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NBC Operates Strictly By Established Laws – Kawu

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The director-general of National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Ishaq Moddibo Kawu in this chat with ADEBIYI ADEDAPO speaks about suspension of Daar Communication’s broadcast license, his optimism about digital switchover and fidelity to the establishing laws of the commission

NBC suspended the broadcasting license of Daar Communications, how would you react to allegations that it was an attempt to stifle freedom of Press?

The NBC is the regulatory institution for broadcasting in Nigeria, and Daar Communications, operators of AIT and Ray Power are one of our licensees. We engage with all our licensees, what we do is that we monitor every single broadcast on radio, television and satellite in Nigeria and when we notice infractions of the NBC code, we alert the stations, and tell them that they have breached a particular part of the code, sometimes we warn them verbally, sometimes we write them, depending on the gravity, because there are different classes of offenses. Over the last few years, there has been a consistent pattern of breaches that we have noticed with AIT. From 2017, we have written them several letters, we have met with their operatives, explaining what we feel has been wrong with the way they have been operating. So it is a commutation of these things that got to the point where we reached a decision that their license should be suspended. So there is a pattern of relationship, but Daar Communications has behaved as if they must not and cannot be regulated by the regulatory authority, that is precisely the issue.

That is on one hand, on the other hand, there are patterns of behavior in terms of their license, they are owing NBC license fee, which they have refused to pay, and the law is clear, if you have not paid your license fee, you’re not supposed to even broadcast. But NBC has been generally understanding and lenient with licensees, commutatively, the licensees are owing about N4. 2bn, we have held meetings with Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) on this issue of debt by television and radio stations. So it is all these things put together that led to the suspension of license of Daar Communications. For those who choose to interpret it to be an attempt to muscle press freedom, even the licensee involved, despite their huffing and puffing, know that they have not lived to their obligations, in terms of the licensing terms that gave them the license that they are operating.  The N4. 2bn is for all the broadcasting station, Daar Communications is owing about N500 million.

 

Are there processes to be followed in suspending a broadcast license, and in this particular case, was the process followed?

We are not a lawless organisation, we are a regulatory institution, we live strictly by the law. If we have not gotten to the point where we have to suspend the license, we will never do it. It got to that point, that’s why we did it.

 

Daar Communications has claimed that several other broadcast stations are also owing, did the NBC single-out the broadcast station?

The relationship we have with Daar Communications is a relationship strictly between the broadcast station and the licensee, Daar Communications cannot make inferences. If somebody commits a crime, can he say other people have also committed crimes, why should he be arrested, is that the type of society we are supposed to be living in? It is an absurdity.

 

Founder of Daar Communications, Chief Raymond Dokpesi also said that the allegation of breaches can be noticed on other stations and they have not been sanctioned..

To be honest, I found the tone… of your questions absurd. We are talking strictly about a particular licensee and you are making reference to others, I have just told you that we monitor every single broadcast in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If you ask questions from other licensees, they can tell you that they have at one time or the other been sanctioned for different offenses. We do that on a permanent basis because we monitor everybody. And when we see that any station has infracted the NBC code, we point it out, either by warning letters, by verbal warning sometimes or phone , it depends on the class of offence. There are class A, B and C offences and we constantly do that.

 

Now that AIT is back on air, following a Court Injunction, have you noticed fresh infraction on their operation?

We issued a statement on this, and we made it clear that immediately they went back on Air, they  began to breach the NBC Code. We were very unambiguous about it, we pointed it out.

 

Is the NBC Code draconian in nature, to gag the press?

The law setting-up the NBC specifically stated that it should produce a Code for the industry. But do you know what we do, we do not just produce the code, we made the industry produce the code. The preliminary work is done within the NBC, then the material that we work on is taken to the industry, all the broadcasters, Nigerian academics in broadcasting, in journalism and Mass Communication and the civil society organisations working in the media, we met for one week, line by line, we argued, we debated and then agreed so the industry actually produced a code for itself, so whatever is not acceptable is expunged from the code. This is what happens, the last time we met on the code was in 2017 in Kano, everybody in broadcast was there, the regulator was there, members of BON were there, Nigerian intellectuals in broadcasting, in journalism were there and the civil societies working in media. We met for a whole week in Kano, and we did line by line, that is the fact about Nigerian Broadcasting Code.

 

Was Daar Communications represented there?

Well, I don’t know, but everyone in broadcasting was there.

 

But the Nigerian Guild of Editors and the NUJ demanded that the suspension be revoked in separate statements…

This is a democracy, everybody has a right to ventilate their opinions about decisions taken. I was a leader in the NLC, I was a founding member of the Nigerian Trade Union movement after the re-organisation of trade unions in 1978, I worked so hard for the Nigerian Trade Union that  the Trade Union had to send me to study in Germany. We know how labour movement operates. I am a Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, I didn’t stop paying my take-off dues to the NUJ when I was Editor of Daily Trust, even as an Editor, so we know how these bodies operate. They have only responded to the decision that a closure should not be done, nobody has bothered to even find out why was it done, so where is the objectivity of our profession, they should even at least seek the other side of the story.

 

Chief Dokpesi alleged that you’re acting on the instruction of the President?

Maybe he lives with the President for him to know. I cannot answer that, you need to ask the President.

 

Is this about partisan politics, Chief Dokpesi aspired to be PDP’s national chairman, while you are also an APC member and governorship aspirant in Kwara State?

It’s not about me, its about the powers of the regulator to do it’s work. Check the Act that set-up the National Broadcasting Commission, and I have been telling you about relationship dating back to 2017, in terms of the way we have worked with them. In 2017, I wasn’t a “politician”, but in 2017, 2018, we were calling-in AIT and Ray Power and showing them the way they were breaching the Nigeria Broadcasting Code. It has nothing to do with being partisan, it’s got to do with a licensee that refuses to work the straight and narrow path of the Nigerian Broadcasting Code, and who thinks he cannot be regulated, public broadcasting must be regulated, that is the law here, and anybody who has been given a license has to do his work according to the Nigerian broadcasting law.

 

Now that they are back on air on the strength of a Court Injunction, how will NBC sanitise the broadcasting space?

We have no other instrument, I have read a lot of contributions on different platforms, some say they should have fined them heavily, even the fines that we fine stations is prescribed by the Nigerian Broadcasting Code, we cannot just arbitrarily fine so, our work is law govern, strictly speaking. So in terms of sanitisation, we will continue to use the Nigerian Broadcasting Code to do our work, that is the only way.

 

So until the matter is settled in the Court, Daar Communications can continue to “abuse” the Code?

We will be in the Court and we will see how things go, but for as long as they are on Air, we will keep monitoring them, and when we see infractions or breaches, we will make it clear, that one is not subject to any amount of blackmail. No amount of name calling, abuses or insinuation or threat will change that. If any station breaches the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, depending on the class of breach, we are going to sanction the station approximately.

 

If the suspension were to be effective, would it have affected their interest based operations?

We do not regulate social media platforms, that’s not the duty of NBC, broadband is in the realm of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) its not the function of NBC, what we regulate is broadcasting.

 

You have been in office for three years, what are the challenges you face so far?

 

Regulating broadcasting is always a challenge in proposition, but I think that all the years of experience in broadcasting and journalism have prepared me to face the challenges. Of course, you’ll see the nitty-gritty, sometimes, you have a general view of a phenomenon, when you come and see the more from the general to the particular, that is the dialectics we deal with, but its been interesting in the last three years, that’s the way to put it in a nutshell.

 

What would you consider as your major achievements?

 

It is not my duty to be reeling out achievements, my duty is to do this work to the best of my ability and help Nigeria to have a broadcasting industry that will meet the challenges of the 21st century. We are doing work on the area of digital switchover, its been a very challenging one because of funding and I am also very optimistic that government will put enough money for us to move on. In the next few days, you’re going to hear some very interesting announcements from us about what we are doing with the digital switchover. That again will show that there has been a lot of positivity, even though there has been a lot of noise in other areas, but it is the nature of this work. It is a very challenging environment, we live in a country where all want a good country, but practically, none of us want to live properly. So we always try to outsource our pains to other people when we do not make the effort to remove pains around us. I think that is a major crisis in Nigeria, but as they say if we all do a little, we will all do a lot, that is one thing I think is wrong, but we will try as much as possible. It is very challenging to regulate broadcasting, you have licensees who think they should not be regulated, you have licensees who do not think they should pay their license fee, they don’t want to pay all the statutory payments. 1.5 per cent of their annual turnover is supposed to be paid to NBC, many of them don’t want to even submit to that. We have all these issues, and we will keep trying our best to ensure that people work the narrow and straight path, it is not a popularity contest for us, we don’t want to be popular, we want to be seen to be doing the right thing.

 

Digital Switchover has lingered for too long, and there have been legal fireworks around it, beyond funding, what are other challenges?

 

Most of the problems are related to funding and also people understanding their roles. For the funding issues, we authorised 13 set-up box manufactures, the whole idea was to create a national industry, create jobs and transfer technology. But after the subsidised boxes were brought in and people were paid, they have not been able to set-up local production platforms because basically they are not getting the funding. And they won’t get funding.

If there is no pattern in terms of plan for analogue switch off in different locations where we have already started transmission, because if we come out with a timetable to say we are going to switch off in all these areas, then they can go to the financial institutions and say in X community, they will need 250 set-up boxes, if you give me facilities, I am going to produce the boxes, sell and return the money. It is the typical issue of the egg and chicken, which we are going to break hopefully in the next couple of days and bring out the timetable showing what we are going to do, when we are going to do analogue switch-off and switch-on in different locations. One of the things I can tell you because I have already talked about it, we are planning to launch in Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt, these are the biggest television markets in Nigeria. We are also having preliminary discussions with a company in South Korea that is willing to allow us produce one million manufacturing boxes in Nigeria and then pay after they have been sold. Other companies abroad insist that we pay them before production,  but they are trying to take the chances and say this is the facility, you can produce locally and sell, and that is a major development, so a lot is happening and I am very hopeful. Of course, release of funds takes time, we owe a lot of our stakeholders but they have been very patient with us, knowing that the axe of government sometimes grinds slowly.

 

Will the burden of bills not be too high on Nigerians, considering that investors capital has been tied down for years?

 

Some of the licensees for instance anticipated some of these issues, the signal distribution license is a 15 year license. They make a lot of investment and they are not likely to recoup the money immediately, the volume is related to having been able to switch-on all over Nigeria. We are using the facilities of SAS, they are one of our creditors who never leave us alone, we are owing them millions of dollars because they are giving us 24 hours satellite facility. We need to pay them and government is working towards paying them. So these things happen, but eventually everybody will get their money and the process will be faster. We are actually working on a 15 month time line to be able to switch-on in the major population areas of Nigeria, it will give opportunities, and then we switch-off analogue as we switch-on in different locations, which means that you can only watch television if you have our setup boxes. That means they must also produce these setup boxes and in producing setup boxes, they will employ people to do that. When we get people to begin to put setup boxes all over the country, they will pay for the setup boxes, and we will be able to get money to do our national content development fund. Younger people who are setting-up companies to do production will get money, so all of them are interwoven, at the end of the day it will be done to the benefit of all of us in Nigeria.

 

Are you still expecting more releases from government?

 

At the moment, there is work being done to get two tranches of N15billion. The first one, work has been done considerably before the end of the first term of the President. The last thing was that they were asking for some papers from NBC and other institutions of government. On our part, we have submitted all the papers to the Ministry of Finance, hopefully, a new minister will come in before long, and then we’ll take it up from where it was. The good thing is that it is the same government, there is continuity, the people in the Ministry of Finance who were part of the process are still in place, and we discuss it on weekly basis.

 

Irrespective of all these technicalities, an ordinary Nigerian wants to know when DSO will be effective, can you put a time to it?

 

It won’t be fair for you to box me into the corner, we are not the person who release funds and everything is tied to funding but we are hopeful. We have a timeline for what we want to do, but we need the financial backing which we hope will come and I am very confident that it will come, and then you will see an accelerated process. In the next few days, we are going to hold a major press conference where we are going to release all these timeliness and Nigerians can then hold us to that.

 

What is the role of Gotv, why are they still distributing signals?

 

Gotv is a Pay DTT platform, the same way that Startimes is a Pay DTT platform. Moving forward, according to the Whitepaper, they will have to migrate to our signal distributors platforms. The very interesting thing is that Startimes has a relationship with NTA, they have the Startimes / NTA platform, so eventually, the way it might go is that Startimes as a Pay DTT operator will have to be carried by ITS, we are also hopeful that Gotv will begin to discuss with our second signal distributor, from what I know, I think preliminary steps are being taken towards getting them to have discussions, so going forward, we are going to have a streamlined process.

 

Will there be free TV stations?

 

There is nothing like free TV stations, the way it is going to operate is that we are going to local TV channels, regional TV channels and National TV channels. And then content provision is separated from signal.

 

Did NBC grant license to Fulani Radio?

 

You know we live in a country where unfortunately, people refuse to ask the rights questions or deliberately, mischievously decide to do what is wrong. If you know the law setting-up NBC, you will know that it is not possible to give license to a Fulani radio. We don’t give licenses on the basis of ethnicity or religion, it is not possible under the law. The National Commission for Nomadic Education is a statutory Nigerian commission, they applied for a radio license to be able to reach their publics, nomadic herdsmen, nomadic farming communities, nomadic fishermen communities. They already have educational programmes for them all over the Federal Republic of Nigeria and they want to reach them using radio, so they applied for an FM station. So we advised them that applying for FM will not serve their interest since they want to reach communities all over the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Let them apply for an AM license, which can then be picked all over Nigeria, so they applied, we processed it and the President of Nigeria approved. This station will provide educational programmes for nomadic fishermen in Bayelsa, in Ondo State, nomadic herdsmen in different parts of Nigeria and they are going to broadcast in Hausa, Fulfude, in English, in Pidgin and any other languages that nomadic communities use. But who were the people who came-up with this nonsense about Fulani Radio, ethic supremacist group, some of these people are actually licensees of NBC, they know that it is not possible for NBC to give a license on the basis of one ethic group or religion, but because they want to cause mischief in the country, they came up with this and an uncritical and unthinking media just parrot this. A call to NBC would have cleared this, you’ll call NBC and ask, is it true you gave a Fulani license and NBC would tell you exactly what was done. But because people just refuse to do the right thing, and they just want to heat-up this country. The fact is that we did not issue a Fulani license, we issued a license rightly to the National Commission for Nomadic Education, we have issued license to Armed Forces, we have just given one to Federal Road Safety Corps, we are processing for Nigerian Police, then Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps wants a license, I have even told the President of NLC to apply for license for Nigerian workers. So statutory bodies can apply for a license and if they meet our standard we will give them. But we will never give licenses on the basis of ethnicity or religion, we don’t do that, our laws do not allow it and we don’t operate outside the laws setting-up the NBC.

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