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Underwater Cables Bring Faster Internet To W’ Africa – Opeke

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Stretching some 7,000 kilometers along the West African coastline, a submarine fiber-optic cable emerges off the coast of Nigeria to help bridge the digital divide in the continent.

Dubbed Main One Cable, the system links West Africa with Europe, bringing ultra-fast broadband in the region. It runs from Seixal in Portugal through Accra in Ghana to Lagos in Nigeria and branches out in Morocco, Canary Islands, Senegal, and Ivory Coast.

The cable, which has a capacity of 1.92 terabits a second, first went live in July 2010, becoming the first subsea cable to bring open-access, broadband capacity in West Africa, according to Funke Opeke, chief executive of Nigeria’s Main One Cable Company who spoke to CNN, recently.

She says high-speed, low-priced, reliable broadband is key in transforming African economies and creating job opportunities.

“When you think of Africa coming into the information age, you think of educational institutions, you think of business opportunities, you think of social awareness, better communication, transparency in government,” says Opeke, a former executive at U.S. telecoms giant Verizon.

“In order to make Africa (and) Nigeria competitive again and in order to make our schools competitive, to make businesses here competitive and … to give young people access to opportunities, access to markets, access to ideas … we need a society, as a population to be better connected to the internet,” she adds.

After the launch of Main Cable One, more undersea fiber-optic projects have been rolled out in the region, including Glo 1 by Nigerian telecoms group Globacom. Similarly, several other efforts have been deployed in eastern and southern Africa in recent years.

Yet, slow connectivity and high internet costs are still major problems — according to figures by the International Telecommunication Union, Internet-user penetration in sub-Saharan Africa was 10.6% in 2010, far behind the world average of about 30%.

“Even in the countries in which we’re already in-land, broadband penetration is still under 10% rate, so there’s a lot of road for growth and improvement,” says Opeke.

Born in Nigeria, Opeke moved to the United States in 1984 to study at Columbia University. After a 20-year-old career in the U.S. telecommunications industry she returned to Nigeria in 2005, where she saw “first-hand” the country’s absence of internet infrastructure and the need for better web connectivity.

“I just felt personally the need was so glaring and that was what motivated me to start trying to solve the problem,” says Opeke. “The more I looked at it on my kitchen table the more visible it became to put a business together and that’s what I did.”

Starting all by herself, Opeke managed to raise $240 million after securing the support of various investors from the continent.

“It’s all African financing,” she explains, “I look at those people who wrote checks … the angel investors when I had no license, it was a business sheet on a piece of paper and it really wasn’t about making money, it was really about a deep understanding and desire to transform a society and to say that we could address some of these problems Africa had.

“That we understood the challenges, there was a lot of work to be done and that we wanted to pull people on board, pull ourselves together to address those problems,” she adds.

Today, Opeke says, the system has helped improve the availability of internet services, especially in Lagos and Accra, as well as lowering wholesale prices significantly, by up to 80 per cent.

But despite the big decrease in wholesale cost, Opeke notes that consumers have still not seen a difference in the price they pay — she says that Nigeria’s entire infrastructure is self-provisioned by different retail operators, which keep charging the same prices for the domestic part of the services.

“The people who own the distribution networks are not passing on the saving, there’s no open-access distribution or common carriers like you would have in a developed market,” says Opeke.

The lack of a national backbone infrastructure on an open-access basis is also making expensive to move capacity within Nigeria, according to Opeke. As a result, she says, connecting people from the company’s landing point in Nigeria to London costs less than connecting people across Lagos.

“You have to buy that infrastructure from people who own it for their own proprietary use, so it’s a cartel-like situation,” she says.

Therefore, Main One Cable, which does not sell its capacity directly to homes or small and medium-size businesses, has also started investing in distribution infrastructure, building its own networks when it can’t find “commercially reasonable rates,” as Opeke explains.

“The biggest challenge that we see is getting the capacity we have in this big pipe that we brought into Nigeria and Ghana across the region to reach the people and businesses where they need the service,” she says.

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Traders Protest FG’s Move To Restore Festac Town

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The move by the Federal Government to restore Festac Town in Lagos to its original status has sparked up protest among traders occupying Agboju Amuwo Planks and Building Materials Market.
The traders on Wednesday, protested at the FHA office in Festac Town against the demolition of their market, following the demolition of illegal structures by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) ahead of the restoration. 
The Tide recalls that there was a petition to the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, in 2020 about illegal structures that had taken over Festac Town.
Speaking at a stakeholders’ meeting on the restoration of Festac town organised by FHA, last year, its South-West Zonal Manager, Mr Akintola Olagbemiro, said, “This year, we commenced the restoration of Festac town, following the consent judgement from the court against illegal occupants of Festac land.
“Our action is to save the residents from the insecurity that has taken over the entire Festac town as a result of illegal structures everywhere”.
The chairman of allottees of First Gate to Third Gate, Mr Kole Olatunji, in his remarks at the meeting said the land from First Gate to Third Gate was allocated between 1985 and 1999, noting that with the consent judgment, original owners of the land as allocated should take over their plots.
But the chairman of plank market, Muhammed Bello, protested the seven-day notice given to traders to vacate the place without alternative arrangements.  
Bello said: “How do they expect us to remove our wares in seven days?
“What we want is that they should allow us to remain there and we will pay whatever amount they ask us to pay”.
Speaking in the same vein, the chairman of Cane Chair and Furniture Association, Emmanuel Okoye said: “We need freedom. Let them tell us where they want us to stay. That place was swampy. We filled the place with several millions of Naira which we got as loans.
“We also rely on loans to do our business. Whatever the government wants us to pay; we are ready to pay to remain there. We have been there for 27 years. What we lost to the demolition is over N300 million”.

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Fuel Tanker Explosion Kills Five, Injures Two In Ogun

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No fewer than five persons were on Wednesday burnt to death, while two others sustained first degree of injury in a fuel tanker explosion at Ajilete, along Owode-Idiroko road, in Yewa South local government area of Ogun State.
Eyewitness accounts revealed that a truck bearing 33,000 litres of petroleum product was descending the steep portion of the road when its tank suddenly detached from truck’s body and tumbled to the ground with a bang.
The explosion, the witnesses said, killed five persons on the spot, while two other persons were injured.
The Tide learnt that the seven victims were all residents of the area where the accident occurred.
Confirming the incident, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) Commander, Idiroko Unit, Akinwunmi Olaluwoye, said five deaths were recorded in the accident which occurred at about 8.15 am on Wednesday. 
According to him, the remains of the dead had been claimed by their families.
He disclosed that a bus and a motorcycle were also caught in a web of the explosion and razed.
He said, “no vehicle rammed into the tanker. The tank dropped off from the back of the tanker and exploded. The number of persons involved are seven; five dead, two injured.
“The driver had taken away the head of the truck as at the time we got there. But we have allowed the police to take charge and handle that aspect”.

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Travellers To Access $4,000  As CBN Boosts Forex Supplies

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Nigerians travelling abroad can now access a maximum amount of $4,000 foreign exchange from banks following the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) announcement to increase forex supplies.
The CBN had said in a recent statement that it had concluded plans to increase the amount of foreign exchange allocated to banks to meet legitimate needs.
This followed the warning by the CBN Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, to Deposit Money Banks to desist from denying customers the opportunity to purchase foreign exchange.
The purposes to access forex included Personal Travel Allowance, Basic Travel Allowance, tuition fees, and medical payments as well as Small and Medium Enterprises transactions or for the repatriation of Foreign Direct Investment proceeds, the CBN had stated.
Sources from some of the banks said those travelling on business trips could also access a maximum amount of $5,000 for each trip.
At a virtual Bankers’ Committee meeting last week, the bankers discussed how the CBN intended to assist with forex to ensure availability for the upcoming summer period and the return of students to school in September.
The CBN also said the BDCs would continue to have their weekly allocations.
The committee observed that the rates were going up.
It stated, “The CBN has said that all the banks must make availability at all times and anyone who wants to buy BTA, PTA, medical fees, student school fees and all the eligible invisible purchases to ensure that Nigerians are not forced to go and queue in the parallel market.
“So what the Central Bank is doing is to encourage all banks to make sure that there is available forex at all times, and that his information should be communicated on all our platforms.
“We are asking our customers to come to the branches and for BTA, for example, present the required documents, which are basically your international passport, your visa, your valid ticket and fill up the form in the bank.
“And what we have been instructed to do is ensure that we don’t turn anybody back and that we should request from the Central Bank once we exhaust the forex that we have.
“The idea is to have a hitch-free summer period and the resumption for children to go back to school. The idea is to ensure there is less pressure on the forex and then the rates will come down”.
Speaking during the virtual meeting, the Group Managing Director, Access Bank, Herbert Wigwe, said, “I think again as part of the Central Bank’s role in terms of price stability and the need to support small and medium enterprises, there was highlight of the need for banks to go and support SMEs who import small raw materials for them to set up their businesses”.
The Managing Director, Ecobank, Patrick Akinwuntan, said, “All banks are available to ensure forex need is met.”
Managing Director, Sterling Bank, Abubakar Suleiman, said the CBN had provided sufficient foreign exchange to meet the needs of all legitimate Nigerian travellers and therefore, the idea of going to any other market should not arise at all.

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