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Nigerian Outrage As NCC Awards Licence to South African Fibre cable Firm

The decision of the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) to grant a fibre optic cable landing licence to WACS - a South African promoted consortium - is causing outrage in the Nigerian telecoms sector, according to This Day because of the difficulties Nigerian cable companies have had in obtaining licences in South Africa.

In all there are 11 members that form the consortium but the key members are South African: Angola Telecom, Broadband Infraco, Cable & Wireless, MTN, Portugal Telecom, Sotelco, Tata Communications, Telecom Namibia, Telkom SA, Togo Telecom and Vodacom.

NCC's decision is being described as "insensitive" and "naïve" given the fact that the South African government only recently prevented a Nigerian-promoted company, Main One Cable Company, from landing its fibre optic cable in its territory on the basis that it is not owned by South Africans.

Main One Cable is expected to land in Nigeria and Ghana by mid-2010 and has already acquired landing licences from Nigeria and Ghana. In the second phase of its operation, Main One cable is expected to extend to South Africa.

Last year, the company applied to the South African Government for a landing licence in the country but the application was rejected because, according to the South African authorities, Main One Cable Company is owned by Nigerians and not South Africans. They then requested that Main One Cable Company should seek out South Africans who would be willing to acquire majority interest in the company.

Promoters of Main One Cable Company were said to have reported this development to NCC and other key organs of government, including some National Assembly members. However, the NCC has finally granted a landing licence to WACS, fuelling disgust in the industry and calling to question whose economic interests the Nigerian regulatory body is serving.

"Nigeria recently celebrated 10 years of bilateral trade with South Africa. I think it should be unilateral trade. There is nothing bilateral in a relationship where only one partner enjoys the benefits. Many Nigerian companies have been denied entry into South Africa, while others have been systematically muscled out of the country. Even South Africa's visa policy towards Nigeria would rank among the most stringent by any country and appears calculated to deny Nigerians entry into the country," an industry chief executive, who asked not to be named said.

Reacting to the outrage, an NCC official told ThisDay that the laws of Nigeria allows 100 per cent ownership of companies operated by foreigners. According to this unnamed spokesperson, "As a matter of fact, the NIPC (Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission) website buttressed this point, by asserting that foreigners can own up to 100 per cent of any Nigerian business, except in the maritime sector."

WACS was launched in 2008, with the objective of building a submarine cable from South Africa to West Africa. In inaugurating the­ cable in 2008, former South African President Thabo Mbeki stated that WACS would enable South Africa further consolidate its strategic leadership of the telecommunications sector in Africa.

"Indeed, so strategic is this project to the South African Government that Infraco provides a 25 per cent subsidy to the four South African telecommunications operators on the consortium," another industry insider told ThisDay. "While one cannot say NCC should refuse WACS a landing licence, it makes sense that the Nigerian authorities should tell the South Africans to reciprocate the venture. That is the meaning of bilateral trade."

Glo One, the intercontinental submarine cable being constructed by Glo, has already landed in Nigeria and Ghana and also has a licence in Côte d'Ivoire.

This Day

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