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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: May 09, 2008

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Submitted: May 09, 2008




By Mafolasire Kayode

UNTIL the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) workers embarked on an indefinite strike early last week, few Nigerians gave heed to their warning.

The reason for this apathy can be found in the dwindling fortunes of the national carrier, particularly that of its mobile telephone arm, MTEL. Indeed, with the advent of mobile telephony, many Nigerians have pulled their patronage from NITEL,where only a few use their landlines or fixed wire lines.

However, events in the last one week have shown that NITEL remains the beautiful bride that is not recognised by her community. Today, with the shutdown of the South Atlantic-3 (SAT-3) West African Submarine Cable (WASC), communication within Nigeria and from there to her outside world has become epileptic and erratic. While subscribers are groaning under the yoke of the strike, NITEL's core investor, Transnational Corporation (Transcorp), and members of staff of the national carrier under the aegis of Senior Staff Association of Communications, Transport and Corporations (SSACTAC) are relentlessly trading blames over their actions.

The workers embarked on strike since April 15 following Transcorp's alleged refusal to pay them three months salary arrears, which the former agreed to pay at a tri-partite meeting earlier in the month. But Transcorp is insisting that the strike was needless considering that N506 million was released for the workers' one-month salary on the eve of the strike.

Transcorp, in an advertorial published in The Guardian of Sunday,April 20,2008 claimed that: "In a meeting brokered by the Ministry of Information and Communications on April 1, 2008, NITEL management, NITEL employee representatives and Transcorp management agreed to a time-table for the payment of all outstanding salaries.

"Transcorp was to provide the funds as NITEL does not currently generate enough revenue to meet its recurrent expenditure. The first milestone payment was due on Monday, April 14, 2008. Transcorp fulfilled its obligations with the release of about N506 million, which was to cover one month salary."

While not shying away from the fact that a labourer deserves his wage, Transcorp said: "It is on record that since it (Transcorp) formally took over as core investor in NITEL about 15 months ago, it has consistently worked with NITEL management to review and resolve issues raised by employees. The current impasse has been aggravated by the two months gap created by 'revocation and reversal' discussions."

The core investor, which accused NITEL workers of jumping the gun by not exhausting the option of dialogue, alleged that the latter's action "is not only a deliberate sabotage, it is irresponsible, as it is an embarrassment to the nation." Also, the regulatory agency in the communication sector, the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), expressed concern over the current industrial action, saying it has caused subscribers untold hardship.

The commission's Head of Public Affairs, Dave Imoko, noted that NITEL was a major provider of landline services to many government agencies and corporate organisations in the country, adding that NITEL, through the SAT-3 cable infrastructure, also provides a major international link from Nigeria to the outside world.

He stressed that consequent upon the strike action, subscribers who rely on NITEL's fixed lines would invariably resort to patronising other service providers, thus increasing congestion on those networks. Imoko observed that the disruption in the SAT-3 cable infrastructure would result in many subscribers from various networks in the country making several unsuccessful attempts to reach international destinations.

According to him, these have the combined effect of adding to the frustrations of subscribers as well as promoting network congestion.

"The commission hereby alerts subscribers about this development while we hope the problem between NITEL workers and their management will be resolved as soon as possible,Imoko added"

But SSACTAC in a swift reaction noted that it finds the official position on the strike which only emphasised the economic and security implications of the shutdown of SAT-3 equipment in line with the worker-unfriendly attitude of the management of Nigeria'stelecommunications industry regulator as unfair.

According to SSACTAC, in merely condemning the workers' action, NCC has remained unchanged in its usual role of playing the ostrich in serious matters involving players in the nation's telecommunications industry, adding that "we want to know what action the NCC has taken against Transcorp, which in the past 17 months of its take-over as core investor in NITEL/MTEL lost the technical and financial partners that qualified it for the position and have continued to show that it has no answers to the issue of turning around these companies,for which it was selected to monitor to become beneficial to national our heritage".

SSACTAC, in a statement jointly signed by its President and General Secretary, Lasisi Adesunkanmi and Chubby Nwagbara respectively, alleged that Transcorp has made no new investments and has refused to repair and replace optic cables or even provide funds for operational items such as fuel. Yet, it depends on the cash cow SAT-3, which the workers fought to retain in NITEL.

It further noted that this provided Transcorp with the funds to take care of its direct employees, who earn jumbo salaries, while subjecting NITEL workers to a humiliating personnel policy in their own country. It added that NITEL workers, in spite of their competence, diligence and years of service, are all casuals and worse still, are being owed six months salary arrears and allowances, even with the nation's harsh economic environment.

The association stated that despite the harsh conditions, workers went out of their duties most of the time to buy fuel to keep up NITEL services. They, therefore, owe it a duty to tell the public that this strike action started only on Tuesday, April 15, after Transcorp reneged once again on the agreement to bring peace and harmony to the industry.

"If people like Dave Imoke, whose salary and allowances are paid regularly as and when due, want to incite Nigerian telecommunications subscribers against NITEL workers, who have been frustrated by the organisation's incompetence, which partly drove the workers out of their posts, then he must think again," they said.

"NCC must live up to its role by sanctioning the rudderless Transcorp over its incompetence, which has denied subscribers in Nigeria an effective and efficient telecommunications services to join other patriotic Nigerians to support the search for a technically and financially competent team in NITEL.

"It is only then that NCC can absolve itself from blames and obtain cleansing as an agent in the on-going crisis in NITEL and the telecommunications industry."

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