Sunday, 24th September 2023

Ohuabunwa: Nigeria can generate 100,000 jobs, earn N375b from digital broadcasting

Group Managing Director, Chief Executive Officer of Gospell Digital Technology Limited, and Chairman Set Top Box Manufacturers Association Of Nigeria (STBMAN), Sir Godfrey Ohuabunwa, in this interview with MARGARET MWANTOK, spoke on the sloppy pace of digitisation and factors that have imperiled the digital switch-over process. What stage is Nigeria now in the digitisation process?…

Group Managing Director, Chief Executive Officer of Gospell Digital Technology Limited, and Chairman Set Top Box Manufacturers Association Of Nigeria (STBMAN), Sir Godfrey Ohuabunwa. Photo/ technologytimes

Group Managing Director, Chief Executive Officer of Gospell Digital Technology Limited, and Chairman Set Top Box Manufacturers Association Of Nigeria (STBMAN), Sir Godfrey Ohuabunwa, in this interview with MARGARET MWANTOK, spoke on the sloppy pace of digitisation and factors that have imperiled the digital switch-over process.

What stage is Nigeria now in the digitisation process?

The Nigerian terrestrial television transition from analogue to digital transmission, popularly known as the Digital Switch Over (DSO) is an International Telecommunications Union (ITU) world protocol for the digitation of analogue terrestrial television broadcast.

The whole purpose is to provide quality broadcast experience for the viewers, which include, clearer, better picture and sound quality; spectrum utilisation efficiency and value added services that come with the digital eco-system.

Since 2006, Nigeria started the process of migrating from analogue to digital terrestrial television transition with the Multiple Microwave Distribution System (MMDS) wireless cable satellite pay-tv operators, but it was not until 2015 that the Federal Government, through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) fully started a nationwide campaign with the signing of the DSO white paper and the licensing of three signal operators, one middleware/conditional access company, one content aggregator, and 13 set top box (decoder) local manufacturers of which Gospell Digital Technology Limited is one, and the leading manufacturer.

With the successful launch of the Jos Pilot DSO in 2016, and the subsequent digital switch on of Abuja, Kaduna, Enugu, Oshogbo and Ilorin in 2017/2018, the Nigerian Digital Switch Over has rather been slow.

Presently only about 16 per cent coverage has been achieved.

The reason for this slow pace can be largely attributable to lack of funding by the government.

Despite the initial delay in take off by NBC, the federal, state and local governments have not provided the necessary political will and financial support to fast-track this all-important national programme, with its huge economic and social impact.

How many set top boxes has your firm put in circulation since the pilot scheme was flagged off in Jos, in 2016?

As at today, we have only deployed about 700, 000 free TV digital set top boxes out of an estimated 30 million TV households in the country.
Generally, Nigerians are of the view that the digitisation process has been slow-paced since 2008 when it officially commenced

Honestly, the process has been slow, however, with the invigorated NBC and the new roadmap by its director general, I am certain that by the last quarter of this year the process will move faster as more states will be switched on at the same time.

Also, the issue of funding for the local manufacturing of the set top boxes has improved significantly, hence the STBs would be available in the open market.

Set top boxes are key facilities in the entire switch-over process. As manufacturers, what are the challenges confronting their smooth deployment?

For us, the major challenge has been funding for the local manufacturing of the boxes, as most Nigerian banks are yet to have full grasp of the DSO.

This has been largely due to the very poor awareness campaign by the NBC.

But thank God for the Bank of Industry (BoI), which has shown tremendously support for our takeoff.

Secondly, foreign exchange differential/exchange rate is another major challenge confronting us, despite the lack of basic infrastructure like power, government’s unstable trade policies constitute another obstacle.

How affordable are set top boxes?

The cost of a set top box is about N12, 000 at the open market.

What is your impression of government’s engagement of the process so far?

Not very satisfactory .The DSO, if aggressively and effectively implemented, has the capacity to provide over 100, 000 jobs and improve the internally generated revenue of the states by over N375b in the first year

Is there any target period for completing the process now that the deadline has been missed thrice?

The NBC’s plan is to complete the process in the next 24 months by switching on six states per time, per quarter, over the next two years.

However, this is largely dependent on availability of set top boxes, the speed and spread of the signal distribution companies.

What is the position of the ITU with regards to Africa, where most countries are yet to commence full digital transmission?

ITU’s stand is to continue to encourage countries and regions yet to switch-over to do so quickly to avoid the risk of interference.

As a major stakeholder in broadcasting in Nigeria, what was your motivation going into the manufacturing of these boxes.

As you rightly said, over the last 26 years, Multimesh Communications, the company I started as a student has always been an innovator, and has grown to be the second largest MMDS cable satellite television company in Nigeria.

In fact, the first cable TV platform to transit from analogue to digital terrestrial transmission, from 12 to 70 channels bouquets, with five local thematic channels (Odenigbotv, Irawo TV, Ganaku TV, CM TV and African Movie net), which is on the free TV decoders.

Our Family Love FMND Station’s 97.7 Port Harcourt; 104.5 Abuja; 103.9 Umuahia, and 99.1 Enugu have continued to lead the trail in the wholesome family entertainment broadcast radio stations in Nigeria.

The primary motivation of going into STB manufacturing is in line with GDT vision, which is to be the leading manufacturer of electronic and electrical home appliances in Africa, leading by innovation, growing with the time, and sustaining through knowledge and technology.

As a person and serial entrepreneur, I am driven by new ideas.

And the desire to provide solutions that meet the needs of men, governments, institutions and value added services at reasonable costs, while creating jobs and wealth in our country.

Nigeria has an approximation of over 33 million TV households that will require digital set top boxes, can your firm and the other 12 meet the demand?

Our GDT strategy is to be a white label company producing under contract, and manufacturing-semi knocked down parts for other 12 STB LMCs to assemble and distribute. As the demand increases, we intend to open two new factories and increase our lines.

As a surface mount technology outfit, what prompted you to pioneer the technology in Nigeria and West Africa?

Gospell Digital Technology Ltd, is one of the first and leading indigenous STB licenced manufacturing companies in Nigeria, actually in West Africa to install four Surface Mount Technology Line (SMTL) machines.

Our company is among the few electronic factories in Nigeria that actually manufacture, or have the capacity to place electronic chip sets on printed circuit boards, or personal computer boards.

Our ultra modern electronic factory at the Calabar Free Trade Zone is installed with four pneumatic assembly lines, automatic surface mount technology machines and lead soldering dip line with full capacity of placing over 250, 000 components per hour, 200, 000 PCB boards per month, and 2.4m, completely built personal electronic devices of various electronic appliances such as digital set top box, electricity pre-paid meters, tablets and GSM cell phones.

We were prompted by the opportunity of the NBC’s digital broadcast transition and the need to locally produce the needed set top box for every TV household in Africa.

What are the major challenges that firms like yours that are into this digitization process are encountering?

Like most businesses in Africa, one of the major challenges is long-term sufficient funding (loans) at single digit rates to fund expansion and working capital.

The other challenge is unstable government regulations or policies.

In this case, as pioneers, we are supposed to enjoy tax holiday; license grace period to recoup investment and protection of local manufacturing companies by banning importation of completely built decoders and meters.

The running cost of generators due to lack of stable power supply; multiple taxation; bad roads and lack of infrastructure also add to this scenario.

For instance, the Calabar Sea Port has not been receiving cargo for ages now.

As such, all our raw materials berth in Onne, Rivers State and are transported to the FTZ on roads that are in deplorable condition.

There is also the issue of importation of set top boxes and decoders into the country, which leads to loss of foreign exchange.

Of the 13 companies licensed by the NBC, only your firm that is producing set top boxes locally. Is this not enough to slow down the DSO process?

The Initial delay by NBC and lack of definite direction by government threw spanner in the DSO process.

The unfortunate EFCC imbroglio with the sale of the spectrum by NBC waned a lot of enthusiasm and drove away investors, hence many of the licensed STBs LMs could not start.

Lack of budget and funding by the Nigeria government for the DSO is another major demon that has bedeviled the noble and laudable worldwide initiative.

Gospell Digital Technology took the bold initiative and risk, borrowing millions of dollars to set up the factory purely by the grace of God, and the love for our country.

We also worked hard in our business model, reviewing our plans and expectations vigorously with our shareholders and banks, leaning heavily on our years of experience in the subscription business to come up with a sustainable business model, and that has placed us today as pioneers and leading STB manufacturing company in Nigeria and West Africa.