October 20, 2018

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‘Do Not Derail 2017 Deadline For Digital Switchover,’ Media Group Warns EFCC

‘Do Not Derail 2017 Deadline For Digital Switchover,’ Media Group Warns EFCC

A media group iREP Film Forum has called on the EFCC not to derail plans for the scheduled transition to digital transmission which is being tied up by the ongoing trial of NBC Director General, Mr. Emeka Mba. The group also urged a  fair, transparent handling of the case.

 

Read full statement below

We have followed with keen interest the ongoing ‘trial’ of the Director General of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, Mr. Emeka Mba, over the so-called ‘fraud’ worth N15 billlion. We note that the investigation into the case is being conducted in such an untidy manner, albeit through the media, which expectedly has consistently misrepresented the issues at stake. In the process, the sanctity of facts has been compromised, and the public is being fed with half-truths and false impressions.

We state from the outset that we are strong believers in confronting the cankerworms of corruption headlong to which the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has declared commitment. We are of the belief that all those found to have corruptly enriched themselves by embezzling public fund must be brought to book. However, we are dismayed that while the intention is noble, as far as the case of the NBC is concerned, much is left to be desired.

Our main interest in this matter is to ensure that the integrity of the process that would lead to the proposed full migration of the broadcast industry to the digital platform is not compromised by this curious case of ‘fraud’ involving the NBC boss. We are worried that the scheduled transition to digital transmission to which the ongoing case against the DG is tied may eventually be derailed – once again. The 2017 deadline set to realise the transition may be missed for obvious but avoidable reasons.

We wish to note that Nigeria in the past had missed two deadlines – 2012 and 2015 – that were set for the full transition to digital transmission. We are afraid that the ongoing case may also make us miss the 2017 deadline.

In particular, we find it instructive that this alleged ‘fraud’ at the NBC is coming at a time the Honourable Minister of Information and Culture has just rekindled hope and confidence in the public that realisation of the 2017 deadline was of utmost importance to the administration of President Buhari. Speaking on behalf of the President at the 35th anniversary banquet of Silverbird Group recently, the Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said that the Federal Government had resolved to prioritize and support the digital broadcast switchover by deploying the right political will and administrative support. This reassurance carried the weight of the nation’s commitment to ensure successful transition by the deadline.

The current trial of the head of the organisation charged with the digital transition process, especially its shabby handling by the EFCC and its sensational media circus, may cast a huge doubt in the minds of would-be investors and as well discourage operators in the industry.

With the expressed seriousness from a government which adopted ‘change’ as its mantra, it is curious that certain selfish forces would seem to be playing the anti-corruption card in exactly the same messy way that the fight had been fought in the past. For example, the EFCC by its strange action, is arming a  gullible section of the media with dangerous tools to muddle up the facts of a sensitive case, with serious for the broadcast media industry, especially at this delicate time of the planned migration to digitalisation.

We note also that, whereas the media has been making capital of the claim that the issue involved was fraud, the facts on ground show clearly that the case is simply an administrative matter that could have been easily handled without resulting in the current messy situation.

Observations:

Our investigation of the issues at stake disclose the following:

* contrary to the sensationalism in the media, NO MONEY is missing. Fact is, the so-called missing money is securely placed in a bank as collateral for an ongoing project of the commission.

* The placement of the said money in the commercial bank was done before the TSA policy of the federal government came into effect.

  • Upon introduction of the TSA policy, the management of the NBC began the process of returning the money into the Central Bank vault as required.
  • As a matter of fact, every and all amounts leftover in the MTN Lease fees was transferred to the TSA, following introduction of the policy.

*The management of the NBC indeed wrote a letter to office of the President to notify him of its action concerning the TSA operation.

*Those selected in the bidding process for the DSO were appointed based on their stated and proven capabilities .

* After the bidding and selection process, the appointed manufacturers of the decoders had insisted on the NBC guaranteeing the loan they were obtaining from the banks to procure the equipment.

*I t is well known fact that the federal government policy was committed to granting subsidy to the STB manufacturers and that was what the NBC paid out.

*The entire process of selecting the STB manufacturers was transparent and in accordance with necessary approvals. In all, 13 manufacturers bidded in the process, and it took between 8 and 12 months of a very rigorous process to finally select the winners.

*The NBC-adopted process has been universally hailed and commended by the Commonwealth Telecoms Union (CTU), which has thus recommended it as a model to be adopted by other African and Commonwealth countries in overcoming their DSO challenges.

*That it was the success of the NBC model that commended the DG, Mr. Mba for the award of the African Broadcast Regulator of the year award – some three weeks before his curious ordeal began.

Our worries:

Again, as active players in the Nigerian broadcast sector, our worries include the fact that the current trial of the DG of NBC based an obvious spurious petition by some disgruntled stakeholder(s) in the DSO process, could lead to the following:

* Loss of investment by the participants in the DSO project as many of them have already committed huge sums of money in sourcing equipment and parts of the materials that would be needed for the manufacturing of the decoders

* Loss of hundreds of jobs by Nigerians who are already engaged in the manufacturing processes.

*Adverse impact on the agenda of the federal government for overall national economic growth, having regard to investor confidence in government reforms and the need to mobilise private sector funding.

*The undermining of the expressed desire of the government to empower the youths and encourage free expression within that vital segment of the society.

* wrong signals being sent to public servants on the need to innovate and be creative, within proper procedure, in the implementation of policies and the promotion of sectora growth.

In sum, Mr Mba’s travails has the potential to discourage good, quality professionals from accepting public sector appointments, where their talent, skills, patriotism and commitment are in dire need at the moment.

Specific implications for the industry- avoiding unintended consequences:

In addition to the foregoing, we are specifically worried that an improper handling of the investigation or the prosecution of a collateral motive to the stated anti-corruption objective of the case could have unintended adverse consequences for the broadcast media industry. In this regard, the following points should be stresseed.

Transition to digitisation is a very expensive venture, it requires a lot of money, which the government could not provide; the head of the NBC had been innovative and proactive in sourcing the funds, however it would seem that rather than appreciation, he is being hounded for his deployment of creativity to bail out the country.

To realise the full potentials of digitisation, especially to benefit a huge number of the citizenry, decoders have to be manufactured locally, and made affordable. And this is what the DSO project of the NBC had embarked on through a creative approach. The current case may jeopardise the dream and kill the project altogether.

We reckon that Mr. Emeka Mba’s intervention has been to be creative in getting the decoders manufactured locally. As a matter of fact, the need for a critical and successful handling of the transition to digitisation was one of the reasons why he was brought in to manage the process through his headship of the NBC. This is to draw on his success story at turning around the fortune of the National Film and Video Censors Board, NFVCB, where he had held forte as Director General.

We appeal that the Federal Government should be circumspect in taking actions that could derail the ongoing journey of Nigeria’s broadcast sector to full digitalization by the 2017 deadline.

Already the journey has been tortorous, leading to two derailments already. 2017 deadline must be realised but it’s realisation could be frustrated by actions such as have been embarked upon by these negative forces.

The Digital switchover offers immediate expansion in job creation in the broadcast industry, increase in revenues derivable from broadcast operations, improved content creation, and expansion in small scale industries that serve the bigger creative industries like Nollywood. And with over 37 million television sets in Nigerian homes, the economy of television broadcasting in Nigeria would be worth billions of Naira. It is a win-win for the federal government as the regulator but especially so for serious media entrepreneurs whose broadcast licenses can finally mean more to Nigerians beyond selling over-priced airtime slots to advertisers. The projected earnings from subscriptions to programming alone will run into billions of Naira.

With these advantages, one could ask why has Nigeria not been committed to realising the transition – missing two deadlines in the process, even when tiny Rwanda, which does not have half the resources at disposal of Nigeria, has been able to successfully complete the process. The answer is both simple and complex. Whereas government gave approvals for the plans and issued all the necessary right statements to drive its vision, it never allocated the necessary funds to kickstart the plans, While the TV stations played along and understood the ticking timelines and deadlines of the DSO, the investment in digital transmitters and equipment plus the content acquisition or production plan to fill the increased programming offering in a broadband capacity did not happen.

The NBC plan under Mr Mba had been to circumvent these apparent lack of commitment from both the government and the TV owners by bringing in investors who will be willing to take the risk, and this move had been one vital factor that restored confidence in the project, and set Nigeria back on the path of realising the seeming perennially troubled project. Mr. Mba’s current travails for a supposed offence that is yet to be established really could wipe off all the gains that had been made in past two years since he became head of the NBC; and more significantly it could seal the fate of the project altogether.

Our Requests:

In light of the above points, we make the following requests:

* We call on the EFCC to clarify rather than befuddle the case against Mr. Mba, by stopping the Media trial which gives the wrong impression.

* If there are other issues for which Mr. Mba is being tried, other than those relating to administrative matters stated above, this should be made clear to the public and the seriousness of any potential crime be defined as a justification for the long-winded nature of interrogation and long spell of detention to which he has been subjected for some time now.

 

Sgnd:

For Directorate of iREP Documentary Film Forum

*Ilemakin Soyinka

*Femi Odugbemi

*Jahman Anikulapo

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