By Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri
It is time to stop this indoor cursing game and venting about the unprecedented fraudulent practices of telecom companies criminally parading themselves as internet service providers. The monumental fraud going on in Nigeria in the name of data service has just got to stop. Enough!!! From MTN to Airtel to STARCOMMS, down to Etisalat….the story is the same: corporate thievery is their united motto; to deceive and rip off their subscribers is their collective agenda.
Nigeria’s telecom giants are quite lucky; so lucky to be doing business in a country where accountability is an alien word. Worse still, majority of their inertia-gripped subscribers are siddon look experts who have long outsourced their “rights to act” to their pastors and imams. Holding erring companies to account is a worry best dumped at prayer grounds, in the belief that God will set aside all His celestial engagements to “fight against our enemies”... Shuo!
Of all the telecom companies, MTN stands out as a classic case study of how not to do business. MTN’s most useless, most worthless and most fraudulent product labelled MTN Fastlink internet modem is nothing but the cruelest joke of the century. Apart from the fact that it functions horrendously opposite to its name, the ineptness of the device is enough to spur a violent revolution in orderly climes where glitzy advertisement claims steeped brazen falsehood are intolerable.
Allured by its deceitful name, I found myself robbed of a N7,000 monthly charge even though I couldn’t connect to the internet with the Fastlink modem for 30 whole days! Following repeated visits to their Akowonjo Service Center, the location of my house was blamed for the abstruse malfunction. ‘Your house is too far from the nearest MTN mast”, they told me. On several occasions, I moved my workstation closer to all the nearest MTN masts within the district, all to no avail.
Frustrated by MTN inefficiencies, I migrated to Starcomms. At first, the Starcomms IZAP was stable enough to sustain a connection for hours, and was a zillion times better than my nightmarish encounter with MTN Fastlink. The courteousness and dedication of the Starcomms staff at their Ojota and Ikotun offices further brightened my enthusiasm. But that was only temporary. By the second month, the data service fluctuated so much that I had to bombard the customer care toll lines with calls. The blame was heaped on the then ongoing technical upgrades. Data service could go off as long as 3 – 7 days at a stretch, but the billing remained very stable and sure. Beyond the torrential flow of verbal apology by its customer care executives, Starcomms never considered giving out consolation freebies to their very upset subscribers, let alone offer them any. For close to 13 months, Starcomms’ customer care executives have not grown weary of blaming technical upgrades for their protracted incompetence.
Hoodwinked again by another falsehood-laden MTN commercial regarding its latest data service package, HYNET, I migrated from Starcomms to MTN HYNET sometime in February 2013. It worked so well the first week that I popped champagne, and gyrated in celebration, with my colleagues. That celebratory act was my greatest undoing. Till date, the crazy billing on that product is in no way, any match for its unreliability and irregularity only comparable to NEPA light.
Across the various networks, the criminal billing on both voice and drop calls is even more outrageous, with Airtel and Etisalat standing tall as the gold medalists. MTN’s own medal grade defies description. Between March 13-15, 2013, 3 recharge cards of varying sums loaded on my MTN phone totally disappeared. At first, I blamed it on a roaming data service I had used days earlier. MTN staff at the Akowonjo Call Center that checked my phone affirmed the disappearances were unconnected with roaming services. Assurances that the lost airtime value would be restored remain unfulfilled till this day. On Monday (8/04/13), N1,000 credit loaded on my Etisalat phone also ‘disappeared”. Calls placed to their customer care lines returned another fake assurance that the disappeared airtime value would be restored within 48 hours. As of today, Friday, the thievery has not been reversed. Airtel’s deductions are even more mysterious. Airtime loaded on the Airtel phone (used at home) disappears, reappears and then vanishes with such rapidity that would make the folklore willie-willie ghosts green with envy.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is well aware of the prevailing corporate thievery disguised as telecom services in Nigeria. News of sanctions severally slammed on erring telecom companies are hardly ever enforced. Considering the Commission’s signature under-performance, consumer protection is ostensibly, the least of its institutional priorities. In fact, the bark of a local bingo in my village is, more effective than NCC’s toothless roars often rendered in murmuring tones. Not only that, state and federal lawmakers, including national judicial bodies have simply looked the other way, as corporate impunity by telecom companies flourishes right under their watch.
With no projection of improvement in sight, it is time for Nigerians to put an end to all the murmuring and indoor grieving about poor quality services. Folding my arms and whining about MTN and co would never bring about the desired change. It is now time to take action, and mobilise for change.
A Facebook posting on my wall yesterday, expressing outrage about the monumental fraud characterizing the poor data service in Nigeria attracted a floodgate of comments and experience-sharing by visibly angry Nigerians from all walks of life. Too many hurtful experiences shared by a number of contributors rehashed in great detail, the disappointment, agony and financial losses resulting directly from the public misinformation, misleading advertisements and low-quality data services rendered by Nigerian telecommunication companies. With one voice, all clamoured for serious public engagement and collective action against the persisting exploitation.
Together with fellow counsels, Bunmi Divinewealth Awoyemi and Aminu Mohammed Ofs, we are filing a class action lawsuit to challenge the continuing wrongs perpetrated by these largely-unregulated corporate groups. Neither pre-action notices nor legal technicalities are sufficient to deter this angry move. At least, let it be told; let it be on record that unjustifiable corporate exploitation has been formally resisted, and is unwelcome, and will always be an unwelcome practice in Nigeria…