all these regardless of the number of porting requests, then the scheme has succeeded?

It is also worthy of note that it has been observed that in those countries where the technology has been really successful, the porting time has been made very minimal. Where ever the porting process is less than 24 hours, portability has been seen to succeed. NCC has chosen 48 hours (2 days) for the completion of porting process, when in the first month of Ghana’s launch of same MNP, more than 67% of porting requests were completed within 4 hours of initiation. In fact they had a record of one 1 min, 10 seconds—NCC beat that. The psychology is such that people are expected to warm up to a service the quicker it is rendered; take their time and frustrate them in the process and they shun your service. India and Kenya are another countries opting for the 48+ hours of completion; and the service is said to be on the deathbed in the 2 countries, especially Kenya. Therefore, should that 48 hours become the norm rather than the set upper limit, the portability clearing house should kiss their investment “good bye”. Nigerians do not have the patience of going to outlets to fill forms and have to wait another 48 hours to enjoy the service.

Another subtle note is that it has been observed that multiple SIM/phone ownership often debar the success of MNP, and that is an existing phenomenon in Nigeria and Kenya much unlike Ghana. It is true that one of the objectives of NCC is to reduce the concept of multiple SIM ownership, but it may take some statutory measures to achieve that becomes the 90 days lock-in period (after porting – just like in India) is a duration many are not willing to endure. Noting that virtually all the operators sometimes run into glitches thus give no service or sub-optimal service, 90 days may be too much a sacrifice. In fact, many are already terming it unreasonable to have 2 SIMs, using each as situation warrants, and then going ahead to port into the second network for whatever reason and thereby locking themselves up for 3 months.

Finally, if each of the operators should bring forth sets of “out-of-this-world” value added service, much like the mobile money was used in Kenya, churn will be tamed and number portability can actually rest. Little wonder NCC did not really take the CBN up on the issue of mobile money, they “did” not want operators to use it to tie subscribers when the time for MNP comes.

So, it is true that number portability is dragging in India, and on the deathbed in Kenya, flip flopping in Malaysia; but it has been seen to work relatively smoothly and assuredly in Brazil (in spite of the population) and Ghana. That the service will succeed in the Nigerian context therefore, will be seen in the momentum of the uptake by the end of the third month after launch. Whichever way, the operators will necessarily be on their toes and the subscribers will be better for it.

Share your thoughts on the feasibility of the number portability in  Nigeria by dropping your comments below.

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Only If Alams Were Robin Hood

Arising from envy and greed is the cursed seed of corruption. We all read of Cain and Abel, and later of Jacob and Esau…….and other multitude of people satisfied, or rather never satisfied, in enriching themselves with the sweat and rights of others. A cancer spreading throughout the tissues of the Nigerian nation culminating in the Transparency International crowning us the 35th most corrupt nation in the world.

In truth, not many people really believe in the anti-corruption crusades of the recent  governments, but virtually everyone agrees that whoever (no matter highly placed) is tried and convicted of economic crimes by the commission (EFCC) actually has some skeletons in his cupboard. Of course, we all know that there are many not, or never, to be “caught” nor “tried” by virtue of their affiliations and good ball playing. Such is the playing field of Nigeria, and many nations in the continent.

However, for the former Bayelsa state’s governor; Diepreye  Alamieyeseigha; who has been convicted both here and elsewhere, to secure a state’s pardon as recently announced, it signified the final nailing on the anti-corruption efforts of the government. Well, that’s at least in the eyes of the masses whose rights and resources were pillaged, squandered and laundered.

On the other hand, if our looting leaders were Robin Hood-esque in disposing their affairs anyway, the masses could rather have been thrown into huge jubilation with that Alam’s announcement. Robin Hood, that medieval English hero, who was stealing from the rich and the king to feed his “merry men” in the Sherwood Forest of Nottinghamshire was granted state pardon by King Richard after his return from the crusade having confirmed Robin’s loyalty. The whole town was thrown into euphoria not only because of the pardon but the re-absorption of their hero into nobility.

So, instead of that disbelief, disappointment, rage and outcry that greeted the Alams’ announcement, it could have been celebration time if he had been like Hood making the “loot” go round. In an earlier post (Looting African Leaders Are So Foolish), we asked the looting leaders to put smile on our faces and those of our children by investing “their loot” here at home and that the leaders might be forgiven and even praised. The call still holds, and others should take note.

The cycle however continues and it’s now “officially” written in black and white : “It’s a sin to be incorruptible in Nigeria”.

Share your thoughts on the effects of Alams’ pardon by dropping your comments below

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Winning The Mobile Number Portability War

Number_Portability_NigeriaIn the days of the gladiators in the colosseums of the ancient Rome, it is a sin to floor your opponent and not strike him dead to the euphoric noise of the spectators. To the crowd, it’s entertainment; but to the tangling duo or groups in the arena, each appearance is a fight for life. In the more open battles of the old, capturing slaves as spoils of war was the fashion – the more the captives, the more the net worth and influence of the victorious side. The slaves may keep their identities, but any relationship to their land is only in memory unless of course there is a counter attack or a rescue mission. What a crazy world of war!

In the world of commerce however, it has always been a war to outsell competition through  better volume or an outright “hijack” of others’ customers. It’s a dog eats dog world! But to me, it becomes more embarrassing when each time a customer intends to engage in a transaction he must pass by his former dealer, look him in the eye and shouts to the ears of whoever: “I used to be ABC’s customer, now I’m with XYZ”! And that is what mobile number portability – about to come live in the Nigerian telecoms space – is.

Mobile Number portability (MNP) is a service that enables subscribers to switch to another operator (for whatever reason) for telecoms service but still retaining the mobile number he/she is known with. It resembles the roaming service, but here the subscriber has nothing again to do with his erstwhile provider – no customer care contact, no recharges, no real call routing – he’s now “a spoil of war”. Of course, there has always been churn in the industry, but then the discontented subscriber(s) are still counted as part of the subscriber base of the losing vendor; and that is one of the issues Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) wants to reduce – multiple lines ownership. The ultimate objective anyway, is to push the operators to deliver excellent quality of service to their teeming subscribers.

When this concept was introduced to us – the G8 – in a training ten years ago; we contended that it might not likely take off in Nigeria not just because we were concerned of the political will or anti-competition spirit, but because we were looking at the technical implementation from the so called indirect routing perspective – the one once adopted by the UK regulator where calls to a ported subscriber must pass through the donor operator – an expensive and inefficient approach. Over the time, we have come to appreciate the direct routing approach where an independent vendor does the back end job of ported subscribers administration. It’s the approach chosen by the NCC as stated in the Commission’s MNP framework of March 2012. It’s less expensive, more efficient, scalable and should be less fraud prone.

In a market of 109m active lines, with MTN alone having 43% of the market share, Globacom having 22%, Airtel  with 20% and Etisalat taking the remaining 14% as at December 2012 (data from NCC); you can imagine how hard fought the war must be. How do they retain their own subscribers, and of course, get more from others?

  1. Listen more: It now becomes more imperative for operators to give some listening ears to their subscribers in  order for them to appreciate what the customers are contending with as per service. Feedback posts, and the resolve to follow through is now a must. The feedback from subscribers should not be seen as ‘usual’ complaints; when you listen  well, you are likely going to see the gold in the rants.
  2. Communicate more: This is likely the greatest weapon available to each of the operators in the ensuing war. Even though subscribers desire 100% availability and hitch-free quality of service, they know that machines handle the back end transactions of switching and routing and as such are likely to fail anytime. Each system failure will, and should, not drive subscribers across the competition; but that is only when there is honest communication between the operator and the customers. Ignoring the customer base when there are issues show how much value the operator place on them; and of course the subscriber will also like to show how much he values the operator. Ironically, as NCC stipulates, the operator can not lobby the subscriber back once he initiates the porting process, and the customer cannot come back until after 90 days of “enjoying” the other side.
  3. Better customer service strategy: Closely related to the issue of communication is that of customer service. We have seen subscribers churning just because customer service could not explain or justify some 5 kobo deductions on their blackberry service, they felt the arrangement was some salami approach on their credit balance. Would you blame them? Empathy, knowledge of the products and systems, readiness to help, and good manners are what subscribers expect when they dial customer service.
  4. Better value added service (VAS) products: This may endear the subscribers more to their brands and make it a bit difficult to switch even when they have the urge. Products with good use cases and not just business cases will go a long way to retain subscribers. The new Glo’s Super-trader, MTN’s InfoSearch and Etisalat’s EasyAdz products are potential winners.
  5. Revamp technical quality of service: Without doubt, the readiness of each of the operator to put real life in their QoS units will win them some good points in the war. Proper optimization of both radio and core part of the network will give some assurance of backline solidity. Workable business continuity and disaster recovery plans should give some comfort. Ignore these and and see your cards falling from behind.

Since none of the operators has any choice than to enter the colosseum of portability; their strategy may not be about winning the war, but it must be about not losing it. Else……….

Share your thoughts on the number portability issue and paths operators may follow.

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A pin nu ‘ya: Happy New Year’s Homophone?

It is common place, in my area of Nigeria, to hear or read locals Yorubanize some English words or phrases. Such pronunciations may sometimes be due to contempt or sheer mockery; while at times, illiteracy or ignorance may be the cause. Such was the case of “Penkelemes” – a convenient rehash of the description of the Nigerian Western region politics given by the late Adegoke Adelabu in the late 1950s; he actually used the phrase “peculiar mess”. And such was the case when a cafeteria owner, remodeled the word “illiterate” to “Inastraite“, out of ignorance. And such were many cases.

A pin nu ‘ya – an homophone of the oft-used celebratory chant “Happy New Year”, if the English will allow Yoruba words/phrases for such anyway, rents the air every midnight ushering in the new year. Year in, year out, you hear the locals extending such greetings to one another sometimes in mockery, self-abasement and often, out of ignorance. A pin nu ‘ya – translates to “We have resolved to suffer” – became widely used during the military misrule of Nigeria, and you hear the chants every year in readiness for whoever is the Head of State’s traditional January 1st address to the nation. It was always expected that there would be one draconian decree or one policy that would be life and liberty threatening in the course of the year.

After a long period of time, the chants returned louder last year when a democratic president came out with the petroleum subsidy removal scheme in his new year’s address. The consequent labor strikes, breakdown of law and order and near anarchy is still fresh in our minds. But importantly, and of major concern, is the erosion in my (and of course, all middle class guys’) disposable income due to an unattended inflation and high cost of fuel (to run both vehicle and generator). Maybe the chant – the curse in most people’s understanding – got some nods from Fate; the national budget throughout the year could only be about 50% implemented. This necessarily meant that lots of roads project and rehabilitation were neglected, no wonder we had such serious number of road accidents in the course of the year; more disturbing were those that occurred during the last quarter of the year. It also meant that many hospitals and schools were not adequately equipped or funded; no wonder ‘they’ all run out for medicals knowing that what ‘they’ have provided was very measly and grossly inadequate. In retrospect, as far as many are concerned, the “A pin nu ‘ya” chants would have been very apt if raised around May 29th, 2011 when this government was officially sworn in, going by utter disappointment in polity handling, including corruption management and fiscal responsibility we are “enjoying”. Just ask them the whereabouts of ‘that’ N5trn.

It was the expectation of many to hear fuel price hike pronouncement during this year’s address since rumors were pointing in that direction, coupled with the attendant fuel scarcity believed to be occurring in readiness for the eventual hike. it didn’t come, and so, much of the “A pin nu ‘ya” chants were those made in self mockery, or sheer ignorance by celebrants, or by those who could not pronounce the phrase any other way.

Whoever, and for whatever cause the chant was extended to you however, do always quickly reject it. The rejection is not because you are ready to stage or participate in another “OccupyNigeria” protest should policies go against your expectations, but believing that whatever the government, or any force for that matter, throws at you this year will not debar you from inching forward. With the ouster of the apocalyptic 2012, you have another respite to re-tune your professional, social, personal and spiritual goals. Hopefully, we shall all dance some azonto and gangnam style in celebration of the accomplishment of a large chunk of our goals by the end of the year, God willing!

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