By Abbas Bolanle
Lagos. October 10 2012: It is now glaring that an estimated N550 million belonging to phone subscribers on the Ikeja Exchange of the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) may have gone down with the dormant pioneer National Operator.
More than 16 years ago, the Ikeja Exchange of NITEL was gutted by a fire that the management of the public-owned telecoms company said destroyed the facility that is home to some 22,000 analogue lines serving Ikeja and other environ of the nation’s commercial capital, Lagos.
NITEL had mandated an estimated 22,000 subscribers on the network to each pay N25, 000 to regain their landlines phone after the Exchange was lost to the July 1996 fire outbreak.
In the wake of the incident, NITEL promised to replace the burnt exchange with 30,000 digital lines while also replacing business centre with card-phones after commercial phone services were withdrawn from the business centre operators.
Technology Times sources say that the N25,000 billed subscribers by NITEL which is estimated at N550 million is yet to be refunded them as promised by the telecoms company.
Some of the previous owners of NITEL lines in the neighbourhood said that promises made them by the telecoms company to refund them the money by deduction from their monthly bills were never kept.
Also, NITEL also awarded a N5billion contract for new facilities earmarked for Apapa, Ikeja, Port-Harcourt and Calabar, at the time under which the burnt Exchange was rebuilt.
The then Managing Director/Chief Executive, NITEL, Buba Bajoga, said at the time that, , “we however surmounted all these problems as work is going on in Ikeja exchange to provide 30,000 digital lines to replace the 22,000 lines we lost to the fire, while card-phones are replacing the business centres.”
Meanwhile, giving an insight into developments in the wake of the NITEL Ikeja Exchange incident, a Publisher, Seyi Oduyela said that, “after the fire incident, contractors submitted bids for the repairs. Three telecommunications companies applied- two known European and one American. There were $85 million, $45 and $15 million bids. The highest got it. Sources disclosed that the least which was $15million would have made a profit of $5million, meaning that the actual cost would have been $10million. The contract was awarded and till date Ikeja exchange has not recovered from the fire problem, nothing really changed.”
According to him, “it is in a country like this that things of such happen without no questions or eyebrows raised. Thank God for the era of the private telecommunication operators, the advent of GSM, and of course competition that have saved us from the monopolized hands of the government.”
NITEL, which was the major telecoms company in the country, underwent a corporate restructuring in 1996, the same year as the Ikeja Exchange inferno, with the unbundling of its business leading to the establishment of the Nigerian Mobile Telecommunications Limited (M-TEL), the premier mobile telephony company in Nigeria. M-Tel later became fully autonomous in April 2003.
Several efforts to sell NITEL under the privatisation programme of government have not been successful, a development that has led to the dormant state of the telecoms company.
According to official telecoms market statistics issued by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), NITEL has 58,750 landlines while MTel accounts for 258,520 mobile phone lines at the end of second quarter of 2012.
The overall telecoms market size within the same period is 93,461,436 lines with GSM mobiles having 93.53 per cent; mobile CDMA, 5.58 per cent and fixed/fixed wireless, 0.89 per cent.