By Godfrey Ohuabunwa
My attention has been drawn to an article in Daily Nigerian an online news site on the Facts behind Modibbo Kawu’s travails by one Abubakar Mahmoud Ahmed, who unlike some of us is not natural, physical and visible for all to see and engage in discourse. Why someone who truly believes in his cause will be using pseudo names for a matter of national significance seeks a lot of answers. At first, I saw it as the work of an ill- informed individual who should not be taken seriously but a more sober perusal of his Article, the objective and the dangerous motive those behind the write up pointed to attempts to bring not only my humble self and senior Public Officials into ridicule but to sow seed of discord along Religious and Ethnic lines, thus my decision to respond.
While I do not speak for those public officials mentioned in the Article, I see it as duty to let the public know of the events and circumstances leading to certain decisions. This duty becomes even more important considering the fact that the writer’s objective is to scuttle an otherwise noble cause (the DSO) by bringing in North/ South and Christian/Muslims politics to create confusion thus leaving members of the public with ill dispositions.
Central to his case in defence of Messrs Pinnacle and the Director General, National Broadcasting Commission is his allegation against the Vice President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Honourable Minister, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and some senior public officials. However, in his haste to cause crisis, he failed to show good understanding and knowledge of the DSO and the events leading to the present situation. I am the least surprise because he was not at the take- off point but joined the train when events had gone far and instead of seeking advice to understand the dynamics of the DSO he chose the path of pettiness and inciting the public. For us in the industry and in particular those involved in the DSO, using a pseudo name will not change anything because the antics of the author are well known.
As pointed earlier, Mr. ‘Ahmed’ made very outrageous allegations against the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Hon. Minister, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and some senior government officials and my humble self. While I do not intend to speak for any of those mentioned , I will for the purposes of understanding highlight any information that is within my knowledge in the course of the DSO journey so that the public will be better informed to make good judgment. In doing this, I will attempt to show or shed light on certain allegations he brought to fore and one of such is the claim that the Subsidy Arrangement is unknown to the Government White Paper on the DSO.
THE SUBSIDY ISSUE:
Mr. ‘Ahmed’ had alleged that Subsidy was unknown to the White Paper on the DSO. Is this a fact?
In addressing this, it should be pointed out from the onset that as licensed manufacturer of STBs, it does not serve my interest to be manufacturing on the Subsidy Business Model. Any good businessman would develop his/ her business on Market forces of Demand and Supply. So, how did the Subsidy issue come in?
It will be recalled that the current DSO is not the first. There were attempts at Digital Migration in the past but all failed and one of the reasons why the previous efforts failed was because, the citizenry is used to watching TV for free and suddenly, each TV watching house- hold is now being asked to buy a Set Top Box (STB) before they can watch, thus, there was general hostility to the idea leading to massive failure. When the current plan to achieve the migration was conceived, stakeholders who have been involved and were familiar with some of the challenges highlighted the fact that STB acquisition remains a knotty issue that needed to be addressed as no investor would sink his/ her capital into a venture that will not enjoy the patronage of its targeted market.
In order to address this matter the FGN undertook to subsidize a limited number of the boxes for the indigent and less privileged in tune with global best practice and what is obtainable in other jurisdictions that are transiting from Analogue to Digital Broadcasting. Ordinarily, for me and other members of the STBMAN, we are better off without the Subsidy but the UNDERLYING SIGNIFICANCE it will have for the less privileged and indigent members of the public as well as the assurance to the local STB manufacturers to kick start the Pilot phase of the DSO that spurred the concept of Subsidy.
What therefore is the anger against the Subsidy? is it because the Mba led Administration was open to receiving good ideas that are not only economic benefit driven but laced with Social benefits to the less privileged. Financing the DSO as well as the subsidy was achieved through a well thought out scheme under the leadership of Emeka Mba and this enabled the NBC to rake in billions of Naira from the sale of frequency which from all indications was idle. The ingenuity that was employed to get the DSO off the ground is such that should receive commendation. How Ahmed came about his own line of thought is best left to his imagination but the discerning members of the public and industry players will judge to decide whether the issue of Subsidy is not a blessing and whether it was not adopted by the government.
Ahmed posited that Emeka Mba was the Minister’s lackey and went on to narrate how the Minister disliked the DG, NBC and had preferred to retain Mr. Mba against the current DG. I am not aware of the circumstances cited by Ahmed and cannot comment on such. However, my interaction with the Honourable Minister in the early days of this Administration and now reveals that he is committed to the successful transition and was therefore open to receiving expert advise from the Project Secretariat which is housed at the NBC with Mr. Mba as head but answerable to the Honourable Minister. My understanding of their relationship is one of mutual respect for a deserving Public servant who, despite the unfortunate false allegation of hiding N15billion Naira was still committed and willing to serve his country.
MAN OF LIMITED MEANS?
In another attempt to impugn on my person, ‘Mr. Ahmed’ described me as a man of ‘limited financial means’ who had just hit jack pot vide the DSO. While it is not in my nature to be drawn into mundane, petty and frivolous claims, it will serve my dear Ahmed to know that I have been in the business of broadcasting long before the decision of the FGN to key into the DSO following its commitments under the ITU protocol and the Almighty God has been kind to bless me with Business acumen and am involved in many business ventures in both private and public quoted companies. It is that God given acumen that enabled me to be in Cable TV business long before these ‘Know it All’ personalities surfaced on the scene with their greed and disregard for others. It only takes a person who understands the industry to be where Gospell Digital Technology Limited is today. Our operations are transparent and our sources of finances are transparent for all to see and because of the soundness of our Business model, we have continued to enjoy the support of financial institutions unlike some that have insisted on collecting government money to sustain their business. Today, because of our sound Business model and judicious use of resources and support from Bank of Industry and other finance houses we have the first Surface Mount Technology and STB Assembly Lines in West Africa which will provide not only employment opportunities to our youths but give them technological know- how.
Secondly, my dear ‘Ahmed’ said that I told Dipo Onifade at the IBC conference at Amsterdam that the Gravy train had left Pinnacle behind. Without mincing words and because I am not given to gossips, I did say to Onifade that the longer he and his colleagues kept on foot dragging and tying the DSO down with unnecessary litigation, the worst for them because the DSO ecosystem is technology driven and time is critical to the success of any such businesses moreso, the FGN had obligation to comply with the ITU Protocol, so the earlier they understood the Business, the better for them to review their Business Model which apparently was founded on total lack of understanding of the DSO.
Thirdly, ‘Ahmed’ claimed I was always on TV and Newspapers extolling the virtues of Mr. Mba. By my nature, I stand for what is right and will defend any such cause. First, I believe that the DSO was a noble project that the FGN should pursue and see to its success. Secondly, by virtue of my interest in a company licensed to locally manufacture one of the key success equipment for the DSO, i.e STB and by further reason of being the Chairman of the Association of licensed STB manufacturers, I am on firm ground to speak and very loudly against any ill advised moves or attempts to scuttle the transition. It is a shame that people who should be providing leadership in our country will choose to take to blackmail instead. Well, God in His infinite mercy and wisdom guided the EFCC appropriately leading to a CLEAN bill of No Fraud. ‘Ahmed’ and his team were hoping that there usual noise will confuse the public and the Commission but the Commission expressed its thoroughness in their work with satisfaction.
NORTH / SOUTH, CHRISTIAN / MUSLIM POLITICS.
In all of the allegations made by ‘Ahmed’, the most disturbing and inciting is the Call for Northerners to shine their Eyes as the choice they make today will have consequences tomorrow. What exactly is Ahmed up to? Recall that I had said earlier that it is not my brief to defend the Vice President and Hon. Minister of Information and Culture but I am shaken by a brazen accusation against these personalities and making a Call for a gang up. I am particularly worried that I have not seen a rebuttal from the DG, NBC against such divisive call. First it is the primary duty of the NBC to condemn any publication or broadcast that promotes dis- unity in the polity but the NBC has maintained an unholy quiet.
My inference is that either the DG, NBC is in league with ‘Ahmed’ or he may be the author of the Article after all. Well, my position is that any public officer that promotes ethnic or religious bigotry is not worthy of a position of Public trust. What we need in the country at these trying times is unity and cohesion and not messages that threaten the corporate existence of the country. Reading Ahmed’s piece, one will be tempted to think that Emeka was the first Chief Executive of the NBC, thus giving him the opportunity of putting his kinsmen from the South East in strategic positions but far from it, Mba continued work with inherited staff he found on ground. It is my sincere belief that it was in the pursuit of cordial and peaceful co-existence that the Hon. Minister initiated the moves that culminated in the settlement of the case Pinnacle had initiated against the NBC. So, I am shocked to hear today that Pinnacle is accusing the Hon. Minister of Information and Culture of wrong doing, well, that is the nature of man.
Similarly, for want of knowledge, ‘Ahmed’ accused me of being a shareholder in CCNL in league with some others. To help ‘Ahmed’ understand the origin of the DSO ecosystem, it is pertinent to point out that prior to the decision to embark on the DSO, there were licensed Cable Operators (ACON) who were actually channel aggregators and the advent of DSO meant they were going to lose their licenses and businesses. In order not to create unemployment, the government decided that those that were losing their licenses should be supported by giving them license as Content Aggregators. The objective as contemplated in the White Paper on the DSO is for the Content Aggregator to maintain a fair balance in the distribution of content between the Signal Distributors/Carriers so as not to create a lopsided Content management.
As I write this piece, for reasons best known to the DG, NBC, he has purportedly revoked the Content Aggregation license and the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) granted CCNL the successor to ACON and given same to Messrs Pinnacle in clear violation of the White Paper and the objective thereof; this is not minding the implications of the investments the company and others have made and committed.
The reader is invited to note the slow pace of migration recorded since the Pilot phase of the DSO which was launched in April 2016 in Jos and now. It is obvious that no significant progress has been achieved because of lack of commitment to the objective. Lack of Signal for transmission has been the greatest challenge in the DSO and this has continued to linger without a plan to remedy the situation. Even the city centres of Jos, Abuja, Kaduna, Ilorin, Enugu and Osogbo where launches have taken place cannot boast of adequate reception of TV Signal, a situation which left un- addressed will undermine the whole exercise.
Instead of sourcing for funds to bolster its operations and deliver on its mandate, Pinnacle is more comfortable chasing additional licenses in its determination to monopolise and control the industry with a helpless regulator that has been rendered impotent just watching without the nerve to do anything.
In conclusion, it is my strong view that proffering suggestions and / or solutions is what each stakeholder within the DSO ecosystem should concern him/ herself instead of descending to pettiness and cheap blackmail or presenting the picture of being the alter ego without whom nothing will be achieved. Nigeria belongs to all and no one group or individual can achieve much without the other.
*Sir Godfrey N. Ohuabunwa is the Chairman of Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria BON and the CEO, Gospell Digital Technology Limited.