The Nigerian Senate has no competence on 5G – fifth generation mobile network, that technology with the kind of capacity that can overawe any other technology in terms of speed. That competence resides, first, with the regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), because of enormous capacity built up in-house; and, secondly, with the industry, because of the depth of human capital and resources available to the operators.
In between, quite a number are hedonists. Except sheltered in now by COVID-19, they junket round the world in the guise of working for country and they return with little or no knowledge except tales of exploits in a land which others have developed.
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A few years back, some of them were returning from a trip to Malaysia. At a breakfast session in one of the exotic hotels in Dubai, all you could hear from them were tales of personal victories and fun, this collection of sybarites, with no remorse for the people’s money they have wasted. I listened to them that morning; they, totally oblivious of another person sitting not far away from them in their ignoble guffaw, and eventually stole away with anger welling up inside of me.
So, the Senate put a lid on 5G on the grounds that they need to do more interrogations on the safety of the technology. The Joint Committee on Science and Technology, ICT, Cyber Crime, and Primary Health responsible for this epochal investigation, is led by Senator Oluremi Tinubu.
Technology has always harboured its demon of fears, leaving the window open for only the bold to take in the light of breakthrough and success. Mobile technology has had its share of these demons and, only last year, 5G was accused of being responsible for COVID-19! And in Britain (one is not talking of some little islands outside of the continent of Australia) some 5G base stations were burnt by troubled souls who were so convinced of the wickedness of the new technology.
Knowing the frailties of human emotions and how easy it is to manipulate them with severe untruth, this writer had last year admonished the Committee: “In this journey, there are low hanging opportunities, repository of industry knowledge that the Senate must take advantage of. They include but not limited to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the regulatory agency of the telecommunications industry, the Nigerian Society of Engineers, two operating bodies in the industry – ATCON and ALTON, GSMA, ITU, WHO ICNIRP and a whole lot of other organizations.”
One would never know if the Committee ever found this unsolicited advice useful. But such was the situation last year that as COVID-19 created an epidemic fear, the regulator had to release a comprehensive statement in which it assured of the safety of 5G. While the Commission acknowledged a trial run of 5G in Nigeria with all the relevant stakeholders involved, it confirmed that no 5G license had been issued any operator even as safety and human health are top priority in the design and deployment of the technology.
“5G technology will transform the world by connecting everything with everybody. It will create millions of jobs, it will add billions of dollars to the economy (GDP), and can solve some of our problems such as insecurity and improve governance and efficiency in the society,” the Commission listed the benefits in the statement.
Nigeria needs to move beyond emotions and unfounded paranoia to tap into the benefits of 5G. The reason being that the world is moving on and nobody is going to wait for any country which is not sure of what it wants out of tomorrow. While we were measuring the value of life apropos 5G last year, an operator in Dubai simply tracked the flow of traffic to confirm the migration and residence of subscribers and pinpointed their equipment to enable them have unbelievable tech experience and work from home at the height of the pandemic.
South Korea, a country with very little land in the Korea peninsula rolled out 5G technology in December 2018, and that country which used to cringe before the bestial north, is miles ahead of most advanced countries of the west, including the US and Germany, and even China that are the curators of 5G equipment. At no time does anybody, including visitors, run short of high speed open Wi-Fi on the streets of Incheon.
In Africa, South Africa (MTN and Vodacom) and Kenya (Safaricom) are maintaining a clear lead although over ten other countries are carrying out a 5G trial. Nigeria has finished a trial and was on the cusp of significant advancement before the flight was aborted by the Senate.
Is 5G that important? Let me give you the American view as presented by former President, Donald Trump. Taking a significant decision in April last year, Trump said: “We cannot allow any other country to out-compete the United States in this powerful industry of the future. We are leading by so much in so many different industries of that type, and we just can’t let that happen. The race to 5G is a race America must win, and it’s a race, frankly, that our great companies are now involved in. We’ve given them the incentive they need. It’s a race that we will win.”
Oh, does that resonate like President John F. Kennedy’s Man on the Moon speech of May 25, 1961? Sometimes, great leaders make some bold and challenging statements with concomitant results. It is clear to all that we suffer terrible leadership deficit at the moment but this must not rob us of the future. I challenge the Senate to rise above the ephemeral fears and uncertainties that presently confront us. The fact that the Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff on January 28, 1986, killing all seven astronauts in it, has not stopped NASA from sending people to space or stopped entrepreneurs from working on space tourism projects. The Senate must creep out of the shadows of tech phobia and think of something big for the people.
Okoh Aihe writes from Abuja.