OPINION-June 30th Deadline, Telecoms & Unsolicited Messages

By Hamza Ibrahim Chinade
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the body empowered by law in Nigeria to license and oversee telecommunication companies operations may be in danger of losing the confidence of especially cell phone users and data subscribers in Nigeria for its “failure” to protect their rights from the hungry-ingrate telecommunication companies who heartlessly continue to exploit their helpless customers.

There have been thousands of complaints about unfair treatments from these telecommunication companies ranging from regular unsolicited calls placed by the telecoms to customers, forceful subscription of customers to certain unimportant and unwanted services etc, but NCC is yet to demonstrate its capability to tackle these unending disgusting experiences of customers.

When in September 2015 NCC put out a public notice in national dailies asking whether or not customers are being treated fairly, or have been experiencing hiccups in services provided by different network providers and then introduced the western style of toll free ‘622’ number for victims to find succor, most of us drew a sigh of relief, thinking that finally the redress mechanism has arrived. But, to date that mechanism has only been a toll free and not able to function as expected. Worried with the unsolicited messages and calls, I publicized the 622 on social media in order to help other people such as myself.

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My first encounter with calling the 622 center was hopeful, as I was asked all the necessary information about myself and was told the conversation was being recorded, I was finally instructed to hung up and jot down the numbers that I receive the unsolicited messages and calls from and then call back. After jotting the numbers down I called back and reported, my curiosity couldn’t let me end the call without asking what to expect after giving the numbers, and the enquiry revealed that the numbers will be sent to the network providers and they will deactivate me. Fine was my response. Unfortunately no deactivation took place even after several months, so network providers kept flooding my phone with variety of useless messages.

Again, when NCC ordered that Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) set up the shortcode of 2442 for subscribers to opt-in to the “Do Not Disturb” (DND) database restricting unsolicited marketing messages and by June 30th this year all MNOs must stop sending unsolicited messages and placing calls to customers or risk N5 million fine and N500,000 everyday, I thought the second mechanism will tame the menace but neither did it reduce the frequency nor did it stop the unsolicited messages and calls. Now, most touch-screen phones users receive pop ups on their screens with just two options ‘ok’ or ‘cancel’ of these deceptive messages, should you mistakenly press ‘ok’ then compulsory deductions follow with no option of opt-out. NCC must swiftly act and save consumers from this high-tech ‘robbery’.

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Despite the unsatisfactory outcome so far from the mechanism of the Nigerian Communications Commission, I still want to urge that the commission either come up with other measures to deal with non-compliant Mobile Network Operators or allow the customers to seek their rights from these MNOs, eg for every unsolicited message or call a consumer receives a certain financial penalty (say N200 per message or call) can be claimed by the victim from their respective service provider, that will serve as a deterrent as well as compensation to the consumers who have suffered long enough.
Hamza Ibrahim Chinade is of the Center for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) Kano, +2348039467382 [email protected]