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NITEL Deserved To Die – El Rufai

… Gulped the Country $7m

Governor of Kaduna State and former Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), the privatization agency that auctioned NITEL, Malam Nasir el-Rufai has maintained his euphoria at the death of the Nigeria Telecommunication Limited (NITEL).

Speaking at a forum in Lagos, Malam el-Rufai, who was also the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) between June 2003 and May 2007, noted that his excitement was borne out of the fact that the death of NITEL heralded the birth of deregulation and de-monopolisation of the telecoms sector.

“Nitel was an evil institution that was draining this country by poor services, and generally retarding the growth of the economy. We did our best to privatize NITEL. I do not mourn NITEL, because it deserved to die,” he maintained.

According to el-Rufai, who was a Special Guest at the celebration of the 20th Anniversary celebration of the Association of Licenced Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), said NITEL gulped the country $7 million.

Narrating the history of telecommunication in Nigeria, the former BPE D-G noted that what Nigeria has now has more than recompensed for what NITEL took from Nigeria.

“NITEL was a giant that sunk $7 million from the treasury to make Nigeria the most expensive telecom network in the worlds with 450 lines. NITEL was not interested in having any other telecom sector aside NITEL itself.”

He recounted that without any policy document to direct the sector to effective growth, the National carrier served as a regulator and a sole operator that didn’t want competition.

“At the time the NCC existed. But NCC of those days was a toothless bulldog. NCC has been in existence since 1992, but the NCC decree specifically said it cannot regulate NITEL. And NITEL was 98 percent of the market. NITEL could decide what interconnect fees to charge, and NCC had no say in the matter.

So we all had to come together then to form the Association of PTOs, our first chairman was Navy Commodore Bode George. But we were not successful at all. NITEL was taking most of our revenue as interconnect charges. Even to gain access to maintain your network, we needed to go to Abuja to get a permit. It was a tyrannical NITEL. But like most things in life, a lot of thought and chance come to change things.”

He, therefore, recognized the contributions of Major General Tajudeen Olarenwaju, who, according to him, was the first Minister to insist that some private Telcos Had to be licenced. He recalled that Major Gen. Olarenwaju impressed on the late General Abacha to licence companies like Intercellular, Starcomms, Reliance, Multilinks and others; and also persuaded the Head of State to allow operators like MTS, EMIS to emerge.

El-Rufai further acknowledged that discussions to deregulate the sector started after the death of Gen. Abacha in 1998 when Gen. Abdusallami Abubarkar came into power. “So by the time Gen. Obasanjo got elected, there was further pressure to deregulate the sector.”

He noted that as the DG of the just-birthed BPE, he presented a four-step roadmap to the liberalisation of the sector to the president, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo who gave the go-ahead for execution.

The steps he said were to Work on the sector policy as it was government-driven and monopolistic; the setting up of NCC as an independent regulator; the de-monopolisation of the sector by the issuance of licences to everything; and the eventual sale of the National Carrier, NITEL.

Malam el-Rufai also applauded the efforts of ALTON at establishing a balance that engenders growth in the industry.

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