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Minister charges telecoms firms on tariffs as commission moves to document rights abuses

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The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, has urged telecommunications operators in the country to subsidise data and voice calls for Nigerians during this lockdown period.

On his Twitter handle, @DrIsaPantami, yesterday, the minister said: “As earlier conveyed, as the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy in charge of policy of the telecoms sector as in the Nigeria Communications Act (NCA) 2003, Part 1, I ‘urge’ the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), MTN, Glo, Airtel Nigeria, 9mobile, etc to ensure they further subsidy and relax calls/data for citizens in this critical time.”

Subscribers have since on Monday been appealing to the telecommunications firms for reduction in data and voice tariffs across the federation, as the COVID-19 shutdown bites harder.

National President of the Association of Telephone, Cable TV and Internet Subscribers (ATCIS), Prince Sina Bilesanmi, enjoined the operators to be “patriotic and not exploit the disruption caused by the pandemic as an opportunity to rake in easy money.”

He added: “Our telecoms service providers, especially MTN, Glo, Airtel, 9Mobile and others should see this time as an opportunity for them to further exhibit their value as responsible corporate citizens by slashing tariffs on calls and data bundles. Good name is better than riches sometimes, and now is just one of such times.”

Checks by The Guardian revealed that operators could not unilaterally slash or increase tariffs. Section 108 of the NCA 2003 empowers the NCC to approve tariffs and other charges for licensed telecommunications providers.

An official with one of the operators, who craved anonymity, said tariff cannot come down except sanctioned by the regulator, the NCC.

He added that it must also be noted that low tariffs could also lead to traffic congestion, stressing that so many operations run on telecoms infrastructure in the country.

However, MTN has offered its subscribers free text messages. In a message to its over 65 million customers in Nigeria yesterday, the telecommunications firm said: “Stay connected with loved ones without using your credit! Enjoy free 300 SMS for one month (10 SMS/day) to all networks.”

On service quality, the MTN Chief Corporate Services Officer, Tobechukwu Okigbo, said a surge in traffic would align with trends seen globally.

Besides, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has directed its employees to document rights violations nationwide and take necessary action.

The order was sequel to reported incidents by security operatives enforcing government directives on COVID-19.

A statement by the commission’s Executive Secretary, Tony Ojukwu, directed the public to report by calls, text messages or video of such untoward acts indicating location, date, time and a vivid description of the alleged violators and their victims as well as their gender and vulnerability (if possible, name, sex, rank and security outfit of security personnel(s) or official(s)).


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