Nigerians are kicking against a proposed hike in the cost of internet data. Respondents describe the move as insensitive
As offices shut their doors and the 'Akara' and 'Suya' traders set out their stalls for the night's business, two Executives of blue chip telecom firms in Lagos, took turns to ring the Pulse newsroom.
Their message was crisp and clear--Nigerians will soon be forced to pay more for data by the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
The new data price regime will be rolled out on December 1, 2016, they announced grimly.
"Under the new data price regime, the NCC (Nigeria Communications Commission) has directed all telecom operators in the country to review their current data prices to align with the new price floor and implement same by the 1st of December 2016, while defaulters risk having sanctions imposed on them", one CEO (Chief Executive Officer) explained.
In letters addressed to all network operators, the NCC stated that it "decided to introduce the data price floor as a strategy to stabilize the industry, improve quality of service and ensure that customers get value for their money".
97.1 million Nigerians now have access to the internet, according to 2015 data from the NCC. That's more than half of the country's population of 180 million people, hooked on the internet.
Nigeria's internet users are spread across Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) networks.
Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, more than half of Nigeria's population now reads the news, skim through gossip blogs, hook up on social media and conduct business via the internet.
Beginning next month, all of those users will be hit hard in the wallet.
Given that the country's economy is faltering under the weight of a biting recession; with inflation rising to 18 percent in the third quarter--according to latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics--it is little wonder that Nigerians have taken to the internet (where else?) to express their displeasure with the impending data price hike.
"Maybe the real revolution will start when one government official will just wake up and decide that there should be tax on Jollof rice. Drivers license tax coming up.... ATM tax National ID card tax. Tax everything in sight. Meanwhile we don't see what the money is doing o", wrote Rita Onwurah on micro-blogging site, Twitter.
Asher .O. wrote: "Companies are shrinking. Working environment is becoming more hostile day by day. But no! The government must make this harder. All the monies they claim to have recovered, what are they doing with it? Abi na Audio money?"
According to Ayo Sogunro: "Increase electricity tariff, toll roads, cut subsidy, tax bank deposits, tax passports, tax phone calls. We need to keep government well-fed, folks".
"We will soon pay tax for being alive in Nigeria. Probably in Buhari's 2nd term", wrote Biola Kazeem.
"We will soon start paying tax for breathing in Nigeria", offered Saoud Al-Shuraim.
Public commentator and sports analyst, Emmanuel Nwachukwu was livid: "You are increasing taxes, tariffs, service charges, demanding tax clearance from people who are unemployed or taking pay cuts to keep a job!
"The FG providing jobs (low paying) for 200,000 but, same govt is going to take all the income via taxes and tariffs!! You people are mad!"
Another public commentator and PR consultant, Bukola Ogunyemi, put the proposed tax regime this way: "Give your cronies and the super rich multiple tax breaks then overtax the poor. They introduce Copulation Tax and you gotta have a sit down with your wife. How many times can we afford in 2017? What if we get a loan?"
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has warned the federal government against the data tariff hike.
In a statement signed by its President, Comrade Bobboi Bala Kaigama and Acting Secretary General, Comrade (Barr.) Simeso Amachree, the TUC said the proposed move makes little economic sense and is insensitive.
The statement reads in parts:
"The Trade Union Congress of Nigeria warns against the on-going conspiracy between the Federal Government through the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and some major telecom companies, especially MTN to further increase their data rates from December 1, 2016. It is really startling the extent government and its capitalist cronies would go to frustrate the lives of Nigerians.
"We feel particularly awful about the move because data is one of the cheapest ways to empower the teeming youth. This move if allowed, would make it unaffordable. In our view, this is insensitive and criminal on the part of the parties involved.
"We are not surprised that MTN has thrown its whole weight behind the policy; but the telecom giant should realize that trying to lobby the government will not save the organization when the chips are down. Of course, this cannot happen in South Africa.
“Naturally, we had expected that government would increase awareness for greater citizens’ participation especially in ICT, but unfortunately they are doing the opposite. One cannot really situate Federal government policy direction these days.
“On the one hand, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo is banking on ICT for youth empowerment while on the other, the NCC is trying to cut youth participation. All the promises made to the Chief Executive Officer of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg when he visited the country cannot be achieved if the policy is implemented.
“This is not the best way to make money. This move is spineless and should be done away with. What then would be the benefit of the policy to the self-employed who depend on data for their businesses? The truth is, cheap internet data is a vehicle of some sort to economic development.
“It is very unfortunate, very unreasonable and inhuman to come up with such idea at a period of recession. Any call for increase in anything for now is most unreasonable, uncalled for and a calculated attempt to record more suicide cases and insecurity in our already tension-soaked country".
Communication Minister, Adebayo Shittu, was yet to provide a response to this story at the time of heading to press.
Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, could also not be reached for comments at the time of filing this.