Telecommunications operators in the country have appealed to government to put them on the priority list of access to foreign exchange. According to them, this is the only way the country can make progress in expanding digital infrastructure.
Chief Executive Officer of Airtel, Mr. Segun Ogunsanya, who made the appeal on behalf of all operators, said all equipment needed to build more infrastructure are imported and the operators were finding it difficult to access forex for procurement. “Access to forex has been a major barrier for us as operators and this is why we appealing to the government to give us prioritised access to foreign exchange.
“We need this for procurement as none of the equipment needed to build more infrastructure is available in Nigeria,” he said. Aside from the foreign exchange issue, Ogunsanya also called for enforcement of the protection of telecom infrastructure as Critical National Infrastructure (CNI). “Telecommunications infrastructure has been declared as CNI, but we need this to be enforced. We need to be able to get the police to arrest those destroying our equipment,” the Airtel CEO said.
The immediate past President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, Mr. Olusola Teniola, had sometime ago made a similar call to government. According to him, telecom operators in Nigeria have not been finding it easy to access forex to fund their infrastructure projects. “To source, foreign exchange to be able to carry out projects that are capital intensive has not been easy.
We have pleaded many times to give consideration to the fact that 100 per cent of our equipment and, unfortunately, software, are imported. We need to reiterate that we need the Central Bank of Nigeria to reconsider the 41 items that were listed that include some of the resources to our industry and remove them from the list. “Also, we need to ensure that our members are able to access forex at a rate that is not inhibitive to the growth of the industry. Remember, the digital economy does not exist without broadband.
“Our members create an enabling environment for that to exist. Just like we create an enabling environment for the digital economy to exist, we need CBN and the arms of government to ensure that this is done for us, that we are able to access favourable rates to accelerate the rollout of broadband,” Teniola said. As far back as 2018, the telecoms regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had also made the same appeal, stressing the need for CBN to accommodate telecoms service providers on its forex priority list to reduce the risk of forex fluctuation and access being experienced by the operators. Speaking at a forum in Lagos, the Director, Licensing and Authorisation, NCC, Ms. Funlola Akiode, had said the commission was in talks with the apex bank in that regard.
According to her, “the Commission has been engaging CBN on the need to list telecoms on the forex priority list. The two agencies have had series of meetings in this regard and other issues that require collaboration. “While we are hopeful of a successful outcome, the Commission has continued to assist operators through the Confirmation of Reasonableness of Service Fees on invoices submitted for procurement of intangible telecoms services from foreign vendors through forex sourced from CBN.”