Mr Sunday Dare is the former Chief of Staff to former governor of Lagos State, Senator Bola Tinubu and the Executive Commissioner, Stakeholder Management of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), where he represents the six states of the South-West. In this interview with Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA, he speaks on the ongoing philanthropist outreaches of the DAD Foundation, which he established among other issues. Excerpts:
SOME of the things we’ve been reading about you in recent times, doing medical outreaches, setting up a foundation for your late dad, suggest some political movements are in the offing. What really are you up to in Oyo State?
I think basically, my father died about nine years ago and I had plans to actually start a foundation in his memory. But over the years, I kept procrastinating, waiting until I got a bit settled politically. I think after my appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari to serve as the Executive Commissioner Stakeholder Management, NCC, a year plus down the road, I settled down a bit and focused on establishing the foundation. I felt it was better late than never. So, very clearly, the foundation was set up with altruistic motive, which is to impact the lives of people directly.
So, it has no political motive to it?
Well, basically, what is the essence of politics itself? Let me say that the major overriding push behind it is the kind of life my father lived, which on the website of the foundation, you find a bit of information in this regard. My father was a giver; he taught me that giving brings blessings and he taught me to always give back whenever I am blessed. Therefore, in his memory, particularly the life he lived, he was in fact a deacon and church elder in the Baptist Church. The best I can do to immortalise his name is to continue on that path. Even as a Christian, I know that it is more blessed to give than to receive. It says give and it shall be given unto you, good measures pressed down, shaken and runneth over shall men give unto your bosom. So, clearly, the takeoff is that conviction and desire to give to the less privileged, give back to the society. Our medical outreach offers people some form of health care they otherwise could not possibly have been able to afford. DAD Foundation also provides food support from time to time and as the years go by, if we have other areas that we think we can be of help, we will be willing to help people. We started from Ogbomoso of course. I did promise to go round Oyo State because I’m from Oyo State and it’s moving on to Ibadan. It will move to Oke-Ogun and a couple of other places in time.
How was the reception like?
I think it was in Ogbomoso. We invited about 55 people. Eventually, 320 people turned up and it was a neutral ground. There was no political colouration. Somebody from Ogbomoso went back to his roots and invited virtually everybody. So, what I had that day was people from diverse political and professional backgrounds, different associations and societal groups. Everyone turned up. They were appreciative of the fact that a son is coming back, like they say, Omowale, to give back to the society.
Now that you have taken it to Ibadan, is it not taking a political colouration?
Just like you asked, along the line, people have asked ‘is this not political?’, and I said well, I have a political background and I have a journalistic background. What is the essence of politics itself? It’s to emancipate people, impact the lives of people in various ways. People get elected into political offices to serve the people, provide good governance, water, health, education, as the case maybe, security, empowerment and if you are not elected, but a political appointee, you also work in that capacity to be able to impact the lives of people through policies and the instrumentality of that office. If you are political actor, you also have to give back one way or the other through what I’m doing. Sometimes, it might be simply in some other ways through your service in reforming the system so that you have a system that processes well and also that helps people to advance their goals, improve standard of living. So, I have a political background and I can say yes I’m a politician and I know that people expect that as you rise up the ladder, you also remember to give back to the society and the state at large.
You are a journalist and somehow, you found yourself in a communication environment in terms of telecoms and all that. How have you been coping on the job?
I’m sure you’ve heard the word convergence. We are in an age of convergence where IT, telecommunications and media where we have everything coming together. Everything is now on digital platforms. So, ICT or IT as the case may be, media, telecommunications, that convergence is already happening and we are seeing it unfold. Then you look at the advent of web 2.0 that gave birth to the social media platforms. You have a situation in which virtually everybody is a journalist. You can post anything and you can publish anything on your Facebook page, it goes virtual; you’ve published. So, it might be right to say I moved from maybe the hard part of journalism to the soft part because now we are in the time of digital platforms, software applications and the rest that will help deliver the same thing. What do they deliver? Content. So, I’ve only made that transition in terms of technological transition.
So, you didn’t encounter problems of technicalities and engineers dazzling you?
I am blessed with the gift of adaptability. I never stop learning and searching not just for knowledge but also praying for wisdom which only comes from above. In 2009 when I returned to the country after I resigned my job as Head of the Hausa Service of the Voice of America in Washington DC, I was in constant interface with NCC and the telecommunications sector. See then, I served as the chief of staff and media adviser to the then Minister of Information and Communications Mrs. Dora Akunyili. But beyond that, I was admitted to an academic research programme at the Oxford University, UK. My study traversed social media technology and new forms of communications.
I am sure when you look at the youth who now write codes and develop apps, they don’t have to work in NCC to be able to do that. I’m in a continuous attempt to develop and deepen my knowledge, not only about journalism but related fields that are tangential to the career of journalism. Don’t also forget that I’ve traversed print, radio and television and have had to rely heavily on new media technology of which telecommunications is a part. The internet itself is used by the media.
How will you say the NCC is living up to its objectives in delivering service to the people?
Well, I’ve been here for about 18 months. I was fortunate from the beginning to have been opportune to join an organisation that is first-class. I see it as a private and public organisation, unlike several others. This is what you find that is against the grain, the emphasis on professionalism, emphasis on quality output, the emphasis on processes and systems is great and you feel it. I think that coming here, all I needed to do was to add value to what has been done already. So far, I can tell you that the NCC continues to excel. Indicators are there, from the NBS, the Bureau of Statistics about the quarterly report in terms of the number of subscriptions, in terms of the contribution to GDP, in terms of even direct investments that come in. Of course, there are a number of challenges. Of course you find them in other climes in terms of quality of service, in terms of complaints from subscribers about unauthorised deductions, about dropped calls and we address these on a continuous basis. The way NCC is set up we have various departments that tackle these issues in a real time basis and then we encourage continuous training, continuous development.
There is this impression that NCC is a bit lenient with service providers. Avalanche of complaints are left unattended to and the NCC doesn’t usually wield the big stick. Is it that it tends to pamper them or it’s trying not to affect their business?
The facts on ground are contrary to that perception. Let me start from the well-known sanction that was meted out to MTN. That’s clearly the highest sanction ever anywhere in the world. I’m not sure any telecoms regulator will ever come close to that. Now that sent a very clear signal and it sets the bar very high.
In trying to develop a particular sector, you are also careful not to suffocate it. When we seek to enforce the provisions of the NCA Act, regulations and directions our goal is not to clobber operators. We would rather prefer that they obey the laws and regulations than get sanctioned. Again sanctions are to serve as a deterrent, not really to use to kill them. They are part of the economic eco-system. They employ our brothers, our sisters, uncles, children and along that value chain, people that sell cards and provided allied services to the telecoms industry. So, when you beat down or you knock out a particular operator for instance, you know what will happen. It is, however, not an excuse for bad behaviour.
So, what we have done is that we have a system in place. We have the technique, standards and network integrity department and the compliance, monitoring and enforcement department that monitor critical indicators on a quarterly basis. We have a threshold that they must reach in terms of quality of service and if they fall below the set threshold NCC Act. Before you move from non-compliance, to sanctions and license revocations, it’s a gamut. Even if someone is accused of murder, today if you go to court, the judge will not hand down a life sentence on that day. It goes through a process. So, that’s what we deal with. We have a robust and professional legal department very much alive to its duties. We have a consumer affairs bureau and in fact a consumer bill of rights to protect our over 150 million subscribers we have our call centres and the number 622 is our complaints line. Increasingly in the last eight months or so, I’ve seen the complaints drop and I’ve also seen the resolution of these complaints rising up to almost 65 per cent. Complaints will never stop because there are no perfect systems anywhere. But as they come in, they come in sometimes in ripples and at other times like an avalanche. But NCC is able to deal with them. I’ve seen the reports and we also published these reports in newspapers recently. It’s called the CSS – Consumer Satisfaction Survey. We ask them about 10 questions and we know the ones that have the highest complaints. But as these complaints come in, they are taken through the portal on the internet and resolution is taking place. Often time, people come to us and we resolve their problems and they don’t tell anybody. If it is not resolved, everybody knows about it.
Let’s go back to politics. Some billboards in areas of Oyo State are already showing your pictures, an indication that what you are up to is more than projecting a foundation…
Let me say there is a threefold mission. The first fold mission is the foundation I set up for my dad. It’s a promise. My mother is alive; she is 90-years-old. My siblings are alive and the idea to set up a vehicle like DAD foundation to do charity work is biblical. The second one is that I’m from Oyo State; I’m a stakeholder and it’s also important that as a stakeholder, you play a role; you are visible and you are in a position to play that role. I’ve been around for almost 26 years as a journalist, as an activist, civil society person, a political strategist and a key player in Nigeria’s political developments. I felt that as I’m playing well at the centre, it’s also important to make sure that I’m active in my own state because I can also impact the State through attracting federal resources or also by playing directly for positions within the state. I am 52 plus years and I have garnered some experiences and training.
Thirdly, is the fact that beyond just being a stakeholder, based on my experience, based on my qualifications, based on my network, based on my knowledge, I can compete for any elective office if I want to? Like I always say, I’m qualified and ready to serve.
Then it’s also important that beyond just knowing a few people in Oyo state more people also deserve to know me because there is a difference between knowing of you which is superficial and knowing about you which can be deep. So, what you see is a process of political branding. The billboards you’ve seen, what are billboards for? To pass critical and timely information. On those billboards is my picture. But I’m talking about PVC collection, how important it is. Oyo State has the second largest uncollected number of PVCs and that is worrisome because when you want people not to be disenfranchised, you want them to be part of the process. We are going through elections in 2019; elective offices will be competed for. I’m concerned about the people that are elected to lead the state at various levels and unless people take their PVCs and exercise that right, Oyo State will be disadvantaged. I’m concerned about the growth and development of Oyo, a state that butts Ogun State and Lagos State. Oyo has great potential. It can be a feeder state to the big industries in Ogun State and Lagos. Have we risen to that level? We are on the way, but I think we can accelerate that trajectory for the benefit of the people of Oyo State. So, those billboards carry a central political message – that is let’s get our PVCs. Let’s get ready together; let’s go there and vote.