FG: Digital Switch Over Funded with N34bn from Sale of Spectrum to MTN

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• Says June 2017 deadline not sacrosanct
Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
The federal government has disclosed that the planned Digital Switch Over (DSO) from analogue transmission is being funded with the N34 billion from the sale of the 2.6GHz bandwidth spectrum to MTN Nigeria in June 2016.
Despite shifting the timelines for DSO twice, the government noted that the June 2017 deadline is not sacroscant.

The Minister of Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed, speaking yesterday before the ad hoc committee of the House of Representatives on the Process of DSO by June 2017, also disclosed that the initial N60 billion proposed for the project, is no longer feasible.

Mohammed told the committee chaired by Hon. Sunday Marshall Katung (Kaduna PDP) that the initial monetary proposal has been affected by the rate of foreign exchange, and inflation.
He added that the government can no longer afford to provide Set Top Boxes (STBs), for each household, and is therefore looking to collaborate with States and Local governments, to provide the boxes, which are required for the DSO.
Of the 13 licences issued for manufacturers of STBs, only four are operational, he said.

Mohammed also disclosed that to fast track the process by harmonising efforts, the Nigerian government would hold a meeting with the governments of Cameroon, Niger Republic, Chad and Benin Republic.
The Chairman of the Committee, Hon Katung, in his address, said the while the pilot phase of the process has been launched in Jos and Abuja, many Nigerians remain unaware of the expectations of the DSO.
Yet, the success story of most countries that have successfully digitised, is hinged on effective public awareness, the lawmaker said.

He added that the June 2017 deadline seems aggressive and unachievable.
“A caution is required here to avoid being victim of our own exaggerated competence…having missed the deadlines twice, it is important that the DSO transition in Nigeria should not be a political expediency as it is currently viewed, but should be thoroughly reviewed and implemented, taking into the view our current economic realities,” Katung said.
The House Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, presenting the opening address earlier, cautioned against exploitation of Nigerians, in the transition from analogue broadcasting to digital.

Represented by the Chief Whip, Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa, the Speaker said there had been allegations that the DSO process was characterised by procedural irregularities, inconsistencies, and misappropriation of funds.
“I have heard from different quarters that the digital switch over will re-position the broadcast landscape architecture in Nigeria. We should use all legislative tools at our disposal to ensure its success. Our aim is to ensure that Nigerians benefit maximally from this novel modernization.  We will strive to avoid a situation where the country becomes a dumping ground for all forms of digital equipment,” Dogara said.

In another development, the House Committee on Telecommunications, has suspended the budget defence of the Ministry of Communications, to allow for oversight into 48 new projects embarked on by the Ministry.
At the defence session yesterday, the Minister, Mr. Adebayo Shittu, had told the committee that the N4.9 billion budgeted for capital appropriation in 2016, was for one ongoing project, and 48 new ones.
He disclosed that the sum of N3,095,437,917 was released, while N3,003,494,193 had been accessed and expended by the ministry for the projects.

Six of the projects have been completed, while another six are above 70 percent completion with 14 below 70 percent completion level, and 23 not implemented at all, Shittu told the committee.
The sum of N5.9 billion is proposed for capital appropriation in the Ministry’s 2017 budget, with N216.7 million as overhead costs, and N742.8 million as personnel costs, totaling N6.7 billion.

The lawmakers however observed that the details of each project, and breakdown of expenditure, was not included in the budget defence documents.
Hon. Diri Douye (Bayelsa PDP) harped on the need to visit the projects to ascertain the claims of the ministry, before continuing talks on the budget.
His motion was backed by all members, leading to the suspension of the budget defence session.