Lack of funding, enabling legislation, and poor infrastructure are some of the obstacles that will militate against Nigeria meeting the June 2017 deadline set for the migration from analogue to digital television broadcasting according to relevant authorities. Stakeholders in the digital migration process are still complaining of these challenges, less than six months to the set deadline at two separate but related meetings held in February 2017 on migration from analogue to digital television broadcasting in Nigeria.
In order to ascertain Nigeria’s preparedness for the digital switchover, members of the House of Representatives Committee on Information visited the zonal offices of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Jos, the Jos office of the National Broadcasting Commission, (NBC) and the office of the Integrated Television Service (ITS) as well as other organisations in Jos under the Ministry of Information and Culture.
Although the Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Mr. Moddibo Kawu, expressed optimism that Nigeria would meet the June, 2017 switchover deadline, the conversation between him and the House of Representatives Committee on Information suggested otherwise.
Mr. Kawu disclosed at the NBC, Jos Zone meeting with members of the House Committee on Information that the federal government which had been subsidizing set top boxes which cost $40 per unit may no longer be able to do so under the present economic situation. He disclosed that Nigeria has only been able to import the first sets of 650,000 set-top boxes, out of the 30 million needed, at a cost of $26 million.
Kawu told the legislators “The National Assembly has to help us to fund the project through appropriation. We need to pay for satellite cost among other things, equipment portfolios must be changed to meet with standard… We need support in areas of legislation and funding”.
Mr. Edward Amana, Chairman of DigiTeam said the team had mapped out how the process will positively impact the economy adding that 30 million set top boxes are needed; that 13 companies have been licensed to manufacture the set top boxes locally; that they expect this to generate direct employment for 29,000 young people; and that the team was now deliberating on how to simultaneously move to six states across the six geopolitical zones. Like Mr. Kawu, he also said the team needs allocation or appropriation to aid the digitalization process. The Digiteam is the team saddled with the responsibility of ensuring a smooth transition from analogue to digital TV broadcast.
Mr. Rotimi Salami, Managing Director of ITS disclosed that the Service inherited analogue equipment and would need N45 billion to put proper structures in place that will effectively cover Nigeria. He also identified funding and obsolete infrastructure as some of the challenges ITS is facing.
He said “Generally, the challenge we are having is funding and government money is not just spent anyhow you want, there is a process and this process is guided by principles. For example, we inherited infrastructure from the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), but we need to replace analogue equipment. We have to install infrastructure and we need N45 billion to put effective infrastructure that will cover Nigeria, we need support to realise our goal.”
Chairman of the House Committee on Information, Hon. Olusegun Odebunmi and his colleagues however frowned at the manner in which the process is being carried out stressing that “the National Assembly in other African countries is being carried along but that was not the case in Nigeria. Operating based on Executive policy or order will make the programme difficult to sustain.”
The honourable members acknowledged that a lot of work needs to be done. They lamented that the National Assembly was not given adequate information on the issue of set top boxes. They also observed that a bill has not been introduced to enable its passage for Nigeria to switch-over.
They questioned the sources of funds so far expended on the digital migration project since there is no law backing it saying: “This process is not backed by law hence there is no budget for it. There is a lacuna and it means the money spent on subsidizing the set-top boxes are funds released illegally. If it is legal, it ought to have been accommodated in the budget proposal.”
At a different but related event, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed asked Nigerians not to rule out the possibility of Nigeria attaining the switchover date but his language demonstrated clearly that even he does not believe that Nigeria can meet the deadline.
The Minister who spoke in Abuja on February 16, 2017 at a public hearing of the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee set up to investigate the process of the planned digital switchover in Nigeria, however did not disclose any concrete plan to successfully attain the digital switchover.
He said there was the need to review the business model inherited from the previous administration before the set deadline.
Alhaji Mohammed said: “We know it’s very ambitious but if you aim for the sky, you might at least get the ceiling.
“We don’t want to say June 2017 is unachievable, we’ll relax. But if we are able to roll out another six by May, then we know where we are.”
Speakig realistically, Mr. John Momoh, Chairman of the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON) and CEO, Channels Media Group, stressed on the need to place the interest of stakeholders and that of the country first. He advised that Nigeria should work towards ensuring that a good switchover transition was achieved rather than emphasising deadlines.
Mr. Momoh said: “… I say that we shouldn’t be looking at deadlines. I think we should just work towards making sure that we have a very good switchover. When we set a deadline, we put ourselves under pressure. The ministry is working very well with the border states to make sure that there is no confusion in terms of interference. We should just be focused and see how we can transit to digital, rather than emphasise deadlines”.