NCC CEO quizzed over WiMAX licensing

20 May 2009

Nigerian newspaper Daily Trust is reporting that the CEO of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Ernest Ndukwe, is being questioned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for allegedly contravening due process in the award of spectrum in the 2.3GHz frequency band last week. The licensing of the WiMAX spectrum, which was slated to fetch the federal government over NGN5 billion, has been embroiled in controversy with petitions to the Presidency and the commission on the conduct of the exercise. The NCC has released a statement in response to the events, which states: ‘Executive vice chairman of the NCC, Ernest Ndukwe, yesterday was invited to the office of the EFCC in Abuja, to give his response to a petition filed by the minister of information and communications, Professor Dora Akunyili, who alleged that the Commission did not heed to her directive to stop the ongoing process for the award of spectrum slot in the 2.3GHz band.’ A senior official in the EFCC told Daily Trust that Mobitel Nigeria, one of the companies to be awarded a WiMAX licence, raised NGN1.368 billion by the deadline to pay the fee, but in October last year was said to be indebted to the commission to the tune of NGN246 million, which it was unable to pay. This forced the NCC to waive a total of NGN243 million debt for the company, leaving a balance of NGN3 million for the firm to pay. Mobitel, alongside Spectranet and fixed-wireless operator Multilinks, emerged as winners out of 41 applicants for the four slots in the 2.3 GHz after each of them paid NGN1.368 billion for the frequency used to support to WiMAX technology. Galaxy Wireless was also cleared as a successful applicant, but failed to pay the fee by the deadline. Other unsuccessful applicants faulted the commission on how the whole process was conducted, especially the one week timeframe given to pay the necessary fees.

Ndukwe is also being investigated over allegations of spending money beyond the commission’s budget for 2008 and misleading the government in the execution of contracts for the construction of community information centres across the country. A spokesperson for the NCC told the paper that Ndukwe ‘wishes to reiterate that the process is transparent in line with the antecedents of the Commission’s previous licensing processes. He said it would be unthinkable for anybody to associate him, or any member of the board and management of the Commission, with any of the four companies that participated in the process.’