LOUISA OLANIYI and AJOWELE ABAYOMI ABRAHAM look at Nigeria’s readiness for the much anticipated Digital Switchover (DSO) and believe that much still needs to be done by both the government and the country’s broadcasting regulator, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC)….
June 2006, 114 countries in International Telecommunications Union Regional Radio Communication Conference in Geneva reached an agreement. It was Digital switchover. Nigeria was among these countries. But where is Nigeria’s commitment to that golden agreement as we speak?
Having spent 10 years in futility trying to achieve digital switchover, it is saddening that Nigeria might still have to wait till 2021 to reach a milestone. This is according to NBC’s Ishaq Modibbo Kawu’s statement to The Guardian earlier 2020.
With various African countries like Algeria, Gabon, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, to mention a few, having switched totally digitally, it is worrying that the most populous African country Is yet to complete her switch
Digital switchover (DSO) is the process in which older analog television broadcasting technology is converted to or totally replaced by digital television. This process involves the conversion of analog terrestrial television broadcasting infrastructure to digital terrestrial (DTT), a major benefit being extra frequencies on the radio spectrum and lower broadcasting costs, as well as improved viewing qualities for consumers.
This process is usually spearheaded by the government of the country in conjunction with the private sector as it is highly money-consuming and requires a wide range of technical input. The role of the government in this process cannot be overemphasized.
Since 2006, Nigeria has had four different administrations – Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Late Dr. Musa Yar’Adua, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (present). Reasonably, four good different administrations is more than enough of administrations to execute the task of Digital switchover in any working country.
Like every other country in attendance at the summit in Geneva, Nigeria made a commitment to the DSO agreement. However, her commitment has been weakened by major and minor bottlenecks. With graft in management of the process being the major bottleneck, eyes can’t still be shut at financial, technological and legislative hurdles too.
In 2016, N10billion was released to the Ministry of Information and Culture for DSO. With this whopping sum of money, one would expect the Ministry to at least reach a certain point in the DSO process if not the vertex. But that’s not the case.
What rather happened was the surface of petitions against the affected parties: National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and Pinnacle Communications Limited, by Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) for misappropriation of funds and graft. Precisely N2.5 billion went missing.
Here goes the gist. So prior to the release of the N10billion, the NBC has a guideline document for DSO called the “White Paper”. It stipulates that the DSO process be exclusively managed by companies affiliated to the Federal Government.
Based on this, two companies were nominated for the purpose – Nigerian Television Authority (NTA)-affiliated ITS, which got a seed grant of N1.7 billion for the commencement of the DSO. The other selected company was Pinnacle, a private company, which got N2.5billion as seed grant. This prompted many stakeholders to petition the ICPC, alleging that the firm – Pinnacle is ineligible, as it is not affiliated to the government.
However, ICPC investigated the issue. This yielded some shocking revelations. According to the Guardian, an ICPC statement by its spokesperson, Rasheedat Okoduwa, said the N2.5 billion was paid into the firm’s account in May/June, 2017 for the DSO. N100 million from the 2.5 billion was said to have been paid into the firm’s chief personal account for legal services rendered to the company he works for; without forgetting the N450million that was also said to have been transferred into the account of a bureau de change for conversion into dollars, physically delivered to the firm’s chief. How mouthwatering are these monies? And how disheartening it is that it wasn’t channeled rightly?
If the digital switchover is achieved, lots of financial, technological, social and cultural opportunities would be sprung. According to a broadcast expert, Femi Adeola in an article titled – ‘Stakeholders task on digital switchover,’ published on May 20, 2019 on the leadership’s website, “Digital switchover, frequencies (700MHZ & 800MHZ) will be farmed back and sold by the FGN as part of the digital dividend for over $4billion. The LGA would also generate over N120 billion annually from license fee. 50,000 direct jobs will be created, and as much as 250,000 indirect jobs would also be created too.
“These job opportunities would come from new decoders, local manufacturers, over 200 new TV stations and local content production companies. This is little of how benefiting the Digital Switchover would be.”
The rather appalling live coverage of the Nigeria vs. Benin for the African nations cup qualifier on Wednesday 14th of November, 2019 by the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) further confirms the need for an immediate digital switchover as the official national broadcasting station of the country cannot continue to be seen as a mediocre. The live coverage made people question the level of professionalism of NTA.
Come 2021, with great optimism and all things being equal, Nigeria would be close to achieving the Digital Switchover if the N30 billion grant the NBC is expecting is used judiciously, if there’s continuous funding, if there’s effective management, and if the lack of political will on the path of government is eliminated.