Mr. Mkpe Abang is the Chief Executive Officer of Belmang Limited and Editor-in-Chief of IT & Telecom Digest Magazine, a respected publication that continues to chronicle the evolution of the telecoms and overall ICT landscape in Nigeria.
Abang, a respected player in the Nigerian publishing business that also manages several successful tech industry event shares his perspectives as a front-row player in the local tech industry, the upcoming 20th Anniversary of the Association of Telecommunication Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), in which his company has been appointed Events Manager, among other topical industry issues with Kolade Akinola of Technology Times. Excerpts:
TT: The Association of Telecommunication Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) appointed your company as the organiser of its 20th Anniversary, What is the level of preparation?
Mkpe Akpang: We were appointed by ATCON to coordinate activity for its 20th anniversary. I want to believe they did that because of our track record and what we have done in the industry and the fact that we have knowledge of the industry and knowledge of the operator.
They didn’t just give us the right to organise the event. There was a bidding process in which 6 to 7 companies were pre-qualified and we went for presentation and from what they told us, we scored 95%. It is is not to say others didn’t do their best but because what ATCON expect for delivery could be done by us.
The organisation of the event comes in various part. We are to raise the fund and then organise the event. So what we have been doing so far is to use our platform to reach out to industry stakeholders and other agencies that have the telecoms industry at heart. So, in essence, we are at the fund raising stage now. Once the fund is raised, we proceed to the next stage such that we have a well-organized and coordinated event.
A date has been picked but the idea is that because of other events that are ongoing and that is going to happen, we decided to shift the date. As soon as we see the outcome of those events, the new date will be communicated.
TT: Recently the Federal Government Inaugurated you and 14 other media professionals as members of the Media Advisory Committee on Broadband with the aim of creating awareness on broadband penetration. What effort has this Committee put in place to live up to its responsibilities?
Mkpe Akpang: The role we play is to educate the populace about government plans and actions for broadband rollout in Nigeria.
Now when you are given a task and then the person who gives you the task has not rung the bell, then we can’t start making all the noise. The Federal Government in its wisdom is taking its time in announcing its rollout plan. I believe that by the time rollout is very clear, our own is to make the awareness to the general public.
As we speak, there are ongoing plans by the government to fine-tune the arrangement they have. We all know that the government is very careful in announcing its plans and until all the rollout is properly planned we can’t start creating the awareness.
The Minister (Omobola Johnson, Minister of Communication Technology) is yet to receive the go-ahead from the Presidency; that’s why we have been a bit silent.
On a large scale, the Minister came to Lagos and joined forces with ATCON and ALTON (Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria) and they got the Lagos State Government to reduce the cost of right of way from N3000 to N500 per square metre. This is a step in the broadband map pursuit.
TT: As a telecoms reporter and publisher, you witness the mobile telephony revolution in Nigeria. What’s your take on the dramatic boom Nigeria has experienced in the telecom sector?
Mkpe Abang: Let me take your mind back. Before now, communication was virtually difficult. The mobile phone has just made life just too easy for people.
When I started writing the telecoms industry as a specialised field in 1993, what drove me to it was because of the problem of communication back then. As a reporter in Sunday Concord, I went to Lagos Island to cover an event and it was raining and I couldn’t reach my Editor to tell him that I will not be able to get back to the office. Eventually, the following week when I got back to the office, I called my Editor and said I wanted to start a column on telecoms. He laughed and said, “you want to start a column on something that doesn’t exist.”
But I believe anything that will help people to communicate better is the industry of the future. So, what I am trying to say is that mobile telephony revolution is the most positive revolution of modern Africa.
For me I believe that Nigeria became independent in 2001 because independence without freedom is not independence. Our real freedom came when we could communicate freely.
TT: With the level of Internet penetration and the increasing number of connected Nigeria, what’s your take on how these numbers affect the new media?
Mkpe Abang: A large percentage of media organisations have online presence. But let me make some clarifications. The fact that someone opens a blog and starts posting content on the Internet doesn’t him or her a journalist.
There are some basic principles a journalist must have gone through in training. As much as we appreciate the internet, some people abuse the use and are using it to hijack our noble profession. People no longer have respect for other people’s privacy.
In a media house, we have what we call the gatekeeper. A story has to go through different channels for approval before it is published.
Social media is simply called citizen reporting. It is not journalism. There are processes we have to follow before any story is published. These are part of the training we undergo as media professionals. When an incident occurs and it is all over the Internet, it is not journalism. Journalism is communicating with the masses in a controlled manner such that when a story is being published it won’t create chaos.
TT: The issue of intellectual property in journalism is also a critical issue. What’s your take on this issue?
Mkpe Abang: If I am lifting an article today and I see it is good, I always give credit to the source and that’s because we understand the rudiments of the profession. It is only people that don’t have training and they find their self in the system that steal other people’s content and don’t credit the source.
Even those that are in the mainstream media who are actually not well trained are still breaching the intellectual property right of others. People need to first and foremost respect the ethics of the profession.
The issue of intellectual property right has gone so bad to the point that even pictures are even stolen. I was the first reporter to start carrying camera about to events I cover. I take the pictures myself because I want to be sure that the picture I take is what I want to see in my magazine.
The issue of intellectual property has also affected growth in the entertainment industry where people just go to YouTube to download content without paying for it.
I think journalist should learn and obey the ethics of the profession by giving credit to the source of any article or story that is lifted and published on their platform.
TT: NCC recently postponed the 2.6GHz spectrum because of “administrative issue.” Do you sense any foul play as a result of the postponement?
The truth of the matter is that NCC cannot do any foul play again because it has put a lot of checks in play. NCC from that auctions in January 2001, it has become a benchmark, it can’t go below. We should become a people of positive mind. The point is the money realised from the sale of the spectrum is going to the Federation account, not NCC account.
I believe the market is not just ready for now. A lot of investors that may be interested in the auctions are afraid to come Nigeria and Africa at large because of the Ebola virus although WHO has certified Nigeria free from the virus. So a lot of international auction expert could not come. People will come when the atmosphere is right.