The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and other telecommunications regulators under the auspices of the West African Telecoms Regulators Assembly (WATRA) are set to develop technical and regulatory modalities aimed at combating the rising wave of electronic fraud and standardising regional roaming tariffs in the sub-region.
This was part of conclusions reached during a two-day meeting organised by WATRA in collaboration with the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), which started on Tuesday (October 26), in Abuja.
The meeting, attended by representatives of telecoms regulators from countries across West Africa, provided a platform for key participants and stakeholders to deliberate on building a unified market in telecommunications services in West Africa, to combat roaming and cyber-related frauds, towards standardising roaming tariffs among ECOWAS member-states.
Addressing stakeholders at the meeting, Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, who is also the chairman of WATRA, underscored the centrality of the meeting by emphasising that, as businesses move online, fraudsters have migrated also.
Danbatta, who was represented by NCC’s director, technical standards and network integrity, Bako Wakil said to give West African citizens and businesses the confidence to fully take advantage of the enormous benefits of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), the need for regulators to tame and outpace the fraudsters cannot be overemphasised.
“About 75 per cent of trade within ECOWAS is informal and, thus, poorly recorded. Therefore, digitising this trade through employing many forms of electronic payments is a significant step towards formalising, governing and boosting intra-ECOWAS trade activities. Our ambitions are to formalise informal trade, agricultural commodities, as well as boost intra-regional trade. This would require improved collaboration in combating electronic fraud,” Danbatta said.
He informed the delegates to the forum that electronic fraud was beyond being just an African or West African issue but a global phenomenon. He cited studies that revealed 54 per cent of consumers in the European Union said they would most likely come across misleading/deceptive or fraudulent advertisements or offers on the Internet.
On the regional roaming service, Danbatta said the assembly envisioned a ‘Digital ECOWAS’ where improved sub-regional roaming regulations could help facilitate economic integration in the region.
“Our citizens, traders and companies will trade better when they can use their telephones to call contacts in other ECOWAS countries and when they can use their data subscriptions at no extra cost while travelling or doing business within the region. So, reducing and eventually eliminating the cost of roaming will also be significant towards boosting trade within the region,” he said.
The EVC expressed satisfaction at the level of collaboration among national regulatory authorities in the sub-region, as well as that between WATRA and ECOWAS, to achieve a common goal. He further described the synergy as a “great indicator” of progress and internalisation of best global practices.
“I am very pleased to see the excellent collaboration and the sharing of workload between the telecommunications body and ECOWAS and WATRA personnel. Their roles have become complementary and mutually reinforcing-policies legislative frameworks that have been designed at the ECOWAS level, while WATRA follows up on information-sharing, dialogue and learning dispersal amongst regulatory authorities. It is indeed becoming a well-articulated symphony,” he added.
Earlier in his welcome address, the executive secretary of WATRA, Aliyu Aboki, outlined the value of a trusted digital economy to any nation. He cited a study by Accenture, which concluded that “a trusted digital economy would stimulate 2.8 per cent additional growth for major firms, with new transactions generated, totalling $5.2 trillion of value creation in the economy,” hence, the establishment and operationalisation of national and regional anti-fraud committee.
A statement from the NCC’s director public affairs, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, said Aboki commended ECOWAS for “allowing this regional sharing of the enormous task of building a digital ECOWAS to work very well through WATRA, which is a regional manifestation of this collaborative structure”. The WATRA Chief restated that WATRA, as a mechanism for regional regulatory collaboration, will work in unison and ensure its vision is speedily executed by making sure that no nation in the region is left behind.
Speaking at the forum, the acting director, digital economy and post, ECOWAS, Dr. Raphael Koffi, noted that while e-fraud in the provision of communication services has always been collectively tackled, variance in termination rates agreed in commercial roaming agreements also constitute an obstacle to harmonization of roaming tariffs. He pointed out that the collaboration between WATRA and ECOWAS would achieve this.
Participants at the event were updated on the status of the implementation of the removal of surcharges on international traffic (SIIT) on ECOWAS countries; establishment of a uniform tariff cap for roaming call termination in the ECOWAS region, amongst others.