Iwe Iroyin Fun Awon Ara Egba was the beginning of journalism in Nigeria. First published by Henry Townsend on November 23, 1859, Robert Campbell followed with the Anglo-African newspaper in 1863, then Iwe Irohin Eko by Andrew Thomas in 1888, Weekly Times by John Jackson Payne in 1890 and Lagos Standard by John Study Leigh in 1894. The last of that foreign rheostat was Lagos Reporter founded by Victor Mason in 1898. Nigeria started telling her own story from then on. The stage was largely controlled by the government at inception but has since given way to private drivers.
The cataclysmic change has since taken place in the print journalism industry, it has witnessed its own revolution; the mode of production has metamorphosed and prospects abound today. Gone are the days when reading news was actually some form of luxury, the digital age has become the grand leveller; the poor and the rich have same access, data is it. A sweeter experience awaits the nation in the broadcast industry if the government can do the right thing in good time.
The broadcast industry is unjustly at a crossroad, stakeholders cannot afford the bourgeoning despondency, we have quibbled over time, enough of prevarication, it is time for action; time to rise for a better broadcast experience in Nigeria. I have, therefore, made a simple resolve for the new year: I will deploy my energy to advocate for action in this regard for the benefit of the industry with so much potential. We complain endlessly about the rate of unemployment yet we are making a mess of a process that will deliver over 700,000 jobs! We must look at the bedevilling ‘Nigerian factor’ monster in the face and say: Enough is enough! Other African countries are leaving us behind and taking all the advantages in the digitalisation process.
For industry watchers, there is no challenge except the ones we have deliberately placed on the path of progress. We all know it. First it was greed and indiscipline, now, in addition, you see ego, unimaginable conspiracy etc. What are the issues?
The digital switch over from analogue to digital broadcasting is meant to open so much opportunities in the industry, give ordinary Nigerians, almost at no cost, the broadcasting experiences the rich are presently enjoying, create so many jobs and yield income to the government overtime. The government carefully put in place a White paper, which is the law with specific provisions, to guide the process.
The law provides that an independent company be formed from the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) to be known as Integrated Television Services (ITS), and another private company be licensed, in addition, to undertake the transition process to avoid the danger of a single broadcasting signal distributor.
In 2014, top players in the industry bided for the Digital Signal Operator, DSO, license and one Pinnacle Communication won the bid and paid the mandatory license fee of six hundred and eighteen million (N618,000,000) to the government.
Trouble started thereafter when some provisions earlier agreed upon were taken away from the powers of the Digital Signal Operator, DSO. A clear case of greed and directorial indiscipline. The company proceeded to court for reparation and the entire transition process came to a halt.
Then the Buhari administration came into office and brought a renewed vigour to see the process through. The threatening case was settled out of court and the digital transition got underway again with creditable rapidity. Of course, professionals started preparing for the numerous opportunities to be unbolted at completion. Then we got stuck again! Yes, till date. The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, dragged the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC and Pinnacle Communications to court for what it termed illegal payment. Like I said in my piece in 2019, ICPC should cover its eyes in shame for not reading the law guiding the process before jumping on that corrupt voyage which is destroying the gains made thus far.
The first Presidential Advisory Committee that drafted the initial document made three suggestions that are relevant here. First, seed grant of N25b be provided, considering the heavy cost of the transition in order to save ordinary Nigerians from unbearable service charges. Secondly, Single Broadcasting Signal Distributor model was suggested for the Transition process while others may be licensed much later after the transition, which means that the transition would be driven by ITS alone. And thirdly, Multiple Broadcasting Signal Distributor be adopted to drive the process.
The ultimate presidential committee that came up with the final white paper agreed to the seed grant for the Transition process, rejected a single operator model which is the second suggestion above, accepted the third option and mandated that one other signal distributor be licensed immediately to drive the Transition alongside the NTA owned ITS. See section 11.2.(e), “Accepts the recommendation to establish a minimum of 2 and maximum of 3 Broadcasting Signal Distributors for the transitional period to take effect from 1st January, 2012 to 1st January, 2015”. Pinnacle was licensed in accordance with the provision as the second Broadcasting Signal Distributor.
The law went further to identify the competitive advantage the government-owned ITS already has and mandated that the other licensed signal distributor for the transition period be brought up to same level playing field with ITS. See section 11.2.(b and c). “Noted that NTA with 157 transmission sites spread across the country, as potential signal distributor, has a significant advantage over new entrants and …..”. “Directed that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) should put in place necessary conditions and ensure that close to a level playing field is achieved”. By this provision, the new licensed company should, as a matter of fact, enjoy more provisions than the existing one yet ICPC could not read through the law before accepting the hatchet job of prosecuting an equal provision!
Besides, two companies were involved in the said transmission exercise and they have both delivered to the extent tolerable. Payments were made to the two companies in accordance to the guiding laws but ICPC is saying one should not be paid, forgetting that the seed grant was meant for the transmission process and not for any particular company. It is laughable that they also failed to know that if only one company enjoys the seed grant, that one company will charge consumers a subsidised service rate while the other will charge the full commercial rate, the same pain the government decided to take away from ordinary Nigerians. Aside the pain, the law (white paper) envisaged and frowned at such imbalance thus ensuring the above provision for level playing field. Shame on those economic saboteurs who are holding the nation to ransom just for their greed in spite of obvious provisions for a smooth process.
Sad enough, ICPC shot itself in the foot and truly exposed itself as a corrupt PERSECUTOR, not a prosecutor. I will take it from here in my next piece and I will, again, analyse further with facts. We may name to shame. I will personally write a detailed letter to the President on this. We can no longer keep quiet.
For now, tell dirty players to allow Nigerians move forward. Tell them to pleat in their corrupt and greedy expedition, the progress of the Nation comes first. Tell them to bury their ego, it has become irritably cantankerous.
Kolawole Johnson, MNIPR, is former broadcast journalist and public affairs analyst