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June digital switchover unrealistic as experts lament government’s laxity

By Margaret Mwantok
03 March 2020   |   4:20 am
It is no longer news that Nigeria has missed three deadlines to switch off analogue television to digital. Neither is it any news that the journey to digital switchover, which started over a decade ago...

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed

It is no longer news that Nigeria has missed three deadlines to switch off analogue television to digital. Neither is it any news that the journey to digital switchover, which started over a decade ago, will see Nigeria only successfully switching off in six states, including the capital city of Abuja:

What is the news is that there have been a lot of controversies on why the process has stalled. As stakeholders try to come to terms with the missed dates, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, recently said the digital switchover (DSO) process would be completed in the country by June 17, 2020.

He said this when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Loans to defend the $500 million loan that the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) needs for upgrading of its facilities to meet the standard of the CNN.

His words, “The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in 2006, gave June 17, 2015, as deadline for all members of the organisation to migrate from analogue to digital.

“Regrettably, we were unable to meet the deadline along-side most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the deadline was moved to 2017, which was not reliable and today the target is June 17, 2020.”

Industry watchers said it was ridiculous to imagine that Nigeria could complete the process in less than four months considering the fact that it failed to do so in more than a decade, and of course, missing three deadlines, because of technical issues.

Many have also argued that the abrupt halt in DSO launch two years ago was contrary to the assurance given by Lai Mohammed at the Ilorin launch, when he declared, “We cannot afford to drop the ball as we continue our journey from analogue to digital television, because the benefits to our people are huge. Yes, this process has not been without hiccups. But like the saying goes, you will never reach your destination if you stop to throw stones at every dog that barks.”

Recall that in December 2016, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo conducted the DSO national launch on behalf of President Muhamadu Buhari at the state-of-the-art Signal Distribution Broadcast Centre established on Mpape Hill, Abuja by Pinnacle Communications Limited. The FCT was also responsible for the Kaduna Broadcasting Centre commissioned in December 2017. The Ilorin, Enugu and Osogbo DSO centres were set up by Integrated Television Services (ITS), the NTA subsidiary national signals distributor.

Industry watchers have expressed concerns that this may just be another of the minister’s promises.

President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Chris Isiguzo, said digitisation was the in-thing and Nigeria ought to fully switchover.

According to him, it will be very difficult to beat the deadline given by the Federal Government.

He said, “Let us look at completing this project from next year. I am currently on tour of Nigerian states and from what I see on ground, the possibility of achieving the process in three months or so is bot possible. It is important that the broadcast stations begin to do the needful, especially those owned by the state. The only thing we need is the political will, but whether there is need for us to leave the analogue and embrace full digitization is sacrosanct.”

For the Vice Chancellor, Caleb University, Imota, Lagos, Prof. Nosa Owens-Ibie, these decisions meant to mainstream best practices globally are, no doubts, encouraging.

Owens-Ibie, who is a Professor of Communication, Media and Development, said, “Though finance is mentioned often, when anything is prioritized, it becomes less of a burden to implement. The time is quite short and will take a lot of determination to actualize it but if the level of engagement at the states level is favourable, it could produce the result that we want to see. The federal government needs to engage those states that are yet to switch.”

With Prof. Armstrong Idachaba acting as the National Broadcasting Commission’s (NBC) director, many believe that the process would be faster. A source at NBC told The Guardian that, “Prof Idachaba has been on this project since the beginning, I believe he is in a better position to deliver on this. Though funds has been a major challenge to DSO.”

Reacting to the minister’s new deadline, the source said, “Miracles do happen. Though we may not be able to achieve that, it is always good to set a target because it gives you direction. I believe the minister knows what he was talking about.”

Ag. Director-General, NBC, Prof. Idachaba said what the minister meant was that the technical infrastructures; the signal distribution pattern would have been established nationwide by June.

According to him, “In terms of the actual transmission and switch off of analogue, we cannot do that before June. But by June, a lot of activities would have taken place towards the actualisation and completion of the process. All that is left to do is to duplicate the transmission and signal to the rest of the states.

“The six states are regional hubs that would help to quicken the process. We are optimistic like the minister has rightly said.”

Idachaba said NBC would further create the enabling environment for the digital switchover process to be smooth and successful in the other states. He however, pointed out that there were few issues to be clarified, “The NBC is committed to this course in conjunction with the minster and digiteam. We have had a meeting with the digiteam, BON and other people in the ministry. We are restrategising for the future roll out.”

He expressed regret over the death of Lucky Omoluwa, the founder and chairman of Pinnacle Communications, the set top boxes distributor.

“He has sacrificed so much for this industry; his contribution to broadcasting in Nigeria could not be forgotten”, he said.

The acting DG believes that his demise would not pose a threat to the completion of the DSO process, as “Pinnacle, as a company, has lasted for years and we believe that it has the technical and financial capacity to stay on.”

Recall that Omoluwa was involved in a case that included the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) as co-defendant.

The Federal High Court Abuja, had fixed March 26 for ruling on the no-case-submission filed by the suspended Director-General of NBC, Modibo Kawu, over the disbursement of N2.5bn Federal Government Digital Switch Over (DSO) project.

Similar ruling on motions by the late Omoluwa and the Chief Operating Officer, Dipo Onifade of the Pinnacle Communications Ltd, was to be decided on the same day.