… Corporation says accusations untrue
Stories by Olabisi Olaleye [email protected] 08094000013, 08111813040
Nigeria’s much- awaited full digitalisation of the broadcast industry may not be realised quite soon, owing to several reasons, which range from allegations and counter-allegations of unpreparedness, favoritism, nepotism and embezzlement of taxpayers’ money by industry players. Twice, Nigeria has missed the digital switch-over (DSO) deadline.
Stakeholders in the broadcast industry believe that Nigeria would have gone far by now, if some of the ripples had been avoided because the country has missed two deadlines for switch-over, which have been rationalised by the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) as normal teething problems whereas billions of taxpayers’ money to the tune of N2.5 billion is allegedly being used to fund a private company, which by contractual agreement should be paying the federal government.
For instance, there are questions about how many boxes have been switched on? What is the extent of digital TV penetration? What are the number of new channels and services now available to viewers? How much is a set-top box sold? And if there are consumer complaints, where or to whom are they to be addressed? Is there a DSO help line?
Although,the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) Director-General Ishaq Moddibo Kawu, recently announced that the commission had spent $26 million on set-top boxes, stakeholders have noted that the breakdown had not been handed down.
The federal government had licensed three national signal distributors, Pinnacle, MTS and Integrated Television Services (ITS), to drive digital signal distribution across the country and to provide easy access to digital signals to Nigerians.
But there are worries in the industry that the project may be jettisoned mainly bexause of alleged favoritism. It has been alleged by some stakeholders that the NBC and Pinnacle Communications Limited are involved in N2.5 billion deals and graft without proper accountability.
Some of the stakeholders, who pleaded anonymity, alleged that the NBC gave priority attention to a particular signal distributor, to the detriment of others, which does not augur well for fairness, equity and business competition, thus slowing the process of digital switchover.
The stakeholders have insisted on knowing why such a huge sum of money was given to a private company that bid for the project. Part of the pre-requisite for getting the license was the ability of a private firm to mobilise financial resources to carry out the project, and in this case Pinnacle claimed to have the financial wherewithal at the time of the bid and hence it won against other bidders.
According to an online report, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who represented President Muhammadu Buhari, during the launch of the Abuja phase of the DSO, was impressed with the facilities that Pinnacle Communications Limited installed but he was deceived into believing that Pinnacle did not receive any financial assistance whatsoever from government.
Reports say that, apart from the Abuja switch-over, which Pinnacle used the money it got from the NBC to execute, the firm is struggling with the completion of the other sites allocated to it, and, as a matter of fact, it is yet to complete the first site.
While the NBC is yet to set appropriate rules and conditions regarding the carriage of licensed TV channels on the infrastructure of the signal carriers, such as carriage rates and geographical coverage areas, as well the issue of conflict over areas of operation, since all three broadcast signal companies have the same license to operate across the country, it allegedly went ahead to pay Pinnacle Communications, a licensed private operator, the sum of N2.5 billion.
According to sources close to the NBC, the decision to pay Pinnacle Communications was based on the belief that, since the other operator was given a grant of N1.7 billion by the previous management of NBC, it should also be paid because it is a private company, which during its licensing bid confirmed its financial capability to roll out operations across the country. It is rather curious now, how such a company is being paid monies that should otherwise be used to finance the DSO roll out, which once again failed to meet the June 17, 2017 deadline.
Commenting, an industry analyst, Ibrahim Dambatta, said the issue was dicey but, if it was actually true, there was no justification for the payment of N2.5 billion to a company that competed in a licensing round and still got its initial N2 billion license fee reduced by the former Director-General to N600 million for a 15-year license on grounds that the winner would have significant roll out obligation.
He said, “Why did this company receive N2.5 billion from NBC and how was the sum of N2.5 billion computed, based on and what were the parameters, and for what purpose?”
The first broadcast signal distributor, which is supposed to operate as an independent company, was specifically established to serve as a government-owned signal distributor given the importance of broadcasting to national security.
interests, and the funds allocated to it by the former Director General, Mr Frank Mba was government’s share of the financial burden needed as take-off grants for signal distributor; and formed part of the larger DSO budget which was vetted and approved by former president, Goodluck Jonathan.
As a licensee, the operator concerned is supposed to pay NBC license fees and other regulatory charges and certainly not to be paid by government for any reason.
It is believed that Pinnacle Communications made technical and financial undertakings to deploy infrastructure to run DSO and it was upon the basis of those undertakings that it was screened, evaluated and approved to be granted the license as a broadcast signal distributor in the first place.
However, the NBC denied the allegation when Daily Sun put a call to the regulator, saying, “It is totally false and a mere fabrication of lies to discredit the regulator”.
Speaking, NBC’s Public Relations Officer , Hajia Maimuna Jamida explained that the payment made was for service delivery and not for any frivolous activities.
“The payment was paid to Pinnacle for services rendered. The truth of the matter is whoever is accusing NBC should come up with documents to back the claim. The NBC is a transparent agency and has paid our stakeholders for different services rendered. How many payment will NBC be making public in the media? That is not our practice. It is not for NBC to be defending itself when we know that all payments made are within our purview and if someone is aggrieved, should provide documents to back up the claim. Normal due process was followed, there is nothing secretive about it at all. Agencies are empowered to make payments and whatever payment made was within our power for a just cause,”she said.
While efforts to reach Pinnacle for its side of the story before going to press proved abortive.