While the digital
television switch over project, which Nigeria fails to meet the deadline again
today, Saturday, June 17, 2017 appears to be in limbo, It appears that the
focus of the current National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) leadership is how
to share the money that was raised by the former DG of the NBC, Mr. Emeka Mba,
who ironically is facing criminal charges for the legitimate ways he adopted in
raising the money for the DSO, despite seemingly securing all requisite board,
ministerial and presidential approvals.
Very reliable sources within the National
Broadcasting Commission (NBC) have confirmed the alleged payment of N2.5b to
Pinnacle Communications Limited owned by Mr. Lucky Omoluwa, who is one of the
three licensed signal distributors. The payment which was done two weeks
ago has been kept secret, and apparently was done without proper due process,
and only with the alleged approval of the Hon Minister of Information, Alhaji
Lai Mohammed, who apparently according to financial rules has no authority to approve
payments exceeding 50m.
by reliable insiders’ information available to us, the current DG, Mallam
Is'haq Modibo Kawu and the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed,
were alleged to have secretly approved N2.5 Billion to be paid to Pinnacle
Communications Limited, owned by Abuja businessman Sir Lucky Omoluwa.
Communication won the bid for the second signal distribution license in 2014
and is currently operating that license as one of the three licensed broadcast
signal distributors who are to provide the technical infrastructure services
that will be used to distribute digital terrestrial television signals across
Whilst the NBC is
yet to set appropriate rules and conditions with regards to carriage of
licensed TV channels on the infrastructure of the signal carriers, such as
carriage rates and geographical coverage areas, as well the thorny issue of
conflicts over areas of operation, since all three Broadcast Signal companies
have the same license to operate across the country.
allegedly went ahead to secretly and very curiously pay Pinnacle Communications,
a licensed private operator, the sum of N2.5b.
reliable sources, the decision to pay Pinnacle Communications was based on the
mistaken belief that since NTA own signal distribution company ITS was given a
grant of N1.5b by the previous management, Pinnacle should also be paid even
though it is a privately owned company which during its licensing bid confirmed
its financial capability to roll out operations across the country. It is
rather curious now, how such a company is being paid monies that should
otherwise be used to finance the DSO roll out, which once again failed to meet
today’s June 17, 2017 deadline.
However, ITS (the
first Broadcast signal distributor which is an offshoot of NTA) was
specifically carved out by the government to serve as the government owned
signal distributor given the strategic importance of broadcasting to national
security interests, and the funds allocated to it by the former DG was government’s
share of the financial burden needed as take off grant for signal distributor;
and formed part of the larger DSO budget which was vetted and approved by the
In this case, it is
understood that the approval for the payment allegedly came from the Chief of
Staff to the President, Alhaji Abba Kyari.
current DG’s appointment was allegedly facilitated by the boss of Pinnnacle
Communications Limited, Lucky Omoluwa and the Chief of Staff.
questions begging for answers in the wake of the nation’s failed DSO
How a private
company that is a licensee of the NBC is receiving N2.5 Billion from government
remains extremely curious and unclear.
As a licensee,
Pinnacle Communications is supposed to pay the NBC license fees and other
regulatory charges and certainly not be paid by government for any reason.
can exist for giving N2.5 Billion to a company that competed in a licensing
round, got its initial N2 Billion license fee reduced by the former DG to N600
Million for a 15 year license on grounds that the winner would have significant
roll out obligations?
Why is this same
company receiving 2.5 Billion from the Government, and in secret? How was the
sum of N2.5 Billion computed, based on what parameters, and for what purpose?
What happens to the
other signal distributor MTS which ostensibly is owned by the entire licensed
private and state owned broadcasters under the auspices of the Broadcasting Organization
of Nigeria (BON) currently chaired by Chief John Momoh.
Will they also be
getting N2.5billion? Most importantly, why is the process top secret even
within the NBC management.
Communications made technical and financial undertakings to deploy infrastructure
to run DSO and it was upon the basis of those undertakings that it was
screened, evaluated and approved to be granted the license as a broadcast
signal distributor in the first place!
And in the second
place, his license fee was reduced from N2b to mere 600m for a 15 year license
to support his network deployment.
Having being paid
N2.5b by government now, Pinnacle can be seen to have made fraudulent and false
undertakings in its license application process with the consequence that the
license is now revocable; and secondly the licensee has evidently defrauded the
government twice: first getting an unmerited discounted license fee based on
fraudulent claims, and now being extended huge amount of money with no
justification or merit.
-Failure of DSO and
double speaking at the NBC
Only weeks ago, the
NBC DG announced at the recently concluded Nigerian Broadcasting Code Review in
Kano, that the June 2017 Digital Switch Over (DSO) deadline was sacrosanct and
that the Commission is committed to meeting the deadline. Now in June,
the same commission is announcing its inability to meet the deadline which it
said it would weeks ago. Even to the most casual observer that statement is in
league with a Trumpian dystopia.
For starters, the
Commission with so much fanfare launched the Abuja leg of the switch over, last
November. At an elaborate occasion which the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo
represented the President. Since that date, very little has been heard of
The public is in
limbo about the process so far. How many boxes have been switched on? What is
the extent of the digital penetration? What are the number of new
channels and services now available to viewers? How much is a set top box sold?
And if there are consumer complaints, where or to whom are they to be
addressed? Is there a DSO Help Line?
Role of Pinnacle
Communications Limited and other Broadcast Signal Distributors (BSD)
Since the re launch
of the Jos pilot in April 2016, the Commission has yet to present a report of
the pilot. The standard practice is that after a pilot period the result of the
exercise is made known and examined.
The success of any
DSO rests on four critical pillars:
where are the new digital TV channels? No new digital television channels are
on the service. Independent content producers who had looked forward to
the DSO as a platform to launch new services are now confused at the current
state of affairs. Without the addition of new channels on the digital
free to air platform the adoption of digital would be impacted, since viewers
would be reluctant to buy set top boxes to view the same channels they already
getting for free to air. Besides it lack of access for new channels would also
seriously impact fresh investment in the broadcasting industry.
top boxes: The NBC DG recently announced that the commission had spent a
whopping $26m on set top boxes. It was however not able to say how many
of these boxes have been activated, where and when. No current estimate on the
actual digital penetration even in the cities where the Commission launched its
“pilot” dso project.
How many boxes have
been sold and activated so far? Are boxes still being imported or now
manufactured locally? What is the ratio of foreign and local boxes? And
for how much are they sold?
3.Signal distribution: it is clear at
this time, that the Commission has failed or is unable to agree on the critical
issues which should underpin a successful DSO with regards to role of broadcast
signal distributors. For instance, no known digital coverage targets or
obligations have been agreed on; neither the NBC nor the BSDs know the true
cost of national or regional roll outs. No agreement on direct or cross subsidy
for carriage fees. In other words, it is important to know the cost of roll
out, and establish base line for charges to content owners. Again, no one is
clear about the current digital terrestrial signal reach and penetration,
or the allocation of broadcast spectrum to DTT (pre- and post-ASO), and to free
vs pay use.
awareness: Sine the launch of the DSO in Jos and Abuja, there is still no
high-profile communications campaign led to educate Nigerian consumers on the
advantages of digital television. Large swaths of the country remain clueless
about what DSO is about, and how it impacts them.
For example, a
national program as important as this has no website that can educate members
of the public on what to do, or what to expect. Even the NBC website has very
little information on the status of the DSO, and how members of the public can
get digital TV services where they live.
important is the fact that the legal framework for the DSO is still murky. In
other climes, there is usually a legal framework enacted by parliament on which
the digital transition is based on. In practical purposed what this means is
that content owners who wish to establish new TV channels are unaware of the
licensing framework. Whilst the recent Code review would have presented a fresh
opportunity to present new regulations and draft digital licensing law, this
was squandered. With this level of uncertainty, it would mean very low confidence
for new investment in the digital broadcasting ecosystem. Not clear how
the new digital platform operates or channel application and licensing
processes. Even with the launch of the digital free to air platform Freetv, the
commission hasn’t set known guidelines for the operation of the platform,
access to capacity for existing and new channels; governance and operating structure,
financial relationships, marketing, technology, etc.)
Lack of direction
It appears that the
Commission has no defined holistic approach towards the digital switchover
which would ensure all the objectives for Nigeria’s digital broadcasting ecology
are met. DSO requires broadcasters to invest in new services, signal
distributors to invest in transmission infrastructure and manufacturers to
invest in a high volume of STBs. To deliver these commitments, stakeholders
will need clear and sustainable benefits (such as exclusivity, access to
spectrum). These should be measurable and clearly understood by all stakeholders.
the NBC appears unable to articulate the DSO roadmap, no one within the
industry has a clear view of where the DSO is headed, and when it would arrive
at its destination.
The payment to
Pinnacle Communications, without basis or justification and in secret, is clear
evidence that the DSO is seen by some as an opportunity to line their pockets rather
than deliver the promise of digital to Nigerians.