Barring urgent presidential intervention over alleged incessant closure of telecom operators’ cell sites and base stations, Nigeria may have the 2019 general elections without telecommunications. This is as the telcos have warned that henceforth, they would not re-open any site arbitrarily closed by States and agencies of Government over non-payment of some taxes and levies, they (telcos) claim are arbitrary and criminally duplicated.
The telcos say they are faced with uncountable number of ridiculous taxes and levies, leaving the operating environment so harsh and return on investment less attractive. They complained that the taxes and levies are duplicated in different names and among Federal, State and Local Governments, making them practically impossible to comply with; yet at the slightest delay in payment, agencies involved resort to closing down critical network facilities. They are demanding that President Muhammadu Buhari declares telecom facilities critical national assets as stipulated by the Cybercrime Act, 2015.
The telcos through their trade body, the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria, ALTON, said it was high time the President took that bold step to secure telecom infrastructure in the country. Chairman of the body, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, told Hi-Tech that “we are law abiding corporate organisations paying our taxes as and when due.
Irrespective of the fact that we are under regulation by an agency of the Federal Government, we are also faced with several other taxes and levies which are truly ridiculous and criminally duplicated by all manner of agencies and State Governments. We have continued to engage these States and agencies but rather than exhausting the proper dialogue channel, at the slightest opportunity, they resort to closing down our critical operating facilities which even have serious security implications.
“Now, we are approaching an election year, if these things continue, the country should expect telecom blackout because we are not going to open any site closed down arbitrarily by any state or agency under the guise of non-payment of these obnoxious taxes. The implication of this is that telecom as a borderless technology knows no boundaries. If for instance, those sites that are in the border areas are closed down, it will affect services in the states they border and both will have telecom blackout and we will not reopen any site and will not be held accountable. “Again, the regulator should not ask us to provide optimum quality of service, because it is not possible.
You cannot have sites closed down in some states and use the few states that are operating normally to judge us on key performance index; that will be highly unfair. “All that can solve these issues is for the president to step up and make a declaration as required by the Cybercrime law that telecom infrastructure is critical national asset. Only then would we have the legal backing and instrument of state to fight these agencies shutting down our sites arbitrarily,” he added. Adebayo said the resolutions were made after the association’s general meeting in October 2017.
The association also took a swipe at the Amended Taxes & Levies Order, 2015, saying it has engendered the institution of multiplicity of taxes across different tiers of Government. “The Amended Order failed to fix the taxable rate resulting in the imposition of arbitrary levies and charges at the State Government levels. The industry is also burdened with enactment of laws at the State Government levels to legitimize spurious levies and charges on our members which negates the ease of doing business in Nigeria. Most of these taxes and levies were hitherto contested by our members on the grounds that they were not applicable to telecommunications operations justified by the previous Taxes and Levies (Approved List for Collection) Act 1998.
“It is disturbing that the entire instrument has given the State Government’s authorization to coerce and disrupt the operations of our members in order to compel the payment of sundry levies, charges and taxes. Rather than Amended Order addressing the issue of multiple taxation; it on the contrary, increased the tax burden of our members and adversely impacted the ease of doing business in Nigeria.”