CYBER ERA OPINION

Suspend That 5G Technology Probe Now!

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The Upper Legislative Chamber of Nigeria’s National Assembly, the Senate, May 5, 2020, called for the suspension of 5G deployment in the country until after a thorough probe to ascertain the technology’s suitability or otherwise  to human health has been carried out.

Prof. Umar Danbatta, Chairman NCC
Dr. Gbenga Adebayo, ALTON
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Dr. Olusola Teniola, ATCON President

The Senate’s decision to probe 5G and its implication to Nigeria was adopted following a motion sponsored by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Science and Technology, Senator Uche Ekwunife, PDP, Anambra Central Senatorial District, South East, Nigeria.

The Senate named the investigating committee as comprising its members from the Communications, Science and Technology, and Health Committees with a mandate to determine the technological impact of 5G network on Nigerian citizens.  The four committees led by Communications Committee chaired by Senator Oluremi Tinubu,(APC) Lagos Central Senatorial District, south west, Nigeria are to report back to plenary within four weeks.

This probe, coming from the Upper Legislative Chamber, at a time the whole world in general and Nigeria in particular, are trying to devise strategies to contain and rout the dreaded Coronavirus(COVID-19) pandemic, is curious and  ill-timed. And a simple question to raise  at this juncture is: why carry out a probe when the country is in a state of virtual lockdown?

The lead motion sponsor Ekwunife, drew her colleagues’ attention to the fact that “the uncertainty on whether or not the 5G network has been launched in Nigeria will continue to fuel speculations and rumour concerning the deployment of the 5G network and its effects on citizens of Nigeria”.

While Senator Ekwunife and her supporters may have the best of intentions for the health and wellbeing of Nigerians to be ensured at all times, we think  it is absolutely insulting to the sensibilities of the telecommunications community at home and abroad for the Nigerian Senate to be seen to be carrying out a probe on a non-existent technology and service, at a most inauspicious time. This wild goose chase at a wrong time must cease in order to stave off its potentially untoward effect on the macro economy.

This wrong-footed move by the Senate has exposed the real or imagined disconnect between and among the town, gown and policy and regulatory fronts in the country.  Under normal circumstances, the National Assembly ought to be updated on credible intelligence possible from the humongous literature on 5G and its alleged pros and cons, so its oversight functions and legislations are top-notch.

The intended probe could potentially discourage local researchers and foreign investors angling to be part of the 5G play in Nigeria.  It would further discourage MTN Nigeria, for instance, that would go live with 5G services any moment, after a most successful 5G demo across select cities, as it could other telcos that may have concluded plans to follow MTN Nigeria in carrying out their respective 5G demos and bare their rollout plans.  The probe could also distract executives from both the public and private sectors(especially, the sector regulator, the NCC) whose input are germane to the process, especially now everybody is hopefully looking forward to a speedy pathway to the launch of 5G services on the one side as well as for a breakthrough in medicines and vaccines crucial to containing and terminating the COVID-19, on the other. Quite contrary to insinuations in certain quarters, the world needs 5G technology to help it in containing the COVID-19 as 5G apps are being trialed in some jurisdictions.

We do not want to water down the potency of the appeal to call off this meaningless probe by panning to speculations in certain quarters our ‘Distinguished’ lawmakers have ran out of cash and wish to reflate by resorting to ‘business as usual’, because, in our informed opinion, Nigeria cannot afford that luxury at this time.

The media space (including the profuse reportage on 5G by this medium) is awash with informed literature emanating from richly competent sources, affirming that 5G technology (as generations of technologies before it) are not harmful to human health at the moment.  The World Health Organisation(WHO) has said so.  The International Commission on NonIonizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has said so. The International Telecommunications Union(ITU) has said so. Back home, the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria(ATCON), Association of Licensed Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria(ALTON), and Nigerian Information Technology Reporters Association (NITRA), among others, have lent their perspectives on the subject matter and have absolved 5G from any linkages with adverse health conditions including COVID-19.  The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Pantami and the Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer(EVC/CEO) of the Nigerian Communications Commission ( NCC), Professor Umar Danbatta, have lent both policy and regulatory perspectives clarifying as yet there is no 5G network in the country.

Dr. Isa Pantami, Minister of Communication & Digital Economy
Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary General
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NITRA Chairman, Chike Onwuegbuchi

The NCC has earlier clarified: “In view of the recent development in which misleading materials with no proven evidence are being circulated to link CORONAVIRUS or COVID-19 with 5G Technology, it has become imperative for the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to provide the following clarifications:

Firstly, there is no correlation between 5G Technology and COVID-19.   5G is an advancement on today’s 4G technology, designed to transform the world positively.

Secondly, there is no deployment of 5G in Nigeria at the moment. The NCC, back in November 2019, approved trial test for 5G for a period of three (3) months, and the trial has been concluded and installation decommissioned.

The trial, among others, was to study and observe any health or security challenges the 5G network might present. Relevant stakeholders, including members of the security agencies, were invited to participate during the trial.

The NCC will continue to maintain its policy of technology neutrality and will continue to encourage Service Providers to deploy the best technology that will meet the needs of the society in a secured and friendly manner.”

For the avoidance of doubt, we wish to state that the National Frequency Management Council, (NFMC), headed by Minister Pantami, has not assigned any 5G spectrum nor the NCC allocated one to any of the mobile network operators in the country. The regulator has assured spectrum for 5G is available, particularly the millimetre wave spectrum from 24GHz and above are available,  these will be auctioned at the appropriate time.  We are tempted to ask with the foregoing: So, what is  Senator Oluremi Tinubu and her team going to probe?

The fourth largest mobile operator in Africa by revenue and subscriber base, Vodacom, made history (the same day Nigerian Senators decided to go for a probe of a non existent technology in Nigeria), by going live with Africa’s first 5G network in three cities namely Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town – with further rollouts planned in other parts of the country.  Which cities in Nigeria will the ‘Distinguished Senators’ be touring to execute their miragy probe? There would not have been any dust raised if the Senate is probing why the trial 5G spectrum was not allocated to MTN Nigeria (that is keen to launch commercial 5G services in Nigeria), when it applied for it, as Dr. Pantami admitted recently and apologized to the telco for at its 5G demo in Abuja.  Or if the Upper House instituted a probe into why there have not been many people sent to jail for misappropriating funds meant for the proper running of Ministries, departments and agencies, as alleged by their successors?

Senator. Uche Ekwunife, PDP, Anambra State.
Senator. Oluremi Tinubu, APC, Lagos Central
Tedros Adhanom, WHO, Director General

We believe that Nigerian authorities should neither operate in silos nor isolate themselves from the global macro economy.  Not heeding this advise has drawn progress back in this country, including furthering our communications and digital economy aspirations.  Both the Upper and Lower Chambers of the  National Assembly must make use of intelligence in the public and private domain, whether their input is manifestly in it or not. Time is ripe for the National Assembly to have competent technology liaison officers who should be able to advise the lawmakers on the differences between science and fiction and save the country from the real or imagined cost in time, energy and resources that wild probes, such as the current one, have plunged the system into. We have unmanageable MDAs in Nigeria today because lawmakers have largely carried out legislations without adequate information and knowledge on the subject matters.  The Oronsaye Report, which the current administration has shown interest to implement, exposed this lacuna in our legislative processes and this is yet to close. In 2011, the Senate included Order 77(3) in its Standing Order, making it a mandatory requirement for any Senator who sponsors a Bill to submit an accompanying document named Compendium of Financial Implications of any proposed legislation.  So far, the National Assembly appear not to have learned from its previous flaws.

The allusion to the moratorium on 5G deployment  in Switzerland and other jurisdictions, cited by Ekwunife does not hold any waters as the fears expressed for the moratoria are different from the ones her argument supports. While we admit that Nigeria might be affected and infected by the economic-diplomatic war between the US and China, we advise  Nigeria must not be dragged into the war because, we believe, it will end up the loser as both the United States and China are clearly 5G technology leaders.  The US has sensed China was having an upper way and is exploring and exploiting opportunities to stop China’s supremacy on 5G.  So, must Nigeria necessarily obey the US by banning Huawei and other 5G OEMs?  If Switzerland and other jurisdictions cited by Senator Ekwunife are persuaded by Washington’s argument Huawei is a security risk, is this enough to stop our 5G movement? Of course, no.  Nigeria must not allow her 5G (and, indeed, other New Generation Technologies) ship to capsize, because, health and security concerns have been expressed at home and abroad.  The concerns, to our mind, are ample opportunities, for our experts to synergise, innovate and proffer credible solutions to Nigeria’s developmental challenges.  It is their remit to do so and be seen to be doing so.

We join our voice to that of many industry stakeholders who believe 5G conspiracy theorists have swallowed a dangerous lie and make bold to urge the Senate  of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should not make the news for the wrong reasons, including probing a technology that we do not yet have and are aspiring to have, for its potentially manifold value propositions.

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