“I was reporting from many parts of the world. I have this thing about tasting the food culture of every part of the world, especially, the street food.”
Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, has sensationally revealed why he’s in love with street food from every part of the world. Kawu who opened up on life as a reporter, editor, chairman editorial board, columnist, consultant, NBC Director General and as a family man told Saturday Sun in Abuja that “if I have to come back to life, I will do the same thing over and over again” as a media man.
Kawu also spoke about the recent investigation of NBC by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) over a N2.5 billion digital switchover fund paid to Pinnacle Communications, insisting that the anti-graft agency spread falsehood against the Commission.
Going by your background in radio, television and print media, what experience have you gained so far that journalists of today can tap from?
The same experience: work hard, work hard, and work hard! That is the basic for very good journalism and broadcasting. The conscientious journalist will be the one who is permanently not satisfied with the good that he does. He wants to be better than good; wants to be even best. So, hard work, study hard and give in the best of your life. These are the basic ways to be a very good journalist and broadcaster.
What has changed in the history of media practice in Nigeria?
I think a lot has changed that is positive. For instance, the technology of production for radio and television has improved tremendously. And I look at the fact that even when I started as the first editor of the Daily Trust, the quality of technology was considerably lower than it is today. So, the journalist today has tremendous technical capacity. But what might be different, I think, is that the level of application and knowledge is not as much as it was and I think the amount of commitment also.
Is Journalism a profession you can encourage one to venture into?
If I use my life as a marker, if I have to come back to life, I will do the same thing over and over again. That tells you that actually, the journalist has tremendous responsibility to the society. We are the only institution if you check the Nigerian constitution; Section 22 says the duty of the media is to hold the government accountable to the people. That is a major responsibility that we have.
What has it been like as the Director General of the NBC?
When I came here on the 25th of May, 2016, I saw it as a progression that seemed natural from all I have done. I have worked in Radio Nigeria, I became a pioneer member of staff of Radio Kwara, I reported for Radio France International, the BBC World Service and I was head-hunted to be the first general manager of Kwara State Television. I started television in Kwara state and I did that for five years. I resigned and became the first editor of Daily Trust Newspaper. So, I have done radio, television and newspaper.
By the time I arrived here, I was the chairman of the editorial board of Blueprint Newspaper. I was also a consultant for them and I wrote a column for them, as well as Vanguard. I think the entire experience I had gathered was a preparation for the duty I am doing today to be the regulator of broadcasting in Nigeria.
Does your schedule allow you time for social activities?
It is very difficult. I will tell you a very interesting story. Yesterday was the first time I was driving a car in six months. What happened to me was that six months ago, I drove out of my house and I suddenly discovered that I didn’t know where to go. So, I parked on the road and called my friend and asked: where can I go to? It is strange, but it is because I am here from morning till night doing my work.
What does style mean to you?
To be stylish is to have a sense of proportion, of moderation and of culture. I love to dress to express myself as a Nigerian, as a black man and as an African. I think being clean and being presentable is at the heart of style for me.
Specifically, what are your fashion preferences?
African dresses. I love to wear African dresses a lot. The Caftan is the regalia for me and I enjoy wearing shots during weekends. Enjoying weekends also, I wear dresses from different parts of Nigeria.
So, western wears don’t make any impression on you?
Occasionally, I wear the suit, but I love the fact that I am an African. Do you know what Marcus Garvey used to tell African people? He said ‘let us endeavour to be the best of ourselves, not the best of others because we can’t be the best of any other people, but ourselves.’
What is your favourite meal?
Again, I am very, very African. I eat the Tuwo and Miyan Kuka every day of my life if I have to. And of course, I eat a lot of fruits. Our country is very rich. So, if I go to Calabar for instance, I will eat Afang any day. If I go to Akwa Ibom, I try Ekpang Nkukwo. Nigerian food is very good and I enjoy the food; and street food from different parts of the world. I was reporting from many, many places around the African continent and different parts of the world. So, I have this thing about tasting the food culture of every part of the world, especially, the street food.
How do you keep fit?
I have a gym in my house. I have been very undisciplined about using it. I would walk, and a lot of times I haven’t done that a lot too. But I enjoy walking and I swim. In my house in Ilorin, I have a very big swimming pool and swimming is something that is very important to my family. All my kids swim very excellently and my wife swims very excellently and I was born on the bank of the River Niger. So, water means a lot to me.
Looking at your tight schedule, do you go on holiday at all?
A friend of mine just sent me a text from London this week and said I am away till January, when are you going to leave your office? I was thinking of doing a week away from Nigeria to Accra around Christmas. I haven’t completely finalised it. But as I told you, I love to travel a lot.
So, where is your holiday destination?
I love travelling around the continent of Africa. I used to love going to Mali a lot.
Mali was at the heart of one of the great empires in West Africa – Malian empire and partly Songhai. Between 1312 and 1332, they had a very famous emperor, Mansa Musa and in 1328, he embarked on a pilgrimage to Mecca and he took so much gold from West Africa. It affected the economy of the world. So, Mali has always been known for its musical culture. They have some of the greatest African musicians.
Does being a family man take a toll on your job or your job takes a toll on your family?
I think I am a very guilty family person. I travel a lot that I do not have a lot of time with my family. But I think somehow, they have gotten used to it because they know that when I am back home, I will be a very good father and husband.
Your name was recently mentioned in an alleged shady deal with Pinnacle Communications, which some people claimed you were consulting for before your appointment. What actually happened in the case of the N2.5 billion seed grant released to Pinnacle Communications by NBC, which the ICPC is investigating?
I became the Director General of NBC in 2016. Pinnacle Communications won an open competitive bid that was broadcast on television as the second national signal distributor for Nigeria’s digital switchover. When they won the bid, they were given a licence. And apparently, there were discrepancies between what they were promised and what they were given as the licence. There were certain things that they promised them that if you won this bid and you pay this amount of money. And they paid N618 million to NBC. That was 2014. But the licence they got from NBC omitted certain elements from the original promise. So, they took NBC to court. They were in court for two years before I became DG of NBC. When I was made DG in May 2016, one of those things I wanted to do was to ensure that we got them out of court. We held several meetings with them and eventually, they agreed and said for two reasons. One, they knew there was a change and they were supporters of Buhari. So, they didn’t want to be in court against a government that they supported. And there was a new DG; they also wanted to cooperate with the new DG. They came out and the same year in August, we went on tour of England led by the Minister of Information. We went to look at all the digital switchover institutions in England for us to be able to learn for our own process. At the end of that visit, Pinnacle Communications was given the responsibility to do the Abuja switchover because in April 2016, the month I was appointed DG, they had done a pilot digital switchover in Jos.
Now, every time you spoke about digital switchover to people in government, they didn’t understand it. So, we felt if we did the switchover in Abuja since this is the place where the people who took decision in Nigeria live, they will be able to understand what we are talking about. So, Pinnacle Communications had between September and December, a 90-day period to do a digital switchover. Usually, it is very, very almost impossible. But do you know what they did? They air-freighted nine tons of equipment from the United States of America. Air-freight! They installed, commissioned and we inaugurated the digital switchover on the 22nd of December, 2016. It was inaugurated by the President of Nigeria, represented by the Vice President. It was broadcast live on television. The same thing, the same set of equipment they also installed, commissioned in Kaduna and on the 22nd of December last year, they also came on air.
In 2015, the NBC had paid the first signal distributor which is ITS that came out of government N1.7 billion for the performances. So, six months after Pinnacle did the installation in Abuja, in June 2017, we paid them N2.7 billion. Now, you may ask the question: why did you pay this one N1.7 billion and this one was paid N2.7 billion? In 2015 when ITS was paid N1.7 billion, the exchange rate was N165 to the dollar. In 2017 June, it was N380 to the dollar. That was the reason for the discrepancies. And what was the instrument? It was the White Paper. The White Paper was very clear about this. The White Paper approved in Section 11 (2a) that more than one signal distributor be licensed in addition to the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), the public licensed signal distributor where ITS came from. And Section 11 (2b) noted that NTA with 157 transmission sites spread across the country as potential signal distributor has a significant advantage over new entrants. Section C directed that the NBC should put in place, necessary conditions and ensure that close to 11 playing fields is achieved. That was the clause that we used in paying the money to Pinnacle Communications. I did not license them; I met them as a licensed signal distributor.
If you go back to the ICPC press release, one, it talked of Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. We are not Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. We are National Broadcasting Commission. They said we are doing transmission of analogue to digital of telephone, we are not doing anything that has got to do with telephony and it went further to say that I recommended an unqualified company to the minister. There was no way I would have recommended an unqualified company to the minister because they had been there and won the licence two years before in an open bid and they paid NBC. And when they talked of Pinnacle being unqualified, it is very surprising. Look at the amount of installations they have done of broadcasting equipment in the Federal Republic of Nigeria and they have commissioned (showed Saturday Sun reporter a list of states where Pinnacle Communications had carried out installation). So, in every material particular, the statement was false from ICPC. They went further to say that I couldn’t defend. I defended myself very heartily. I went with documents and I showed them.
Does that mean the ICPC is on a wild goose chase?
I can’t speak for them.