By Tolagbe Oworu
As the chequered history of the Digital Switch Over (DSO) from analogue broadcasts in Nigeria encounters yet another setback, it is disheartening but inevitable to conclude that it has truly succumbed to the notorious jinx termed “Nigerian Factor”. The momentum of progress in taking the latest international broadcasting system across the nation came to an abrupt unexplained halt since February 2018 when Osun State became the fifth and last Nigerian state to launch in a ceremony presided by the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed.
Before then in December 2016, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo conducted the DSO national launch on behalf of President Muhamadu Buhari at the state-of-the-art Signal Distribution Broadcast Centre established on Mpape Hill, Abuja in record-breaking time (according to NBC DG Modibbo Kawu) by Pinnacle Communications Limited the FCT, which was also responsible for the Kaduna Broadcasting Centre commissioned in December 2017. The Ilorin, Enugu and Osogbo DSO centers were set up by Integrated Television Services (ITS), the NTA subsidiary national signals distributor.
The abrupt halt in DSO launch since last February is contrary to the confident assurance given by Information Minister Lai Mohammed at the Ilorin launch two months earlier, when he declared “ we cannot afford to drop the ball as we continue our journey from analogue to digital television, because the benefits to our people are huge. Yes, this process has not been without hiccups. But like the saying goes, you will never reach your destination if you stop to throw stones at every dog that barks”.
Minister Lai Mohammed has remained curiously quiet since the “DSO ball” got dropped now more than a year later but his words have been echoing especially in the last few months when some equally curious developments replaced the expected launchings on the DSO front. It is remarkable that the events resulting in yet another “hiccup” in the DSO process can indeed be likened to the barking of dogs and the throwing of stones as alluded to by the minister, and it does look like we “will never reach (our) DSO destination”.
“From all indications, the jinxed history of DSO implementation in Nigeria is repeating itself as it is unlikely that the progressive momentum that …. fizzled out unceremoniously for more than a year thus far can be revived in the foreseeable future, under the prevailing circumstances.”
This is of course a reference to the controversial ICPC “investigation” into alleged “misapplication of N2.5 billion seed grant released to the agency (NBC) by the federal government for its digital switch-over programme”, as revealed in its November 2018 press statement which drew public criticism for certain factual errors in reference to the DSO project. The ICPC statement was comparable to the barking of the watch-dog and its contents were similar to stones thrown at the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Pinnacle Communications Limited and their respective executives, all of which have now snow-balled into charges against them before a Federal High Court in Abuja.
While DSO enthusiasts in Nigeria and indeed the world await the outcome of the court process, we must reflect on Minister Lai Mohammed’s quoted remark that the DSO in Nigeria “ has not been without hiccups” even as we witness yet another hiccup this time, unfortunately, under his watch!
It must be distressing for Lai Mohammed who once made huge capital of his supposed role in salvaging the DSO and getting it back on track soon after he became information minister and continued to bask in the glory of a successful national launch and progressive expansion of coverage after a jinxed history of two embarrassing missed deadlines and a protracted court case instituted by Pinnacle Communications Limited against breach of its N680 million private signal distributor license agreement under the previous administration and NBC management.
“Soon after emerging successful bidder and paying the huge amount of N680 million for the private signal distribution license in 2014, the NBC and its collaborators in the Presidency began surreptitiously slicing off portions of its functions and “sub-letting” them to companies that were not even part of the difficult bidding process as favours.”
Interestingly, Pinnacle Communications Limited, the largest private investor and main facilitator of the eventual reclamation of the Nigerian DSO from its jinxed history gets submerged under the fanfare of progress in DSO implementation, even to the extent of becoming a “victim” of its own achievement.
Soon after emerging successful bidder and paying the huge amount of N680 million for the private signal distribution license in 2014, the NBC and its collaborators in the Presidency began surreptitiously slicing off portions of its functions and “sub-letting” them to companies that were not even part of the difficult bidding process as favours. Only by seeking the intervention of the court was it able to put a stop to such brazen breach of license agreement! Today, Pinnacle Communications Limited is facing ICPC charges even as its voluntary withdrawal of a breach of agreement suit in 2016 and subsequent significant facilitation enabled successful national launch of the DSO and the Kaduna Broadcast Centre.
“Today, Pinnacle Communications Limited is facing ICPC charges even as its voluntary withdrawal of a breach of agreement suit in 2016 and subsequent significant facilitation enabled successful national launch of the DSO and the Kaduna Broadcast Centre.”
From all indications, the jinxed history of DSO implementation in Nigeria is repeating itself as it is unlikely that the progressive momentum that saw to the rapid roll-out of the DSO from the FCT to Kaduna, Ilorin, Enugu and Osogbo between December 2016 and February 2018 but fizzled out unceremoniously for more than a year thus far can be revived in the foreseeable future, under the prevailing circumstances.
Nevertheless, Information Minister, Lai Mohammed remains curiously above and beyond the DSO jinx that he was able to cast away barely two years ago but has somehow returned as a “hiccup” under his watch. Obviously, the minister knew of no “barking dogs” when, at the Osogbo launch, he trumpeted “within the next few weeks, we will be rolling out in many more states as we seek to take the digital television experience to all the six geo-political zones. We now have our two Signal Distributors in full operation mode, the National Broadcasting Commission, the Set Top Box manufacturers, Digiteam Nigeria and indeed all stakeholders are pulling all the stops to ensure that the DSO train continues unimpeded on its journey across the country.”
So now that the DSO train has been halted for more than a year with Minister Lai Mohammed as a silenced spectator, where has all the collaborative confidence canvassing gone? And who is really responsible for the return of the DSO jinx?
Tolagbe Oworu writes from Osogbo