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Monday, March 4, 2024

“Before It Is Too Late…. (A Piece On Mobile Telecommunication Services And Its Irregularities In Nigeria)” – By Akogun Olalekan



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The entry of mobile telecommunication services into the country as announced by the President Olusegun Obasanjo led administration on August 2001 was a grand one. Winning a rousing welcome from the people. Alas! It was the end of bias, the rich and the poor can now play on a level plain ground (Only telecommunication-wise, though).
Keeping in touch with family and friends was now a phone call away. The advent of the mobile telecommunication services became a blessing to long distant relationships, business people, amongst many others. It brought communication comfort unequaled, relative peace of mind and mended broken bridges of relationships which have suffered lack of communication earlier.
These comfort and gains did not come without a price, in fact, it came with a huge one. The cost of a mobile phone at the time was huge, ranging from #20,000-#50,000 on the average depending on what the user’s taste and purse could afford. Buying the phones was not the end of the task, there was the place of getting a sim card to chip into it, which proved to be more herculean than getting the mobile phone itself.

Sim cards sold for as high as #30,000 at that time. Some got phones and never had a sim card in it, but then it was still ‘Swag’, it was a thing of pride and prestige to carry even a mobile phone carcass. But then, the sale of lines were not meeting up to the expectation of the service providers, it was obvious only a tiny section of the populace could afford them. Loss was dangling in the air, profit was gradually becoming alienated, there was a need for drastic measures to check this poor turn of events. Soon before long, the prices of sim cards began to drop, becoming more and more affordable by the day. The Nigerian people had just won a major battle, thanks to their financial incapacity induced boycott of the mobile lines which sent warning signals to the mobile telecom vendors.

Making calls for those who could afford to own a sim card was another issue, tariffs were then as high as #40 per minute, and if your call was however shorter than a minute, you still get billed for a minute. Statistics had it as at then that an average of 60-70% of the Nigerian population was earning/living below $1 per day. There just was no way we could bear with spending that huge on a minute call.
Typical of Nigerians, there must be a way out, an escape route, remedy or something of its sort, our genes were sequenced to maneuver through tough times and pull through. Soon that escape route was found, and there came the birth of “Flashing”.

“‘Flashing’ by definition in this context,  is the process of initiating a call and ending it right before it is picked up on the other end of the line.”

Before long, flashing became a mode of communication in itself, before the service providers knew it, recharge cards were getting less marketable, as a flash or two was all that was needed to communicate a message between two agreed people. In response to the drop in sales of recharge cards, vouchers and the dynamic cum rebellious creativity of the Nigerian users, service providers were forced to introduce the “Per Second Billing”, a product that allows a consumer pay for call charges by the second. Thereby making short calls possible and somewhat affordable.
The contest went on and on between the end user of mobile telecom services, their providers and competitors, bringing about the introduction of different tariff plans, product and services, both to knock out competitors and create flexibility for users.

Time passed, and Nigerians began to inculcate mobile telephony into every facet of their lives viz, family, business, education, economy and job creation, livelihood etc. As the volume of subscribers increased, the quality of service began to deteriorate, consumers were no longer getting value for their money. This anomaly was characterized by inability to connect on calls, poor data services for subscribers of data services, frequent and skyrocketing volume of drop calls, and in extreme cases, a total cut off of network services for minutes, hours or days.
When all these became obviously unbearable, Nigerians raised their voices, everyone in their own little way. A unified cry was channeled to the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), Consumer Protection Council (CPC), Servicom etc. Before long, the cry of the people found its way to the legislative chambers, the National assembly through the Senate soon summoned the NCC, and set up a probe panel to investigate the cause of the poor service delivery. The then Chairman, Senate Committee on Communications, Gil Emeka Nnaji told the Network providers to improve on their service delivery or face being forced out of the country. A toothless dog barking, so it eventually appeared as it often is the case with many of our struggles, we make so much noise and still accomplish little or nothing.  Rumours were heard of the Network providers being sanctioned and fines imposed on them, still the reason for the struggle was not justified eventually, as the cry of the masses remains the same till present. Issues of unreasonably high call rates, unexplainable deductions of call credit, unauthorized or imposed subscription for products, unreasonable promos, inadequate participation to total neglect of social responsibility duties, poor network connectivity amongst many others still live with us till date. Network failure and seizures ranging from minutes to hours and sometimes days is still a common feature on our various networks.
Though I believe the contest is far from over and the battle far from won, I am afraid its beginning to seem as though the Nigerian users have now settled for and come to accept this mediocre services. Do I blame us? No I do not, this has come as a fall out of how those we saw as saviors, sabotaged our struggle, making a mess of it till it yielded little or no positive results. If the Nigerian Senate could not help win a battle against poor network service and delivery by Mobile Telecommunication Network Providers, who will???.
To assume the above paragraph as issues to be revisited and raised again by authorities concerned, and the below as a subjoinder requiring urgent attention will help chart a good course.
It is no longer news that consumers now get calls on their lines that are neither from families, friends, business partners, and the likes, but from machines. Most disturbing of this is that they come in at anytime of the day.
Sampling opinions from end users, I discovered how disgruntled a handful of us are about this new trend.
“Its so disturbing, I get an average of 2 calls on my line daily, and I’ve got 3 of them, I mean the networks” -Anonymous

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“The calls I can cope with, but the frequent sms is so unbearable, at times I feel like crushing the SIM card…I mean its so annoying” -Anonymous

“They don’t allow my phone a minute rest, I hardly want to pick my calls these days (Interpreting a consumer’s comment,as he spoke in Yoruba language)”- Anonymous

I would not want to lengthen my writing any further by stating numerous responses retrieved. I must be fair to note that a tiny percentage of those I sampled actually enjoy this situation, but for the most unbelievable reasons. For instance, these subscribers said and I quote;

“Sometimes I just enjoy the call, it comes in when am bored and I enjoy it”

“I love to hear my phone ring, I love to read text messages, I just love my phone active”.

At first on hearing their views I felt irritated by it, but I took solace in the english quote; “Different strokes for different folks”.

TELEMARKETING is what this whole thing is called, and as defined by The Dictionary of English,
“Its is the business of selling products or services by making UNSOLICITED TELEPHONE CALLS to potential customers.”
Behold the new trend!
Now, I like many others do not have an hatred for telemarketing in itself, safe its uncontrolled application, use and present abuse by these network providers. It is often said that; “If the purpose of a thing is not known, abuse is inevitable”.
Permit me to say here too that; “If  a thing is carelessly managed, abuse is inevitable”.
Telemarketing in my country is poorly managed and now overly abused, and this must not be allowed to continue as it presently is.
To say the least, why should the peace of a subscriber be disturbed in the name of telemarketing? Why should their sleep be disturbed by night with numerous SMSs, sadly ones that probably don’t concern them, and then in the day, calls are still placed to their lines incessantly. The health of the consumer must be put into consideration here, for the healthier the consumer, the more business they can transact with these vendors. His time and concentration at day too should be well protected and preserved. I mean, where in the world is there time for a busy Nigerian to talk to/listen to a machine talk?
This uncomfortable development has brought a lot of inconvenience to subscribers, bombardments with SMSs have resulted to petty traders and less educated business people(who make a large chunk of subscribers) yet unskilled in phone manipulations and handling, to lose clear opportunities they ought to have exploited as SMSs would fail to drop in their phones which are often already filled and blocked by service/network messages.
A saddening reality is that people now tend to ignore their phone rings wrongly/rightly assuming they are one of those frustrating telemarketing calls, and this development is no where near good for our socioeconomic development. At first these calls came in with short codes, then we knew what kind of call exactly we were about picking, and stood a better chance at ignoring them. We could differentiate the customer care numbers from other service numbers. Time came and they metamorphosed, now its gone full blown to using all full 11-digit numbers to ‘terrorize’ subscribers. Is this a case of the cat changing its tactics to get its prey?.
I am craving through this piece, the indulgence of all Mobile Telecommunication Network Providers, to apply intelligence and ensure the upholding of true customer service values as they go about telemarketing. Nigerians will love to see an end come to these rude intrusions and interruptions in the name of telemarketing.
Machines we know are handled by men and can be put off when need be. It is disturbing to think that we have subscribed to networks that repay our loyalty with disturbance and discomfort. We should not in any case be made to regret our subscription to these networks. Something urgent must be done to correct this malaise.

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The state of Illinois, United States Of America tops the list of nations in telemarketing complaints, a list containing a handful of countries and sovereign states who have come together to register their displeasure. (Even though they do not get telemarketing calls in their sleep, nor pestering SMSs in such volumes as we do). Their agitation went up to the government, which in turn took steps to curb the excesses of the network providers. Amongst numerous programmes (asides sanctions and fines imposed where consumers rights were infringed upon) pioneered by the central government in the USA to curb this menace, was the introduction of “THE DO NOT CALL LIST” (More than 51 million phone numbers were added in its first year alone). Subscribers lashed in on, without delay this lifeline offered by the government, registering their numbers in the list to get their deserved peace.
Coming home, it would be a welcome development to see such checks as this, introduced into the Nigerian system, the time has come for us to be delivered. I urge the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the ministries and bureaus concerned to look into this recommendation and fashion out an escape route for the Nigerian subscriber.
I challenge also the NCC and all other telecommunication watchdogs to step up their game in ensuring that the consumers of mobile telecommunication products and services get the best value for their money, and place sanctions where necessary in case of defiance, and see to it that sanity is restored into the system before it is too late.

Akogun Olalekan.
Follow me on twitter: @Olalekanakogun

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