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OPINION

Digital Switch Over Under Attack

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Considering the many tales of the unexpected emerging from the ongoing face off between the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the ICPC, it is tempting to believe that there is more than meets the eyes behind the peculiar situation. It is unusual for the ICPC to be engulfed in a face-off with a government agency it is investigating to the extent that has manifested thus far, especially when it is the ICPC that has been boxed into a corner of silent response to public criticism and ridicule of the purported findings of its supposed investigations into the affairs of NBC concerning the Digital Switch Over (DSO). What really is going on ?

There is no doubt that ICPC goofed by issuing a press release that was supposed to blow its trumpet on investigations into the payment of N2.5 billion to Pinnacle Communications Limited, the licensed private national signal distributor for the DSO project, which it made the world to believe was fraudulent.  Instead, the world was left believing that the ICPC investigation was fraudulent if it did not even know the correct name of the subject of its probe (NBC), if it could come out stating that the DSO was about telephone lines and if it had no idea about the five year existing status of Pinnacle Communications Limited as licensed signal distributor in the DSO project, for which it provided the platform for the national launch in December 2016 and later broadcast centers in Abuja and Kaduna.

Surprisingly however, not withstanding these discrediting blunders, the ICPC which claimed to have obtained statements from executives of NBC and Pinnacle Communications Limited had gone ahead to freeze accounts of Pinnacle Communications Limited. A Federal High Court in Abuja lifted the freeze order and berated the ICPC for unjustified action. It has now been confirmed that the ICPC misadventure was based entirely on the prodding of George Uboh Whistle Blower Network and its November 2018 petition against Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, DG NBC Ishaq Modibbo Kawu and Chairman Pinnacle Communications Limited, Sir Lucky Omoluwa “on the N10 billion FGN released in 2016 for the DSO program”.

Interestingly, the petition had erroneous references  similar to those in the ICPC press release such as stating that the DSO was “aimed at migrating Nigeria’s communication from analogue to digital platforms”, that Pinnacle Communications Limited was not qualified for the payment but “approved by Modibbo Kawu” and that “the entire job for the N2.5 billion has not been executed.” For the avoidance of doubt, George Uboh has taken to the social media as a lone voice commending the ICPC for “initiating prosecution against the Director-General of National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), Ish’aq Kawu Modibbo and Chairman of Pinnacle Communications, Mr. Lucky Omoluwa” and taking responsibility for the petition which he also sent to the National Assembly. Curiously however, both Uboh and the ICPC dropped reference to Information Minister Lai Mohammed even though he is supervising minister who closely monitored and participated in major events of the DSO project.

But the NBC and the DSO had earlier been targeted more directly in the process of which the mask came off and the cause of the enemy action that has trailed the implementation of the project since 2014, leading to two postponements and protracted litigations against subterranean schemes to pirate licenses paid and issued, was no longer in doubt. What began as a bill to amend the NBC Act  “to strengthen the commission and make it more effective to regulate broadcasting in Nigeria, and to ensure that all television and cable services run education programs in line with school sylabi and curricula” at the National Assembly dramatically took on a sinister unpatriotic foreign-powered dimension when it was discovered that two anti-DSO sections were surreptitiously smuggled into the amendment bill.

The smuggled sections would have technically dismantled the DSO’s basic components, especially the exclusive role of signal distributors and use of single frequency transmissions for the ulterior objective of permitting MULTICHOICE/GOTV South African cable entertainment television monopoly cartel to continue their own independent transmissions without having to be routed through DSO signal distributors.

It should be noted that current licenses of the South African cartel for terrestrial transmissions had already been barred from renewal by the NBC, leaving them with no option than to comply with the DSO programme stipulations or shut down. As a result the South Africans who have also stoutly resisted measures by the Consumer Protection Council to check their profiteering and discriminatory policies protested by Nigerian customers, resorted to “any means necessary” to thwart the NBC’s insistence on strict compliance with DSO regulations.

They even paid unsolicited funds into NBC account in a bid to circumvent the expiry of their licenses from June this year, but NBC promptly reversed the payment just as the attendance of the dubious NBC amendment hearings by a high-powered team of Multichoice mandarins raised eyebrows about their links to the anti-DSO sections hidden in the bill. Mercifully, President Buhari firmly and commendably withheld assent and sent the NBC Amendment Bill back to the legislature pointing out that the two offending sections ousted some of the NBC’s vital powers.

Obviously then, it is the continued smooth and systematic implementation of the DSO by NBC and Pinnacle Communications Limited that is the real target of the series of master-minded threats being witnessed while the vicious pursuit of unbridled profiteering and consumer-hostile policies of the South African cartel is the hidden agenda. Already there has been no progress in the expansion of the coverage of the DSO as originally envisaged since the cartel began plotting to circumvent the DSO regulations by seeking to destabilize the NBC and paralyze Pinnacle Communications Limited. The DSO must not be scuttled yet again and the need for the Buhari Administration to protect one of its major pace-setting achievements from espionage and sabotage is urgent and paramount.    

– Dishpat, a policy analyst, wrote from Jos

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