By Uche Ejimofor
History was made on April 30, 2016, in Jos, the Plateau State capital when the federal government launched the pilot phase of the digital transmission project that kick-started the digitisation process in the country. The event marked the transmission from analogue to digital television in the city, which has always been a hotspot in the country’s broadcasting history. This landmark achievement was the official transformation of the nation’s drive towards achieving digitisation and catching up with the rest of the world with the Ministry of Information and Culture and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) achieving the feat for the nation.
Prior to now, it had not been an easy journey for Nigeria leading the Digital Switch On (DSO) for Terrestrial television. Several efforts were made to realise the migration without success.
Consequently, Nigeria had to shift the date from 2015 to June 2017, due to lack of commitment on the part of NBC leadership under Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led federal government.
However, the subsequent arraignment of Pinnacle Communications Limited and Kawu Modibo, the current DG of NBC by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other-Related Offences Commission (ICPC), is very crucial. Kawu, in my humble opinion, had wanted to make the system serve Nigeria’s interest. The management of Pinnacle Communications Limited and other Nigerians have equally described as a distortion of facts, especially the roles played by the ICPC as regards its investigation of the NBC over alleged misapplication of N2.5 billion seed grant released to the agency by the Federal Government for DSO programme.
It will be recalled that Pinnacle emerged the successful bidder, out of nine companies in 2014 after a rigorous public tender and full compliance with due process and it was licensed following payment of the stipulated fees to the NBC.
While this process was still ongoing, Pinnacle, which had headed to court over the delay in licensing was encouraged to accept an out-of-court settlement, but refused. It was eventually appointed a signal distributor for the Abuja Switch-Over.
It is notable that Pinnacle delivered within 90 days, providing the very best facilities that were commissioned by the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, on December 22nd, 2016. The Kaduna Centre was soon to be commissioned a year later by Governor Nasir el-Rufai.
Speaking during the ceremony in Abuja, Osinbajo disclosed that the local industry was already experiencing a boost from the new vista in digital economy, with several indigenous companies now manufacturing Set-Top-Boxes, as he was told that many of the set-top-boxes used for the Abuja project were produced in Nigeria. He had agreed that the significance of the project could not be lost on the world as it finally became a reality in the capital city of Africa’s largest economy and the most populous black nation in the world.
What is verifiable also is the fact that these events were broadcast live on television and attended by all the stakeholders in broadcast industry. For these services, five months after commissioning of the Abuja Centre, NBC paid Pinnacle the N2.5 billion that has generated much controversy.
However, the recent attack on Modibo in a section of the media could be said to be a re-launch attack on a man whose record has never been tainted in his years of public service due to his diligence, hard work and transparency. The NBC DG has been carelessly alleged of recommending Pinnacle, as a private company to the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, for the release of money worth some billions of Naira on the project.
The truth of the matter is that the Pinnacle won in a bid conducted by the then Emeka Mba-led NBC and the said money was approved by the Presidency and not by the DG. Basically, the whole process pre-dated the coming of Modibo to the NBC.
Prior to this, there was a White Paper issued directing that the process should be specifically handled by two companies, Pinnacle and ITS, which is an affiliate of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), won the bid to handle the process. Monies were released to these two companies by the Ministry of Information on orders of the presidency after jobs were carried out.
It would be recalled that the House of Representatives had even undertaken a public hearing on the issues where it was said that Pinnacle has not done anything wrong. In 2017, the13-member committee, headed by Hon Sunday Marshal Katung, in an 18-page report made recommendations that were favourable to Pinnacle. The questions now are: ‘Why is Modibo still being made a victim of smear campaign?’ ” Who is afraid o him and his giant strides in NBC since he assumed office in May, 2016?
Digitisation journey globally was officially rejuvenated when 193 Member States of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) met in Geneva, Switzerland in June 2006 on the 17th of that month, a statement was issued, resulting to a historic treaty signed by members and which would usher in a wave of digital broadcasting for 119 countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia – to begin with – 2015, which was set as the terminal or deadline date, seemed too far off.
The long and short of this is that, this laudable project should not be allowed to die in Nigeria over petty political and bad blood against the headship of NBC which is the forerunner of this dream in our dear country.
Ejimofor writes from Owerri.