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How bad institutions, others stall digital switchover

By Margaret Mwantok
20 August 2019   |   3:07 am
After failing several deadlines set for the country’s digital switchover, Nigeria, no doubts, has shown it is still far behind in the process.Only a few households out of millions have been provided tools to enable them transit from analogue to digital television. 

After failing several deadlines set for the country’s digital switchover, Nigeria, no doubts, has shown it is still far behind in the process.Only a few households out of millions have been provided tools to enable them transit from analogue to digital television. 
What is worse, at a time that the world is migrating to Internet-based Television Platform (transmission without the dish) and also without data subscription, Nigeria has continued to be bogged down by bureaucratic and contractual issues. Nigeria’s Digital Switchover (DSO) has stalled for more than a decade, with only six cities successfully switched on to digital television, the slow process has cut many expectations short.
Globally, the ITU Regional Conference in Geneva had initially set June 2014 deadline for the UHF band in 2006.The country’s digitisation process took off on October 13, 2008 when the late President Umaru YarAdua inaugurated a Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on Transition from Analogue to Digital Broadcasting in Nigeria. 
The panel took almost a year to present its first report on June 29, 2009, but there was no follow-up until April 4, 2012, when the Federal Executive Council (FEC) claimed it released a White Paper on the report. Earlier in 2007, the Federal Government also approved June 17, 2012 as Nigeria’s transition date, three years ahead of the ITU mandate. National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) had promised to use the three years (June 17, 2012 to June 17, 2015) to address every hiccup that might arise from the switchover and perfect the mechanism before the final date.
Industry watchers are not surprised that though the country has missed three deadlines for digital switchover, it is still in need of necessary infrastructure that will make the switchover process smooth and possible.In June 2017, former Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, said the country would switch over from analogue to DSO in six states across the six geo-political zones by July of the same year.
Long before the ITU deadline came to pass, NBC’s former boss had lamented lack of funds and how it might affect the switch over process. He disclosed that the country would need about N69 billion for the project to scale through, with a projection that the previous administration would provide a substantial part of the funds, while the remaining would be independently sourced by the commission. Though the budget had been fixed some five years ago, the funds never came as at the time the last administration left office on May 29, 2015.
The NBC, however, has blamed the slow process to lack of funds.The Assistant Director, Public Affairs, NBC, Ekanem Antia told The Guardian that though the process has stalled, “we have successfully completed the process in five states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Lack of funds is our major challenge and the fact that one of the signal distributors is in court. We are hopeful that the funds would be released to us soon.”
Recall that the pilot campaign for digital migration was launched in the city of Jos in June 2014. The campaign was designed to raise awareness of the digital migration deadline, then the launch in other major Nigerian cities was to follow and subsequently, the rest of the country.
The NBC had stated that high quality local content would be central to the success of digital television in Nigeria.However, there is no gain saying that the switch to digital television is no easy feat. First of all, digital frequency plans must be put in place and coordinated with neighbouring countries, secondly, viewers must change their television reception equipment and many transmission sites must be upgraded over a relatively short period of time. The cost of the process can be high, depending on the size of the country and the number of viewers affected by analogue switch-off.
Nigeria, being the most populated country in Africa, has contributed to the slow process. “Considering Nigerias population, I would say, we have done well, looking at where we are today in the DSO process. Our next stop would be Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt,” Antia said.
Completing the process is not entirely on the commission Antia noted, as the commission and other stakeholders need to be on the same page. “The Set Top Boxes (STB) are available but the infrastructure on ground may not give us the opportunity to carry on, he added.
For Tony Afejuku, a professor of English and Literature; “Nigeria is a crazy country, are we bigger than America? There are no leaders in Nigeria, give them funds and they will eat it. This same issue will still persist in four years to come.  This regime came into power by way of preaching change, and that change, we have not seen. In fact, those who are there are worse than those who were there before. They are only deceiving us, promising what they cannot deliver. Nothing will change until we see change that is changed. Its a dead end, and we will go nowhere until the right leaders come onboard. Though the question will be; when will the right people come, and who are they?”
Founder, Tonnie Iredia Centre for Media Advocacy, Prof. Tonnie Iredia said he had predicted the slow pace of the process about a decade ago, “many saw me then as a prophet of doom. But as DG NTA at that time, I was merely realistic going by my observation of the nature of public policy implementation in the country. Over a decade later, have I not been proved right? I don’t agree entirely with the popular view that our problems are solely attributable to leadership.He continued, “the DSO process is not going well in Nigeria. Recall that the first deadline given by ITU was June 2014, and here we are, five years later, nothing to show for it. Though I will not blame it entirely on this government and NBC, the problem started before they came on board. 
“In other climes, like Europe, government was entirely responsible for the digital switchover, because of political will for development. Here, politics is not for development and this is not about DSO alone. You ask, why will Nigeria be conducting analogue elections in 2019? A country with internet and GSM, a cashless country. Interestingly, all the technology policies have been duly followed except with the elections, because it would not allow them to rig.”
Reacting to NBC’s lack of funds claims, Iredia said, “you cannot claim that you don’t have funds and yet you have a case on issues of funds in court.  For instance, Nigeria cannot pay minimum wage, yet people move in convoys. If the money used for fueling those cars is added to the minimum wage, we would get somewhere. What about their newspaper allowances that is as big as the salary of a director? When we see the change in the lifestyle of the leaders, we will believe that there is no money.” 
Iredia who is a professor of Broadcast Management, stressed the need to put strong institutions in place to curb the issue.  He said, “Beyond the obvious leadership inertia at various levels, Nigeria lacks strong institutions. Hence many of the nations failings are due largely to weak institutions. Elections for instance require established processes and procedures, which have been too weakly managed to ensure free and fair outcomes. In all other public bodies, standards are crashing by the day as a result of the politicization of the recruitment processes. Many unqualified hands that are usually foisted on institutions can neither lead nor inspire the confidence of the many more competent hands that are forcibly subordinated to them. The result is unavoidable lethargy. In virtually every venture, the country has in the recent past found it difficult to employ best practices in line with global realities.“If the broadcast institution was strong, then it can do a lot of things that the leadership of the country will not try to stop it. Leadership is a dependent variable; it is dependent on the situation and circumstances, and the group it is leading.”

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