Post-independence Nigeria has been plagued by a dearth of good leadership and absence of the fine ideals of good corporate governance. Once in a while, in both public and private sector, a halo of good leadership pops up but that is only once in a long season.
Yet, the nation, and indeed any organisation, needs good, visionary leadership. The encomiums that poured in for the departed icon of leadership, Nelson Mandela, from all over the world clearly demonstrates that good leadership is a coveted prize. Good leadership breaks the barriers of ethnicity, nationality, colour, gender and sundry self-contrived strictures that limit humanity. Good leadership is to humans what nectar is to pollinating birds and insects. Where there is good leadership, it shows. The results are usually profound, not hidden, not nuanced.
It is good leadership skills exhibited by mortal men that turned nations into socio-economic cum political super powers and start-up enterprises into global players. The success of the United States of America, today’s most influential nation, was wrought by yesterday’s sweat of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and the blood of Martin Luther King among others. It took the leadership acumen of Mao Zedong to build the foundation of a new and now economically bullish China, then, there is Lee Kuan Yew and his Singapore. Ever wondered where Russia would have been without Lenin, Stalin and later Mikhail Gorbachev with his revolutionary Glasnost and Perestroika which set the stage for openness and restructuring in the Communist nation? Today’s respected and successful global corporations like Coca Cola, Microsoft, Google, Facebook et al all profited from uncommon grit and good leadership demonstrated by men who bore the pain of yesterday for the success of today.
This is the sense in which the 2013 edition of Akintola Williams Distinguished Lecture Series, with the theme: ‘Good Corporate Governance in Nigeria: The Telecommunications Sector Example’ deserves further evaluation. The story of telecoms in Nigeria is a story that most succinctly underscores the place of good corporate governance in the life of an organisation. The Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, the nation’s telecoms regulator, has not only endeared itself to the hearts of Nigerians but it has also become the standard for benchmarking telecoms regulation among emerging economies and even more advanced nations all around the world by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). It has been lauded in many quarters as an exemplar of high regulatory virtues.
Participants at the lecture series were agreed on the fact that good corporate governance is the foundation of strong institutions in both private and public enterprises. Former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (Rtd) who chaired the occasion described corporate governance as “the centre of good leadership and the centre on which the broader success of society rests”.
Citing the telecoms sector as an example of an institution that has been able to withstand the storms because of good corporate governance espoused by its regulator, he said: “the telecoms sector has achieved enviable landmarks to qualify as a standard to be held up for others to look up to and to applaud. They certainly may not have gotten all correct but in the course of time, especially in the last decade, its impact on Nigeria and Nigerians have been revolutionary and truly phenomenal”, stressing that the impact of the sector in the last 13 years would not have been possible if the regulator, the NCC, had not stood on the path of good governance from the onset.
The guest speaker, Prof. Pat Utomi of the Lagos Business School, said the NCC would not have been able to achieve tangible success in telecoms if corporate governance was not adopted as its workplace culture. He noted that several institutions, at home and abroad, have failed due to lack of good leadership and corporate governance. He therefore called on Nigeria and Nigerians to build structures and institutions that would quicken growth and development.
While lauding the efforts of the NCC in the auctioning of licences for the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) in 2000, Utomi reiterated further that it was because of the commitment and transparency in the auctioning exercise that brought in MTN, Econet (Airtel) and later Globacom and Etisalat. This, he said, is a typical example of Good Corporate Governance that exists in the telecoms sector. “Today, we have moved from 400,000 lines in 2000 to over 120 million active lines within a short space of 13 years, and the industry has created millions of jobs and has impacted immensely on the economy of the country, just because the NCC is an institution that is strongly rooted in Good Corporate Governance,” Utomi said.
He cautioned that corporations, institutions and the country at large should look at corporate governance from the regulatory level, sector level, and individual level, insisting that those on the board of any parastatal/institution must be visionary leaders that will see the future from the present trend, and be able to make informed decisions that will ensure sustainability of the organisation. Most organisations, he said, failed because of lack of good corporate governance, resulting in high cost of running such organisation, thereby leading to collapse.
Prof. Yomi Akinyeye, Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos corroborated; “We can sustain the efforts of the NCC. There was the clear vision and ability to see the future. It is good corporate governance that led to the sustenance of the telecom sector. The telecom sector example will be difficult to replicate if we don’t imbibe good corporate governance in the workplace”.
The Nigeria telecom success story is not an accident. Those conversant with the operational mode of the regulator, NCC, would readily attest to the fact that nothing short of success would come from the commission. The Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Dr. Eugene Juwah, prides himself as a stickler for the ideals of corporate governance. He has built on the foundation laid by his predecessors. He sees the mobile telecoms revolution the whole world is applauding as a little drop compared to the soon-to-unfurl broadband revolution.
In the frenzy of the global accolades for the Nigeria telecoms sector, it is important to examine the ingredients that made this possible in a sector that was once a liability and epitome of everything that is wrong with leadership in Nigeria. When the telecoms sector was under the control and vice grip of the federal government, it attracted at the very best of time a paltry $50 million in foreign investment. It was not only riddled with graft, it was a cesspool of inefficiency. Under government control, it was difficult to institute corporate governance and best practices.
However, the tide turned for the sector in 2000 when the digital mobile auction for GSM licences was conducted in a transparent and globally-acknowledged fraud-free process. Today, the sector has attracted over $25 billion in foreign direct investment, created millions of jobs, both direct and ancillary. The fortune of the sector is not so much due to the efficiency of the private operators, it owes so much to the high corporate governance standard instituted by the NCC.
Juwah never ceases to ascribe the success to the work ethics of the commission and its commitment to delivering the best regulatory standards. NCC is the only public agency in Nigeria that readily submits itself to public scrutiny and never shies from constructive criticism.
Through its telecom consumer parliament, the commission opens its flanks to public evaluation. Even in terms of human capital engagement, the federal government, in a rare show of commitment to public good, decided to follow due process in the replacement of Ndukwe. This created more stability and buoyed investors’ confidence in the sector.
The Nigerian Communications Act 2003, the extant law guiding all operations, administration and transactions in the telecom sector, clearly laid out the procedures for the appointment of the EVC or any other commissioner in the commission for that matter. It says in Chapter II, Section 8(2) that “The Board shall make recommendations to the President on suitably qualified persons for appointment as the Commission’s Chief Executive and Executive Commissioners and the President shall take the Commission’s recommendations into consideration for the appointment”. Section 11(1) states that vacancy is presumed to exist where a commissioner “dies, is removed, resigns or completes his tenure”. Section 11(2) of the Act states how such a vacancy shall be filled. It reads; “A vacancy in the Board shall be filled by the appointment of another person to the vacant office by the President in accordance with section 8 of this Act, as soon as is reasonably practicable after the occurrence of such vacancy”.
The phrase “in accordance with Section 8” simply implies that the President shall appoint from the recommendation of the Board. To do otherwise would amount to subversion of the law.
It is therefore to the credit of the government and victory for the rule of law that Juwah, who was one of the recommendations of the exiting Board was appointed.
Ever since his appointment, Juwah has justified his first-choice rating, bringing to bear on the management, his three decades of practice in the private sector. The leadership of the NCC has demonstrated in unmistakable terms that corporate governance and adherence to global best practices is possible even in the public sector arena.
At a time the world sees Nigeria as a nation of scammers and symbol of public sector decay, telecoms has provided an alternative and worthy perspective for assessing the country. The ITU scribe, Hamadoun Toure, a big fan of the Nigeria telecoms sector, has repeatedly mounted the rostrum at several ITU forums to sing the praises of the Nigerian regulator.
No doubt, there are issues of quality of service, tariff among others but Nigeria still rates better than most countries in the world. For instance, it is cheaper to make international calls with GSM in Nigeria than to make the same call in more advanced countries like Thailand, Singapore etc.
Overall, for those who still wonder if there is any redemptive grace for the nation in the area of leadership, they should draw inspiration from the qualitative leadership provided by managers of the nation’s telecoms sector.