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Unprofessional conduct on airwaves will be sanctioned, Ishaq Moddibo-Kawu warns

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Ishaq Moddibo-Kawu

Even before the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) debunked the allegation of “misapplication of N2.5 billion seed grant released to the agency by the Federal Government for its digital switch-over programme”, keen observers of the industry knew that the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) that raised the matter was not thorough in its investigation.

Mid-November, the media space was inundated with the reports that the ICPC was investigating top management staff of NBC, including its Director-General, Mallam Ishaq Moddibo-Kawu, “over their alleged involvement in the misapplication of the fund.”

But when it was later revealed that no official of NBC was being investigated in connection with the allegation and that the transaction, which involved Pinnacle Communications Limited, the second signal distributor for the DSO project, was in line with regulatory framework guiding the digitisation process, nothing has been heard again from the ICPC.

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While the report was believed to be targeted at undermining the outstanding progress the digital migration project had witnessed in the last two and half years with Moddibo-Kawu at the helm of NBC affairs, the DG in an interview with The Guardian, restated the commitment of the airwaves’ regulatory agency to pilot the project to its logical conclusion.

“We have concluded work on a complete digital mapping of the country,” he said. “This is a very vital platform for the speedy completion of the DSO. We now know the number of transmission sites that would be needed and all the strategic partners and the DSO can now adequately plan their place in the process: Set Top Box Manufacturers and the Signal Distributors and the broadcasters.

“The Signal Distributors have also prepared a Rate Card that would be presented to stakeholders, especially members of the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), for a robust discussion before being validated. We have also approved a new Verimatrix Conditional Access System and an alternative platform to enhance a competitive DSO process for the country. The signal distributors are working together now as against the adversarial posture that was hurting the progress of the DSO in the past.”

What is disheartening about the report, Moddibo-Kawu asserted, was its timing as it nearly marred the celebration of the release of 213 newly approved broadcast licenses by President Muhammadu Buhari.

He gave the breakdown as 147 new FM radio licenses, 23 DTT Television licenses, three new national radio network licenses, as well as two national television licenses.

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The list includes 16 Campus Radio stations, 24 Community Broadcasters and three public organisations FM licenses.

“The total of 213 licenses is the single largest number of stations ever licensed at any point in Nigeria’s broadcasting history,” eh continued. “Our industry is opening up and the importance of broadcasting is becoming greater as a contributor to the economic fortunes of our country, on the one hand, and as a platform of molding the values of national development, on the other.”

Noting further, he said: “We are in an era of exciting developments in broadcasting in our country, especially with the exponential increases we are witnessing in the number of broadcasting outfits across the country, as well as the continued interest by several people to become players in the industry. There are strides in the digitisation process, especially with Federal Government’s renewed commitment to find the resources for a rapid conclusion of the DSO, that gives us tremendous level of optimism at the NBC.”

He, however, expressed displeasure that in the heat of the negative reports, critical stakeholders in the broadcasting community, who are aware of the on-going digitisation processes failed to rally in defense of the huge investment that had gone into the process.

“It is quite unfortunate that there have been several negative stories that have been generated around the DSO, especially in recent times, about the payment we made to one of our Signal Distributors, Pinnacle Communications. But those broadcast stations whose programmes are part of the two multiplexes of 30 stations that we offer viewers in Abuja and Kaduna know that Pinnacle Communications has installed some of the best transmission systems in the world for our DSO at those two sites!

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“We are launching a Push Video-on-Demand pilot project in Abuja and Kaduna soon. This would offer opportunity to watch Nigerian films with our Set Top Boxes, as well as assist in the process of eliminating piracy, which dogs investments in Nollywood and Kannywood; and this is being done on the platform of facilities installed by Pinnacle Communications Limited in Abuja and Kaduna. I felt disappointed that most of our partners (broadcasters) have not rallied in defence of the investment done and the quality of broadcasting, as well as the entire DSO process, that the false reports were targeted at undermining.”

He recalled how the present management of the NBC, with support of the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, rescued the digitisation process, which was bedeviled with several obstacles, including court cases.

“There was nothing fraudulent in the transaction between the commission and Pinnacles Communications. The firm was paid for services rendered just the way the first signal distributor Integrated-Television-Services (ITS) was paid.

There were a lot of inaccuracies in the statement issued by ICPC. The company is the second licensed signal distributor for digital switchover in Nigeria.

The White Paper on Digital Switchover (DSO) stipulated that NBC should provide a platform for the second signal distributor because the first signal distributor had facilities all over the country.

The white paper says the second signal distributor is coming in with a disadvantage, so the NBC should provide a level playing field to ensure that a signal distributor carryout the process successfully.

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“This is the context in which the payment was made and we did not only pay just a signal distributor. NBC paid N2.5 billion to Pinnacle Communications for facilitating digitisation in Abuja, Kaduna and other parts of the country as the work progressed.

NBC paid the first national signal distributor, ITS N1.7 billion and as at the time the money was paid, the exchange rate was about N167 to the dollar.

“When we paid Pinnacle in 2017, the exchange rate was N380 to the dollar. So, if you look at N2.5 billion and N1.7 billion in terms of the amount paid, the exchange rate had affected the payment so it was not as if we just threw money at them. All those things were measured.

“It should also be noted that when the Federal Government released N10 billion to NBC, it came with a directive that the money should be used for the digital switchover process and supervised by the Minister of Information and Culture. The minister approved every payment that NBC made in the context of the digital switchover.

“We paid the signal distributors, Set Top Box manufacturers, content aggregators, we have partly paid the set light provider and the people who are doing the call centre.

“To activate the box, you have to make certain calls to the centre and we have call agents who work for NBC on 24 hour basis and we pay them through the company. Besides, NBC spent money to train its staff and some members of the National Assembly on the digital switchover as well as other stakeholders.

“Meanwhile, Pinnacle got the license after an open bidding process that was broadcast on television, two years before I came to the NBC. And the company has contributed immensely to the success of digitisation more than any other signal distributor in the country. It has been the single largest contributor because it paid a license fee of N680 million to the NBC.”

The DG insisted that the controversy over the DSO was like a storm in a teacup, stressing that the remarks by ICPC missed new developments that have taken place in the DSO processes.

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He added that the firm sued NBC over the dispute arising from the bidding process but when Moddibo-Kawu was appointed Director General in May 2016, the first assignment was to get Pinnacle to withdraw the case from court.

“When I became DG, getting Pinnacle out of court became a central issue, they agreed to withdraw the suit and as part of packages of resolution we reached to get them out of court, they were appointed the signal distributor for switch-over in Abuja and they had a very narrow window.

“Pinnacle installed some of the best broadcast equipment in the world, the quality was up to standard for our processes, they were given assignment to procure and install equipment for Kaduna switch over, they have not been off air for once since December 2016.”

He pleaded for continued support of stakeholders, especially broadcasters under the aegis of BON in order to continue to offer Nigerians a very dynamic broadcasting industry.

But in view of the heightened political season as the 2019 general elections inch closer, Moddibo said the commission has put the DSO controversy behind, while concentrating on ensuring that broadcasters play the game by the rules.

“In the past two years, the NBC has set up many political forums with our licensees in Kaduna, Kano, and Enugu, to sensitise broadcasters on our roles, before the electoral season in the country.

Against the backdrop of the challenges that we faced leading to the 2015 elections, in respect of spiking of hate and dangerous speeches that were freely broadcast on leading television networks, we commissioned a major study of Hate and Dangerous Speech in Nigerian broadcasting, using the 2015 general elections as a case study.

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“The Validation Report from that study has been presented in Kano; Enugu and Sokoto. We will also present the report in Lagos soon and at a national gathering of broadcasters and other national institutions in Abuja.

The NBC has also gathered a lot of experience from elections in Anambra; Ekiti and Osun states, especially in the manner that broadcasting outfits have responded to the political process.

The most difficult situation cropped up in Ekiti; we were eventually forced by the circumstance to close down the state’s broadcasting organisations.

“I think against the backdrop of the Ekiti scenario, the state broadcaster in Osun, opened opportunities for all the different political parties to air their views in a very equitable manner. There was another issue that surfaced in Ekiti.

The two major political parties, the APC and the PDP, paid huge sums of money to major television networks for live broadcasts of their rallies. The politicians on both sides made unguarded statements against themselves.

“For us at the NBC, we cannot be responsible for the statements that politicians make. But it is important to remind the broadcasting outfits that you would be liable for any violations of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code by politicians that you broadcast live during political rallies. So, it is your responsibility, not just to collect money from politicians; but you must make them remember the liability you carry for decency in what comes out on radio and television.”

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He stressed that NBC’s efforts as regards election coverage, was to ensure that the “2019 general elections help us deepen the country’s democratic culture as well as consolidate all national institutions. For us in broadcasting, we must become more professional and responsible. That is the duty we owe Nigerians!”

He also reminded broadcast stations of their licensing fees obligations to the commission. “There are many broadcasting organisations today that have refused to pay, as and when due.

Many of them canvass the unacceptable argument about the economic situation in the country. But license fees are statutory, and those who do not pay should not be on air! It is as simple as that! That is the iron logic of capitalist economics. I will like to remind all those who owe the NBC these statutory license fees that we would visit them very soon, before they collect the huge sums from political parties. They should either pay or they would be shut down and so would be unable to collect money for political broadcasts!”

It would be recalled that in the heat of ICPC’s allegation, the management of Pinnacle Communications also made some clarifications about the issue. The statement signed by its Chief Operating Officer, Dipo Onifade reads:

“In view of the references made to Pinnacle Communications Limited in connection with the investigation and the necessity of providing the correct account of our involvement in the issues raised, which were deliberately omitted and/or distorted in the ICPC spokesperson’s alleged statement as widely reported in the media, we hereby state as follows:

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• Pinnacle Communications Limited is the only private licensed signal distributor for the Federal Government approved implementation of the Transition from Analogue to Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting in Nigeria in accordance with the 2012 Government White Paper section 11.2 (a) which approved that “more than one signal distributor be licensed in addition to NTA, the public licensed signal distributor. Another signal distributor should be licensed immediately.”
 
• In 2014, Pinnacle Communications Limited emerged successful bidder out of nine companies after a rigorous public tender and full compliance with due process. The company was licensed following payment of the stipulated license fees to the NBC (not Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation) as stated in the alleged press release of ICPC spokesperson.
 
• Since then, Pinnacle Communications Limited has been a major facilitator of the Digital Switch Over (DSO) implementation process in Nigeria, notably as the broadcast signal distributor for the National Launch of the DSO in Abuja in 2016 at its state-of- the-art Broadcast Centre on Mpape Hill, performed by Vice OPresident Yemi Osinbajo.

The company was also responsible for the Kaduna Digital Broadcast Signal Distribution Centre commissioned in 2017 by the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai.
 
• This factual background to the involvement of Pinnacle Communications Limited in the DSO project in Nigeria is contrary to alleged statements attributed to the ICPC spokesperson that the company was “fraudulently recommended to the Minister of Information and Culture for the release of N2.5 billion against the guidelines contained in the White Paper” and further reference to Pinnacle Communications as “an unqualified company.”

The 2014 licensing of Pinnacle Communications in the DSO predates the appointment of the current DG of NBC in 2016.

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• The DSO is all about the transition from Analogue to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT).
 
Broadcast Engineering is a field in which Pinnacle Communications Limited has earned recognition and patronage for more than two decades of expertise and dependability of world-class service and installations across Nigeria.
 
• Neither the DSO nor Pinnacle Communications Limited has anything to do with “migration of telephone lines from analogue to digital platforms,” as the ICPC spokesperson alleged.
 
• Pinnacle Communications maintain that the facts and clarifications provided above sufficiently define the context and extent of its involvement in the implementation of the DSO program in Nigeria and the nature of its working relationship with the NBC.

• While noting that the ICPC spokesperson allegedly stated that the Commission was investigating “misapplication of N2.5 billion seed grant released to the NBC by the Federal Government for its digital switch-over programme” we wish to clearly emphasise that Pinnacle Communications Limited has not and cannot as a licensee of NBC trespass into the statutory functions of the NBC and/or the Federal Ministry of Information on the implementation of the DSO programme.
 
• To this extent, therefore, all transactions between NBC and Pinnacle Communications have always been transparent and within the official approved operational guidelines and regulations as processed and executed by the NBC and in compliance with the terms and conditions of the license for signal distribution that Pinnacle Communications duly obtained.

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• Having made all the necessary statements in response to the ICPC’s investigations and taking cognisance of the pendency of Suit No FHC/ABJ/CS/779/2018 that Pinnacle Communications instituted in July 2018 in the Federal High Court, Abuja on a related matter against ICPC and 2 others, (Not Related To Stopping Any Investigation By ICPC) Pinnacle Communications considers it unprofessional, ill-advised, injudicious, prejudicial and unfair for the ICPC spokesperson to make as alleged random references to disjointed portions of comprehensive submissions to its investigators, clearly skewed to portray Pinnacle Communications Limited as complicit in the alleged or any “misapplication” of funds by the NBC, over which Pinnacle Communications have no responsibility or control.

Pinnacle Communications challenges the ICPC spokesperson, if the alleged press release was indeed made by her, to publish the full statements made to the ICPC by Pinnacle officials.

• Moreover, if truly made, the ICPC statement went beyond mere announcement of on-going investigations into the realm of unsubstantiated incriminations in the fashion of trial-by-media that invariably paints a premature and amateur picture of guilt, prior to judicial determination.

• In the circumstance, Pinnacle Communications Limited shall refrain from further clarification of the muddled statement allegedly issued by the ICPC spokesperson in its firm belief that judicial process will provide the appropriate and fair opportunity to comprehensively and decisively prove its hard-earned reputation as a world class company that, unlike the ICPC spokesperson, upholds integrity, ethics and legality in all its transactions, in accordance with international best practices.

• Pinnacle Communications wishes to assure NBC, stakeholders in the DSO, its staff, international and local business associates and numerous clients that it remains committed to meeting all its obligations notwithstanding the malicious statement by the ICPC spokesperson.”

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A native of Ilorin, the capital city of Kwara State, Mallam Is’haq Modibo Kawu began his sojourn as Director General of the NBCon May 25, 2016.

Before the appointment, he was the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the Abuja-based Word, Sound and Vision (WSV) Multimedia Limited, a complete media service outfit that cuts across print, radio, television, internet, as well as event marketing, marketing communications and training.

He has had 37 years of broadcasting experience straddling both radio and television.

He was among the pioneer staff of Radio Kwara and was the pioneer General Manager of Kwara State Television Service.

Widening his horizon, he had a stint with International Radio and has reported for international broadcasters including Radio France International, Radio Netherlands and BBC World Service.

Also, he has had a stint as a prolific contributor to the print media environment with regular columns in the Vanguard and Leadership newspapers.

Mallam Kawu was also Editor of Daily Trust Newspaper, and later Chairman of its Editorial Board. He holds a Bachelors degree in Mass Communication and a Masters degree in Political Science from Bayero University, Kano.

QUOTE

“There are many broadcasting organisations today that have refused to pay as and when due. Many of them canvass the unacceptable argument about the economic situation in the country. But license fees are statutory, and those who do not pay should not be on air! It is as simple as that! That is the iron logic of capitalist economics.

I will like to remind all those who owe the NBC these statutory license fees that we would visit them very soon, before they collect the huge sums from political parties. They should either pay or they would be shut down and so would be unable to collect money for political broadcasts!”

  


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