By Oludare Mayowa
“In 2001, Airtel procured its operating license in Nigeria and in 2021 it has renewed the same operating license for another 10-year-period. While it is possible to procure and renew an operating license, you can only earn a social license.
“A social license is the love, loyalty, friendship and affection you get from the communities where you operate as well as from your different stakeholders.
“While Airtel has renewed its operating license to provide telecommunications services, it is committed to its purpose of empowering and uplifting people and making a positive and lasting impact in the lives of its stakeholders, thereby earning its social license, these are the words of the chief executive of Airtel Nigeria, Olusegun Olusanya at the company’s function last week.
However, his claim that the company has renewed its operating licence for another ten years did not go down well with the telecom industry regulator, the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC).
In a statement on Sunday, the NCC debunked claim by Airtel that it has renewed its licence for another 10 years, claiming nothing of such happened.
The NCC acknowledged that the Telco had applied for a renewal of its operating licence, but the regulatory authority is yet to approve the application, which is currently “still undergoing required regulatory process.”
The commission stated that though Airtel has applied for the renewal of the Unified Access Service (UASL), it’s yet to get the approval of the commission.
However, in a face saving response to the regulator’s disclaimer, Airtel said; “for clarity, an operating license is always issued by NCC and our current license expires in November 2021.
“We have applied to NCC for its renewal ahead of this expiry date and the renewal process is in progress but yet to be concluded,” the telecoms firm said in a statement signed by Emeka Oparah on Sunday to clarify the firm’s position.
The company said its chief executive made reference that “a social license is earned by what a company does for its communities.”
“During the launch of our flagship corporate social responsibility program titled Airtel Touching Lives, last week, a contrast was drawn between operating license and social license.”
But for many discerning observes of the industry, the statement from the telecoms firm was a clever way to clean up the dirt created by the CEO in a moment of euphoria to show the world that Airtel in Nigeria is working ahead of its peers.
This goes back to the need for chief executive of corporate to be guided by the need to be circumspect in their public speaking to save their subordinates in the corporate communications the embarrassment of cleaning up their mess with bare faced juggling of words to confuse their readers on the real issues at stake.
Rather than making the media that reported the event look bad, chief executive of organization and their minders should ensure that they weigh their speech in line with the regulatory position and do less of afterthought rejoinder to safe their corporate image the unnecessary splash of mud.
Airtel is still within the regulatory period to get its operating licence renewed and as such need no embellishment to promote itself as if it was ahead of its competitions.
The regulator may have been embarrassed by the Airtel false claim because of the possible implication on governance requisite disclosure to its supervisory ministry.
It’s also unwholesome to make the scapegoat of the media platforms that reported the goof by Olusanya in the first instance because such will further put strains in the relationship between the company and its media partners.