• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Telecommunication Companies: Driving Broad Band Penetration In Nigeria

Telecommunication Companies: Driving Broad Band Penetration In Nigeria

Biodun Omoniyi is the Managing Director/chief Executive Officer of VDT Communications Limited, one of the leading ICT companies in Nigeria. In this special interview with JUDE OFOEGBU, he opens up on what made his company thick, efforts of ICT companies in ensuring that the country’s economy is kept going despite the Covid-19 pandemic, and many more. Excerpts:

Could you please tell us a little about yourself and your company?

My name is Biodun Omoniyi. I’ve been in the ICT industry for many years now. I have put in more than 35 years in the industry; so, I can tell you about the revolution the industry has witnessed till now. I am an entrepreneur and have participated in the setting up of a number of ICT companies. However, here in VDT, I have been here for the past 20 years trying to make further development in the industry so that we can all learn and through the digital economy ensure a meaningful lifestyle for all Nigerians.

Your company has been adjudged as one of the leading ICT companies in Nigeria. How did you achieve that feat knowing full well that you have a lot of competitors in the industry?

It’s quite awesome to hear such good words from you but I think there’s really no magic about it. Like I told you earlier, I’m a veteran in the industry. If I were to be in the Civil Service, I should be thinking of retirement by now. As a veteran, I have the experience, have gone through the revolutions in the industry and it’s that experience I brought to bear on my company.

There is an adage that says that an elderly person does not really behave like a young person. They’re roles for each of them. When you are getting older, you get more focused and you should know that in Nigeria when you have a company that has lasted for 20 years, there must have been some basic ideas which the owner must have inculcated in his staff to make the company stand the test of time and that’s remaining focus on what you do.

I remember that when we started we had a lot of opportunities. Initially, people wanted us to supply them computers running into millions of naira because in my early life, I used to supply computers to companies. But when these offers came, I said no and stood my ground. I made them understand that what I provide is communication services. You know we’re in a very dynamic industry and I happen to be a trained Engineer; so, we need to be on top of the game and the curve and also make sure we provide quality service to our customers. So, we’re not really doing anything spectacular other than providing quality service and remaining focused, continually learning what our clients want as well as constantly making sure we’re getting better.

We even went as far as subscribing to some quality management systems and have been certified, and re-certified many times in many of these quality management systems. Having said this, I want you to understand that dealing with customers is very easy: just give them what they want and what they want is quality service, which we’ve been able to give them.

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In all of these, what are some of the major challenges you’ve been facing in meeting your targets?

Well, I don’t know of any challenge because challenges t h e m s e l ve s come with opportunities. So, whenever you see challenges, you’re not alone because if you’re patient you’ll see the opportunities underlying those challenges. And I remember that in my thoughts, I always say I don’t see challenges rather I see opportunities all the time. I can’t really talk of any major challenge because I take everything as part of normal business life.

The challenges we are talking about is in relation to what telecom operators are likely to go through in realising the 70percent broadband penetration target by 2025?

Well, if you’re talking about the broadband target of 70percent by 2025, I think I understand but like I said earlier, I will not always dwell on challenges but the opportunities that will come with it, but honestly there will be some challenges you will like people to pay attention and that starts with government itself who is the regulatory authority. We need support from the government to make the target achievable. The 70percent broadband penetration target they are talking about is not unachievable but if we get government support and a good regulatory environment that protects companies like ours we will get there.

You know we’re not very big, neither are we the smallest, so we need to be protected and that’s why I talk about regulation. The regulators should know that it’s not only the big boys that can make things happen; the smaller guys are also important and we need them a lot. The regulatory body should ask themselves where the smaller ones are and what makes them disappear. When we started, I can count up to 100 that have fallen by the way side.

Why should things be done that way? Is it that the environment is harsh or that the cost of running these businesses are very high?

The government can help by making sure these smaller ones are protected from harsh competition. When you watch videos of Animal Kingdom especially the fish kingdom, you will notice that the bigger fishes always eat up the smaller ones and so it happens in human world. But a place where the biggest fish is the government it must set up machinery and rules to protect the smaller ones and monitor implementation of such rules so that the bigger ones will not swallow the smaller ones. Even though it looks like the nature of business, but that is in a nonregulated environment. We need the regulator to stand up for the smaller guys.

The issues of right of way, security for telecom installations, equipment and multiple taxation has been very tropical issues in the industry. Would you say there has been a significant improvement on these very serious challenges?

These challenges are still there. They’re still there in our environment and all can see them. Everybody is aware that the country is facing serious security challenges and the telecom industry is no exemption. Right of way, especially in Lagos is a serious problem, it is very difficult to get right of way in Lagos. Even if you get it, vandals will still damage your equipment and even when you want to arrest, you will not see anybody to arrest. So, you have to be rebuilding and rebuilding all the time. A serious question to ask is, are people being prosecuted when these infrastructures are damaged? For these issue to be handled effectively, both the state and local governments must work in harmony with the Federal Government to get it right. We will continue to talk because these challenges are facing us every day.

However, I must commend the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy Dr. Isah Pantami. When he came on board, he spoke strongly against some of these problems. He even rallied many state governments on the need to do the needful. Many of them accepted and welcomed his idea but some did not. But I will advise him to work with those that accepted his suggestions because it will actually bring about development.

What do you think government and regulators can do, at least, to reduce these challenges?

Like I said earlier, the Minister has spoken but I believe at his level, he can do more than that. He has a lot of energy, focus and direction. He has made some pronouncements and in most of these pronouncements, everybody is seeing his zeal in driving digital economy and if he continues the way he is going, he will achieve a lot. On the state level, we need strong people that have vision and focus like the Minister to achieve success. If you notice what happened during this Covid-19, many states technologically were not prepared for the pandemic and so we must adopt technology in anything we do and am happy that the pandemic has opened the eyes of many people on why we must be technologically advanced.

Do you believe that 5G will affect the GPD of Nigeria when fully installed in the country?

The ICT industry is a dynamic one and we cannot afford to be left behind even as a country or as a company. If the world says its 10G today, Nigeria cannot afford to stay at 5G. What we have today is 5G. If you don’t want to be left behind, you must get there and do it well. When 2G was around, we were part of it. Everybody was having it. When 3G came, we were also part of it and everybody appreciated it because they know the difference. 4G has come and we’re trying to garble grapple with it and so many people were asking when is 4G coming and why is it not getting to my environment because it is faster than 3G?

5G is also going to be faster than 4G and help the economy grow because things are going to be faster and most of the machines will also run faster. So, it will definitely help the economy and I think it’s as simple as that. So, if 6G comes tomorrow, we don’t have any choice than to embrace it because we’re in a very dynamic industry.

As an ICT expert, how would you describe the effect of Covid-19 and the #ENDSARS protests on Nigerian economy?

You know year 2020 was a difficult year for all Nigerians, and everybody was affected one way or the other, mainly in a negative way, and now many people are still counting their losses. In 2019, nobody envisaged Covid- 19 not just in Nigeria but globally. And later we were talking about #ENDSARS which has to deal with our imperfections. Covid-19 actually affected the economy; and an economy that was already bad before now. People are hungry and vented their anger and hunger through #ENDSARS. But the ugly aspect was that hoodlums hijacked it and burnt down people’s businesses and looted a lot of things which cost unplanned expenditure. Although we can talk about insurance but the damage and loss was enormous.

However, there is a positive aspect of COVID-19 to the telecom industry because it brought about the need for connectivity. Many officials are not back to their offices and are still working from home. So, it brought about increase in quality of telecom service. But I am happy that they are now talking about a vaccine for the virus, which will make life fully come back as it used to be.

How have inconsistent government policies affected the growth of your company and where would you like to see your company in the next five years?

There are inconsistencies in government polices and what this does is that at times, it throws your plans asunder and does not help in good planning. I agree with you that it affects business growth, planning and policy implementation. But, I thank God that we have been able to surmount some of these challenges. Having said this, in the next five years, I want to see us grow in leaps and bounds. To be well known as a major player in the industry and maintain our position as a leading ICT company in the country. Before now, we’ve been known as an entrepreneur player. I want to believe that we should be making a lot of input in the digital economy of the country by the next five years and above all, I want to make sure we can have our brand in everybody’s pocket and in every home and surroundings.

What makes your company different from your competitors, and how do you intend to maintain your lead over them? W hat are some of the security measures put in place by your company to guide your data services?

We really play on the quality that we have. We ensure that we’re consistent in providing premium quality services and place value on our customers and this is what actually differentiates us from our competitors and we hope to maintain that. On the security measures put in place, you know we’re in an industry that is not only dynamic but have set rules and standards to follow. We are upgrading our systems all the time and embracing the latest technology. You’re aware that SIM registration is about making sure the identity of the subscriber is well captured and of course, if we are in the internet world, you would probably be afraid of cyber crime making sure you’re able to track and prevent possible cyber crimes. These are normal things to do. So, we belong to an industry that has a set of standards to follow and that’s what we do.

Talking about cyber crime; do you think it is possible to eradicate it 100percent, especially with the tracking aspect of it?

It can be tracked, but to get it done 100percent is another thing altogether and almost impossible, because as you are catching up and putting measures to prevent it, the criminals are also thinking fast. But we can successfully track down by making sure we put the right practices and processes in place.

But some people have also argued that punishment for cyber criminals is not happening the way it should, and that at times, when they are charged to court the case lasts for so many years before it is decided and this has contributed in the upsurge of the crime?

You should know that cyber crime itself has no boundary. It’s not just a Nigerian thing. People stay in Nigeria and commit cyber crime in America and Europe and vice versa. The issue is that even if prosecution is slow, everybody knows that criminal activity is bad and does not pay. Even when they were killing people for certain offenses, did it stop those crimes? Of course, the answer is no. There are so many violent crimes that are more serious than cyber crime. What we need to do is to look at the way we do things generally and do some overhaul where necessary. We should not focus on cyber crime alone but the entire judiciary system before we can get it right.