By Chimezie Godfrey
The Executive Director of the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), Y. Z. Ya’u has called the federal government to have a rethink on its intention to increase excise duty on telecommunication services in the country
He made the demand at press conference he addressed on Wednesday at Kano.
Ya’u recalled that the Minister of Finance has in the last two weeks kept it known to all the intention of her ministry to increase excise duty on telecommunication services from the current 5.5% to 12.5%.
He pointed out that her action was driven by the need for revenue, will be counter productive as it will undermine the economic recovery of the country, and at thesame time create more hardship for Nigerians.
He said,”We find this unacceptable to as it will not only create more hardship to Nigerians but also more fundamentally undermine the economic recovery of the country.
“The effect of the proposed increase is to make calls and data more costly in the context in which already Nigerans are paying heavily for this. Nigeria is one of the countries with low affordability index as calculated by the Alliance for Affordable Internet. Currently only less than 45% of Nigerians can access and afford to use full spectrum of telecommunication services.
“This means that more than half of Nigerians are not able to do so for several reasons, chiefly among which is their inability to afford both the cost of access and cost of use. Nigeria does not manufacture telecommunication equipment and devices so it can hardly bring the cost of access and ownership down, however, it can control the cost of use.
“If you increase cost of data and call, more people cannot use it. This means that the economic benefits of telecommunication would atrophy in the country. The multiplier effect will be lost since that can only accrue to the country when people freely use data for economic activities.
“In the end, the economy will suffer, and her ambition of higher revenue will collapse as less people will use telecommunication services and therefore less revenue to come while more people are excluded from digital technology in a context and time while even the UN has demanded that no one should be left behind.”
He added,”So instead of promoting policies and initiatives that will lift more Nigerians out of the depth of digital marginalization, Madam Minister is acting to bring down more Nigerians, and increase the digital divide which the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy has been working to bridge.
“We also oppose her plan because it will frustrate the attainment of the goals of the country’s digital economic transformation agenda. This agenda which was endorsed by the president himself requires that the country increase broadband penetration to 95% by 2030 and to achieve 95% digital literacy by 2025.
“The act of making data more costly would undermine these lofty goals. Because people cannot afford telecommunication services, telecommunication companies will have no incentive to invest more and expand their infrastructure, a condition that is needed to achieve the 95% broadband penetration, and once these goals cannot be realized, the objectives of the digital transformation agenda will fail.
“On a more immediate and concrete level, our education system will suffer. Presently more services are migrating online.
He pointed out that students must sit and pass the computer-based examination that is online, adding that they must use this data in an economy in which more than 70% of Nigerians are living below poverty level.
According to him, this means many more people cannot afford education services, adding that a country where people cannot access education services is doomed.
He stressed that both the telecommunication companies and the Minister of communication and Digital Economy have spoken against the proposed increase. The minister in fact stated that he was never consulted for such a matter which is his responsibility and oversight. We agree with the minister and the body telecommunication companies that such a move will push the burden on the ordinary users and is counterproductive.
“While commending the Minister of Digital Economy for being bold to object that such a measure is not in the interest of the country, we condemn the Minister of Finance and her blind pursue of revenue for its sake and on driving the economy to make meaning of the lives of citizens.
“We call on the President to immediately call her to order and jettison the proposed increase.
“Instead, we call on the president to quickly set up in motion the processes of developing a National Policy on Community Networks so that communities can on their own address infrastructure and other access gaps in the country,” he stated.