Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) Presidential Candidate, Mr Tony Izuagbe Emoekpere, who is also Anchor Telecoms CEO speaks exclusively with Technology Times on his plans for the Nigerian telecoms industry if he becomes the next President of the influential telecoms industry trade group. Excerpts:
Technology Times: You want to become the next president of ATCON. If you become ATCON’s President, what will be your top priority programmes?
Mr Tony Izuagbe Emoekpere: Well, chief amongst will be fostering a highly competitive industry and local content. It’s one of the things I’ve always advocated for in the sense that we want to ensure that we grow the local industry and local participation in the industry, and a healthy competition.
The NCC (Nigerian Communications Commission) has already set a very good benchmark and foundation for the industry to grow. It’s been growing steadily since the liberalisation in 2001. And it’s just to ensure that we take it to the next level of growth.
So local content will be one of my key areas. I’m trying to see if we can grow homegrown telecoms giants. Already we have the likes of Glo and other players, and even MTN, IHS and other players, who are actually still very homegrown. Just to ensure that we just continue that state.
Technology Times: The impression you’re creating is that all is absolutely well in your industry. If you talk to other industry stakeholders, they will tell you that they face the problem of multiple taxation, and several other industry challenges. Do you agree with the position? And if you do, what will be your strategy to address them?
Mr Emoekpere: Okay. The strategy to engage them more with all the relevant authorities and stakeholders, both States and Federal Governments.
The multiple taxation actually stems from the fact that the industry is taxed almost at every level, from the Local Governments, to the State Government, to the Federal Government, to agencies, to importation.
Although we’ve had a recent success in the recent pronouncement from the Federal Government removing exemptions from some of the taxes, but more needs to be done. So the issue here is we need to actively engage, and one of the main issues is the body is supposed to be an advocacy body. It has been done in times past, and there are many things we haven’t achieved as an association. We still really suffer from multiple taxation, but the main issue is that we need to engage.
The problem I see is that people don’t see telecommunication as a need. It’s actually a fundamental right. You have the right to shelter. You have the right to water. Communication is also a right. But people, the impression the industry has, or the general perception is that communication is a cash-making business. But it is a need that is being serviced. And really, overtaxing it is actually transferring the burden to the consumer. So consumers are actually the ones who bear the brunt of this. And then it also stifles the ability for the industry to grow.
So when I mentioned healthy competition, it’s all-encompassing. You cannot have a healthy competition environment when you have a heavy tax burden on the industry. The industry cannot grow. You also discourage foreign direct investment because when people see that, oh, you’re bringing in funds here, it’s going to be heavily taxed. Some of the taxes are not easily graduateable. So you can, from State to State, you have multiple taxes. You know, there’s no common policy as regards to all that.
So, some of the bodies we will be engaging are not only just NCC, and the Federal Government. I think one of the things we want to try and do is engage more with the State Governments,
because they are the ones that are actually the second level of taxes, which most of the industry is really suffering from. It is actually taxes from the States.
So engaging more with the State Government, Governors, parastatals within States to make them see and understand the value communication brings to their States. How, you know, once you have better communications and infrastructure and services, ease of business within your State is promoted, and then you can actually even increase your IGR (internally generated revenue) via the increase in business activities.
So if you don’t allow that industry to foster, you might be taxing it, but what you are not allowing to grow is better communication. You’re actually limiting what you can achieve in your States. So more engagement with State Governments is one of the things we are going to come in and try and achieve if we are successful as President of the association.
Technology Times: So finally, what places you competitively against the gentleman on the other side in respect of industry contributions that you think would give you an edge in the forthcoming ATCON election?
Okay, well, he’s a very amiable individual in the industry and I will just say about myself. I’ve actually been in the industry for 20 years. And what we do is basically is the infrastructure that’s required to run the industry well. That’s where we have actually played.
So I have worked severally from MTN, and the company I’ve managed in the industry now for 17 years, we’ve been providing services, engineering services from across the whole value chain. So we have had the opportunity to engage with the whole value chain from the operators to vendors to the OEMs to the infrastructure owners. So I think that has put me in a very strong position to understand the value chain of the industry. I’ve also worked for operators, I’ve worked for engineering companies. We also own a subsidiary ISP who is also providing end-to-end consumer services. So I think by and large I have a very broad experience within the industry.
I’m also an engineer by training and I’m also a member of the Lagos Business School. So that has also put me, not only do I have technical expertise, I also have business knowledge as well.
So I have, I think, and I’ve also been a member of the Association now for about, I think going on 14 years. I’ve been working behind the scenes and I’ve served almost all the past presidents up until even the present president. I’ve been a member, in one way or shape or the other, in the Executive of ATCON for the last 13 years. I think I only had a two year break when I didn’t take on a member of the governing board, but over that time I’ve been having different roles played in the association.
I’ve been working basically behind the scenes, supporting all the past presidents up until now. So I think all that experience and all that back-office knowledge has positioned me right now to actually come to the fore to help steer the industry in the right direction.
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