Funding, Infrastructure Threaten DSO Target

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Emma Okonji

The Managing Director of Integrated Television Services (ITS), Rotimi Salami, has expressed concern over possible threat that may derail Nigeria’s Digital Switchover (DSO), slated to hold June 20, 2017.

According to him, one of the signal distributors licensed for the digital switch over in Nigeria, has highlighted funding and adequate infrastructure as very crucial to achieving the DSO deadline, adding, without these and other necessary logistics, the process may run into brick-walls.

The ITS boss made the remarks during the recent visit of the House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values, led by its Chairman, Hon. Olusegun Odebunmi, to ITS office in Jos, Plateau State.

“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 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.” Salami said, while commending the House Committee for the visit, stating that “The coming of the House Committee on Information on oversight visit is a welcome development because the migration process will be smoother than it presently is.”

During the visit, the committee members also expressed concerns about how the new deadline would be met with almost all relevant parties to the project having one complaint or the other. They also declared the whole process illegal as it lacks legislation and National Assembly approvals for funds already spent.

The Odebunmi-led committee, which visited the zonal offices of the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and ITS in Jos, said it discovered among other challenges that there is no law backing the DSO as the International Telecoms Union (ITU) treaty signed by Nigeria as a member country has not been domesticated in the National Assembly. Similarly, it also discovered lack of funds as an impediment, considering that there has been no appropriation for the DSO since inception of the process and even the 2017 budget makes no provision for such activity.

According to Odebunmi, “With the ongoing recession and subsidy paid per set-top box for the 30 million projected beneficiaries, one wonders how N45 billion required to put effective infrastructure which will cover the entire country and give good signals would be realised.

Odebunmi and his colleagues frowned at the process saying, “the National Assemblies in other African countries are being carried along but that is not the case in Nigeria.”
According to them, operating based solely on executive policy or order will make the programme difficult to sustain. “There are lots of work to do, what are the plans to cover the entire country as the National Assembly is not informed about the issue of set top boxes and a bill has not even been introduced to enable its passage for us to switch-over.”

Since there has been no legal backing for the entire process, the lawmakers wondered where the money so far spent on the process was coming from saying, “this process is not backed by law hence there is no budget for it, there is a lacuna. For the lawmakers, this means the money spent on subsidising the set-top boxes are funds released illegally. If it is legal, it ought to have been accommodated in the budget proposal.”

He further noted that the visit was not to witch-hunt anyone but “our coming to Jos means we mean business.” What we met here are challenges upon challenges and we are trying to see how we can work together with the executive arm of government, especially with the Information and Culture Minister to see how we can solve the problem of digital switchover. We are sure that working together with the executive arm, we are going to overcome the challenges. “Another part of the challenge which we are looking at is how NTA can meet up with the deadline of June 20, 2017 with these challenges on ground? But that will not stop us from moving on, the commitment of President Muhammadu Buhari is that we must meet the deadline but as long as we are moving, many others will be joining as we look for ways to meet up, Odebunmi said.

He Director General of NBC, Is’haq Modibbo Kawu stated that, “Nigeria has made a commitment to this transition process, and it’s a huge logistic process for Nigeria and one that will help us to change forever the face of television broadcasting in our country.”

According to him, Nigeria paid N650, 000 to import the very first sets of set top boxes, and the total for that was $26 million, and these boxes were subsidised by government. That is why we are selling them at N1,500. Now, moving forward, the question is: Can Nigeria continue, realistically, given the state of the economy, to subsidise the boxes around the country? It’s a question we are asking ourselves, and we all know that it is a difficult one, Kawu said.