Armed with documents including correspondences between it and political parties, letters to GSM operators and Value Added Service (VAS) providers, the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, has come out strongly to fault the claims of Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola that it deliberately banned the All Progressives Congress, APC, from using telecommunications service providers’ networks to raise money for the campaign of its presidential candidate, Maj. Gen. Muhammed Buhari. The commission said that Fashola has enjoyed such service in 2011 which he got through due process.
Spokesman for the commission, Tony Ojobo, displayed a letter from the NCC dated February 17, 2011 and addressed to Awareness Connect Limited, a VAS operator acting on behalf of Fashola. The VAS operator had applied for permission to use a short code for Fashola’s campaign in a letter dated February 15, 2011. That request was expeditiously granted.
According to the NCC, the ban came as a result of the APC breaching the commission’s laid down rules and regulations. Ojobo, in a press briefing clarified that there are stipulated rules and regulations for allocating short codes to VAS providers Such code, he stressed, must be used solely for the purpose intended as contained in its guidelines.
This according to the NCC was totally ignored by the APC Fund raising platform initiators. Ojobo said section 3 of the commission’s guideline provides that “ the commission shall receive written notification from the licensees for all advertisements for goods and services within the a minimum of seven (7) days of the proposed or planned publication of an advertisement, in order to ensure such advertisements meet the following minimum standards and requirements.”
The commission however said it has no problems with any political platform using the short code services for whatever purpose, but its challenge is with the telecommunication networks that flaunted it regulations which states that: “Network operators and content aggregators will be primarily responsible for the contravention of any of the provision of these Guidelines and will face appropriate sanctions where applicable.
“Network operators and content aggregators must ensure that service providers give the highest level of service to the consumer and those consumers: “A. Have sufficient information to enable them make informed decisions about using Short Codes.” To this, the NCC said it will deal appropriately with defaulting networks. Ojobo did not fail to mention that the mobile Fund raising platforms are not new especially to the APC and PDP alike, since the governor of Lagos state, Babatunde Fashola, who is the APC campaign funds director, is familiar with the process of acquiring short codes.
“You are allowed to raise money, but you must conform to the rules of NCC. We didn’t make these rules looking at elections. We made these rules for the interest of development of telecommunications in Nigeria and we would keep those rules whether there are elections or not.” Ojobo reiterated.
In a letter dated Thursday, February 17, 2011, with the title “SHORT CODE ALLOCATION (35815)” the commission approved the same code despite the fact that there were no concrete existing regulations to back it. “the commission is currently in the process of developing regulatory guidelines for the operations and administration of short code in Nigeria, however, in the commissions spirit of supporting innovations and development in the telecommunications industry, we wish to inform you that you may temporarily use the short code 35815 for a maximum period of 90 days with effect from the date on this letter. Please note that this code must be used solely for the purpose of creating awareness and support for governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos state campaign platform for April 2011 campaign as stated in your request.
“Please note that the commission reserves the right to withdraw this resource when necessary,” the letter read. The commission said the ban was not instigated by the government as it is been reported, but that it has continued to maintain a responsible independent regulatory agency and its independence has never been in doubt and that it remains non-partisan to any political party. Ojobo said the NCC is ready to lift the ban as long as the due process is followed strictly.
To buttress the level of fairness of the commission, Ojobo produced a letter which conveyed approval of the short code to Fashola through an agency for the same purpose during the 2011 election. Ojobo explained that in the case of the 2015 election, the VAS operator that the APC used did not apply and hence was not issued a short code for the purpose of raising funds. The Commission blamed the VAS operator for engaging in illegality and urged Fashola and other politicians to ensure that the VAS operators they intend to use are legally empowered by NCC to undertake such service with a duly signed approval letter.