How Abuja’s switchover rekindles hope in Nigeria’s digitisation process
For nearly eight months, it appeared Nigeria’s transition process had lost steam completely. The feelers from Jos Pilot Scheme that was relaunched on April 30, 2016 were not encouraging. A plethora of complaints ranging from poor reception of digital signals to alleged nepotism in the distribution of the free set top boxes – about 500,000 pieces – provided by the federal and Plateau State governments had bugged down the process.
But the process is back on track, courtesy of the roll out of the digital TV services in Abuja on December 22, 2016. The size and quality of attendance at the launch held at Pinnacle Broadcast Centre, Mpape, Abuja, reflected renewed commitment in driving the process.
The arrays of personalities from government circle, corporate world and broadcast industry was led by President Muhammadu Buhari, represented by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo.
Apart from the Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who was the chief host, the launch attracted Minister of Communication Technology, Alhaji Adebayo Shittu, Ministers of Health – Prof. Isaac Adewole and Dr. Osagie Ehanire (state); Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Suleiman Adokwe; Chairman, House Committee on Information, Olusegun Dokun Odebunmi; pioneer Director-General, National Broadcasting Commission, Dr. Tom Adaba; former DGs of NBC: Mallam Danladi Bako, Alhaji Bayo Atoyebi, and Alhaji Kamil Yomi Bolarinwa, who is now a principal consultant at Pinnacle Broadcast Centre and led the facility tour of the premises shortly after the commissioning performed by Osibanjo.
Instructively, the current DG of NBC, Mallam Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, was appointed late last May, so, the launch was his first major outing.
He captured this point vividly in his remarks, saying, “A little over six months ago, in May 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed me as Director-General of the NBC. I was conscious of the fact that our commission was the cynosure of all eyes in respect of hopes for a successful digital broadcasting transition. Expectations were very high and naturally, my work was cut out for me. I was determined to ensure that we achieved a switchover process that was inclusive and rancor-free.
“This was particularly important, because at the point that I took over, one of the most significant players in the digitization process was in a very bitter dispute with the NBC. They were in court and while significant developments were taking place, the digitization process was dogged by that huge elephant in the room. We set out to convince them to go out of court and return to the process that they had laboured hard for, and for which they were the single most important financial contributor.
“That major player is Pinnacle Communications Limited. They accepted our request, withdrew the case they had instituted against the NBC and they made a pledge to return fully to the Nigerian digitization process. As part of that settlement, we offered them the opportunity to become the Signal Distributors for the Abuja Switch On.
“In eight weeks, this site where we are gathered today was cleared and built up; they also went ahead to install some of the finest transmission systems in the world at this site! What we have here is an example of the Nigerian spirit of positive daring as well as a major statement for our country’s entrepreneurial ability. In the Chairman of Pinnacle Communications Limited, Sir Lucky Omoluwa, these remarkable qualities confluence to produce the patriotism that drove what we have here today. It is a feat that we can all be proud of!”
Mallam Kawu also acknowledged the support of Information Minister, Alhaji Mohammed, whose leadership role in the process helped to break the logjam, while thanking President Buhari for directing “that funds seized from the Commission be promptly released to facilitate our work.”
THE digital transition, NBC head emphasised, tallied with the diversification of the economy by harnessing Nigeria’s creative endowment through digital resources.
According to him, as part of the Abuja switch on, “we would transmit 30 TV channels, offering fares in news, entertainment, sports and business. The bouquet of programmes offers local, regional and national television channels; this is the new way to watch television. Our Set Top Boxes are also interactive, offering the unique opportunity for government to communicate directly with the Nigerian people; there is also the possibility of instant feedback, which would assist in deepening the democratic process. There is a rich possibility opening up for Nollywood to offer access to the rich repertoire of Nigerian films that would sweep the carpets from the feet of pirates, thus bringing more funds to help develop Nigeria’s film industry, the third largest on earth.
“In the new digital ecosystem, 70 per cent of content on 24-hour television WOULD be LOCAL. This offers job opportunities as well as wealth creation for Nigeria’s very creative young through the entire broadcasting value chain. The introduction of a Digital Access Fund (DAF) would become a platform to help collect television licenses in Nigeria, thus present opportunities for local governments around Nigeria to get funds that can aid the development of the grassroots.”
Mallam Kawu also underscored logistic and financial challenges as the digital transition marches on to the deadline of June 17, 2017. He, however, expressed that the deadline would be met.
“Our plan for success is to involve the Nigerian Governors’ Forum in the next phase of the switch on,” eh said. “In the next few months, we plan to switch on six states, chosen from each of Nigeria’s geo-political zones. We then envisage a domino-like effect that will bring other states within the loop in a race to meet the June 2017 deadline set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for member countries in the ECOWAS sub-region.
“There are challenging but exciting days, weeks and months ahead for Nigeria’s digital switch on. I will like to assure Your Excellency and our distinguished invitees that at the National Broadcasting Commission we will give our very best to drive this historic process to a successful conclusion.”
For the Information Minister, the DSO presents an exciting moment for Nigeria.
“The Digital Switch Over (DSO) in broadcasting is set to create a N100 billion per annum Free TV distribution network for Nollywood among a number of positive spin-offs,” the Minister said.
He also listed job creation, 30 free digital channels, free and easy access to government and public information through a touch of the remote control, current affairs and news available through the middleware on the boxes and a world class Electronic Programme Guide that will make television viewing an unbeatable experience.
‘’We have watched our beloved Nollywood move from VHS tapes to VCD to DVD, and whereas the whole world has moved to digital consumption of content with its attendant benefits and democratisation of distribution, we have been constrained by limited penetration of Internet in our homes.
‘’With the middleware in our Set Top Boxes/Receiving equipment, homes will be able to buy and watch the latest Nollywood movies without the need for Internet. Imagine a film released on Monday morning being immediately available to 24 million plus households at the touch of a button,’’ he said
In his speech entitled, ‘’The Best of Television For All Nigerians,’’ Alhaji Mohammed said the local manufacture of Set Top Boxes, which has already begun, is already extending to local Smart TV and Tablet manufacturing, thus creating jobs.
‘’With our strong consumer base, we can quickly become the supplier of these equipment to the whole of West Africa. As we speak, jobs are already being created as we engage engineers, technicians, retailers, distributors and marketers, among others,’’ he said.
Mohammed also said the Electronic Programme Guide will also be a platform for Application (App) developers to create products that will make life easier for the home consumers, thereby creating and promoting an industry of developers that will operate in both the TV and telecoms industries.
In addition, he said the increase in Free-To-Air channels and the separation of transmission from content aggregation will spur an increase in TV production activities, as the channels will now be able to focus on their TV shows and harness the variety of human and creative skills to compete to become the most watched channel.
Alhaji Mohammed said the DSO would also help to grow the TV advertising market by $400 million per annum through audience measurement, adding: ‘’Our digital environment will give equal opportunity to everyone to be rewarded for investment in creativity, and that is what the regime of forensic Audience Measurement, which Digitisation offers, will afford.