In the not so recent past, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), fiercely engaged in a show of supremacy over how to use or how not to use Nigeria’s environmental space for telecommunication business purposes. Peoples Daily Weekend with additional information from agencies, relates some expert opinions on the issue
ome time ago, two federal agencies- the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) and the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), tried to educate each other on the best ways to put mobile communication installations to effective use within our country’s earth’s surface. While one agency seemed to follow a moral and ethical pathway, the other looked at its profit margins in the course of doing business on the environment. According to industrial dispute indicators, the two agencies were heading to the courthouse to validate their claims.
The struggle came to the fore after the sealing and unsealing off of an MTN mast and base station located at EFAB Estate in the nation’s capital around 2012, where NESREA argued that the site of the mast fell short of the required distances from the perimeter fencing of any residential building.
According to a representative of NESREA, “masts and base stations must stand at least ten metres away from any residential quarters in order to protect inhabitants of the area from chemical emissions and noise pollutions emanating from such base stations. But as you can see, this mast here is only 1.2 meters away from that house. And of course, it is dangerously too close and we can’t allow it to continue to stand there in the interest of the health of people living in that house.”
In their own submission, authorities of NCC argued that, “It is the inalienable right of NCC to determine where telecom masts and base stations should be sited in this country for the success of mobile telephony, and not NESREA’s. We have approved the location of masts many years before NESREA came on board and our telephone companies have not caused any bodily harm to anyone in the course of their business operations. NESREA is simply whipping up sentiments and meddling in the affairs of this commission and we won’t take it.”
It is no gainsaying that since then, both of them have exerted substantial strengths in trying to determine which of them is the ultimate judge in the day-to-day human interactions on the environment which has, no doubt, earned them front-burner attention with ordinary Nigerians asking if at all the chief executives of the two agencies actually know their onions in their constitutionally-assigned roles to the masses of this country.
As a matter-of-fact, Nigerian people have wondered if the two warring government departments were alien agencies who have no business carrying on their public service jobs under one federal authority.
Since then, too, concerned Nigerians, have tried to find out which of the agencies has been overstepping its bounds. They have tried to find out if NESREA, the federal agency charged with the responsibility of regulating human actions on the environment is the one exceeding the limits or boundaries of its authority. Or NCC, the federal agency formally instructed to supervise how telecommunication operators carry on their businesses in Nigeria the one stepping outside of its assigned roles.
On the other hand, critical observers also tried to find out if either of the two agencies was even being overzealous, altogether. But before any informed opinion could be reached on this vexed issue we tried to properly understand the various subsets of the mandates of the two agencies from their chief executives.
First, according to NESREA source, “The NESREA Act of 2007, empowers our agency to regulate and enforce, where necessary, all standards of social and economic operations undertaking by every inhabitant of this country’s biosphere insofar as such operation might affect the health and wellbeing of other inhabitants. And of course, this includes even unwholesome discharges into the atmospheric commons.”
At this point, if we understand the subset of its constitutional mandate properly, it means that NESREA over sees how all humans interact with the whole areas of our country’s environmental space which include the atmosphere and our sea areas inhabited by living things in order to ensure sustainability of all life forms on the environment, namely; sustainability of the human environment and the ecosystem.
For full understanding of NCC mandate, a top official in the commission who spoke to us on grounds of anonymity, maintained that it is his agency’s responsibility to approve licenses for telephone companies and other communication outfits as well as oversee the development and rational use of telecom masts and base stations and their efficient operations for purposes of improving telecom services in Nigeria.
He concluded that, “in all this, we make sure that all telecom equipment are put to their best uses and are readily available to the general public while we are at the same time making sure that the actions of phone companies are coordinated in order that they may attain their economic potentials.”
Here, the subset in NCC’s mandate is clear and suggestive. That is to say, in addition to making sure that telecom properties are developed and made available to the public, such installations must also be positioned in such a way as to earn maximum profits for the telephone companies.
Now looking at the divergence or rather, the amount of difference in the mandates of the two agencies, it might not be out of place to state here that they are purely and unreservedly parallel lines that might never meet; while one should try to oversee and preserve the purity and sanctity of our natural environment the other should oversee or rather, coordinate the use of telecommunication devices and systems to transmit electronic and optical signals across long distances within and outside the country.
But is that the case? What should be their rallying point? On the other hand, is anyone of them trying to muscle the other?
Whatever the answers though, an Abuja-based social analyst said that how each of the agencies succeeds in the execution of their national mandates should simply be a matter of synergizing. He, however, thinks that NCC has no business carrying on property developments on the environment without first, clearing with the environmental standards enforcement agency.
He said, “I don’t think NCC is getting it right, here. You see, you and I and everyone else in this country know that every agency of government has its own area of jurisdiction which must not cross each other. Therefore, NCC has no right whatsoever, to judge in matters of environmental decency. That decision is NESREA’s who should give environment impact reports to government concerning any industrial activities on the environment.”
On this, NESREA’s spokesman when the controversy lasted, Mr Sule Oyofo said, “the MTN mast in question was shut down on 23 April for breaching environmental laws. The site of the mast did not meet the stipulated 10-meter setback – a requirement permitted by the National Environmental (Telecom and Broadcast Facilities) Regulations S1 No 11 of 2011. Besides, the facility located in EFAB Estate in Mbora District of Abuja, was not captured in a national environmental audit carried out by NESREA to determine the rightness or otherwise of the locations of masts and base stations in the Capital City.”
We may wish to believe cited document as real and duly ratified by government. But what does he mean by rightness? Is his agency really interested in ethical issues and moral correctness in the conduct of government businesses, or the agency is just playing to the gallery and making people believe that NCC is a social bully?
At that time, an Abuja-based constitutional lawyer, Barr Chukwudi Uzendu, said that regardless of the huge successes recorded by the telecommunication industry in this country, the health and wellbeing of citizens should be given due consideration over financial gains, adding that it is only a healthy citizenry that can do business with any going concern.
Speaking on the point of law he said, “the National Environmental Regulations S1 No 11 of 2011 which includes Telecommunications and Broadcast Facilities, is a document that is expected to be obeyed by all industry players including NCC and its motley of telephone companies. If NCC fails to obey that piece of rule then it is indeed seen as meddling in the affairs of the environmental agency and could, therefore be summarily adjudged as being overzealous in its mandates. The commission should rather concentrate its energy on properly coordinating the activities telecom companies that are almost going haywire in their operations.”
Citing Lagos State as an example where separate regulatory agencies have been set up to stem indiscriminate erection of telecom masts and base stations, Uzendu said, “I think there is something wrong in the way the telecommu/nications industry operates in this country. Someone has to keep a close watch on them in the overriding interest of the Nigerian masses.”
In its own submissions in the inter-agency rivalry, League of Patriotic Youths of Nigeria, a nonpartisan, iconoclastic youths vanguard said, “we the youths of this country have watched with dismay the ongoing disagreement between NCC and NESREA over issues of communication and the environment and have, therefore, decided that NCC is being unreasonable in the matter because all NESREA is doing is to ensure that human health and the natural environment are safeguarded for purposes of sustainable development,” the youths concluded.