An­other ap­praisal of NBC’s dig­i­tal switchover

Daily Trust - - NEWS - By Michael Umoh

Ev­i­dently, one of the mea­sure­able achieve­ments of the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari is the dex­ter­ous im­ple­men­ta­tion of the na­tion’s switch from ana­logue to dig­i­tal broad­cast­ing, oth­er­wise known as the Dig­i­tal Switch Over (DSO), by the Nige­ria Broad­cast­ing Com­mis­sion (NBC) as man­dated by the In­ter­na­tional Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Union (ITU). As the Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of the NBC, Mal­lam Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, noted re­cently, Nige­ria’s DSO process has be­come the most talked about in Africa - An ini­tia­tive that was de­signed by Nige­ri­ans and cur­rently be­ing im­ple­mented by Nige­ri­ans. Like most other sea­soned and prac­tic­ing Com­mu­ni­ca­tion En­gi­neers in the coun­try, I can at­test to the fact that the suc­cess of Nige­ria’s DSO pro­gramme has made the NBC a ref­er­ence point for sev­eral African na­tions cur­rently con­tend­ing with the teething stages of their own DSO projects. The near mirac­u­lous suc­cess of the cur­rent Man­age­ment team at NBC in bring­ing the DSO back on track would be fur­ther ap­pre­ci­ated if it is clar­i­fied that crass in­ep­ti­tude and cor­rup­tion had all but de­railed the DSO process un­der the pre­vi­ous man­age­ment at the Com­mis­sion, ne­ces­si­tat­ing a ma­jor probe by the Eco­nomic and Fi­nan­cial Crimes Com­mis­sion (EFCC). All hopes seemed lost un­til Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari ap­proved the ap­point­ment of the Is’haq Modibbo Kawu led team at NBC in 2016.

Like most Com­mu­ni­ca­tion En­gi­neers would read­ily at­test to, switch­ing a huge coun­try like Nige­ria from ana­logue to dig­i­tal broad­cast­ing re­quires tremen­dous tech­ni­cal, fi­nan­cial and in­sti­tu­tional com­mit­ment. More so, the cur­rent man­age­ment team at NBC came on board when the Com­mis­sion was con­tend­ing with huge fund­ing is­sues that were largely ne­ces­si­tated by the freez­ing of the Com­mis­sion’s bank ac­counts by the EFCC. How­ever, draw­ing on the huge good­will and to­tal com­mit­ment of Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari to the dig­i­tal switch over, the NBC has since 2016 been granted ac­cess to funds duly ap­pro­pri­ated and re­leased for the DSO pro­gramme and has hit the ground run­ning.

In­dus­try ex­perts ev­i­dently agree that the rein­vig­o­rated NBC has now placed Nige­ria in the world map as the na­tion with the fastest ana­logue to dig­i­tal broad­cast­ing tran­si­tion record. The NBC has since car­ried out the DSO in Abuja, the na­tion’s cap­i­tal - of­fer­ing thirty lo­cal, re­gional and na­tional chan­nels to view­ers in the city. This, of course is an up­grade from the 15 chan­nels that the NBC of­fered in Jos, Plateau State, when it launched the pi­lot phase of the DSO in April 2016. Fol­low­ing the suc­cess­ful launch of the Abuja switch over last De­cem­ber, NBC has com­menced an ag­gres­sive launch of DSO across the coun­try, be­gin­ning with one state from each of the six geo-po­lit­i­cal zones of Nige­ria. Thus the ac­ti­va­tion of the DSO is cur­rently be­ing ac­cel­er­ated in Kaduna in the North­west; Gombe in the North­east; Kwara in the North Cen­tral; Osun in the South­west; Delta in the South-South and Enugu in the South­east. Also, as at Oc­to­ber 2017,the NBC and its part­ner­ing ven­dors had im­ported over 745, 480 Set-Top-Boxes (STBs) into the coun­try. Of this num­ber, over 700, 000 STB’s are said to have been de­liv­ered. Records also show that over 500, 000 Set-Top-Boxes have been sold and ac­ti­vated.

Cu­ri­ously, in spite of the best ef­forts of the NBC, sev­eral Nige­ri­ans and even or­gan­i­sa­tions have er­ro­neously formed and are dis­sem­i­nat­ing the opin­ion that June 17th 2017 is the date Nige­ria ought to have achieved 100 per cent dig­i­tal switch over. This, of course, is not true. How­ever, even per­sons who ought to know bet­ter have be­gun crit­i­ciz­ing and lam­poon­ing the NBC for “miss­ing” this so­called dead­line. But as the Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral of the NBC, Mal­lam Modibbo Kawu has re­peat­edly told Nige­ri­ans, June 17th, 2017, was merely ear­marked as a bench­mark date for the dig­i­tal switchover in Nige­ria and that the Com­mis­sion’s mis­sion and vi­sion re­mains con­stant: to switch off ana­logue com­pletely when Nige­ria achieves up to 95 per­cent ac­cess to Free Dig­i­tal Tele­vi­sion con­tent across the coun­try. Even then, ex­perts in­sist that the del­i­cate na­ture of the DSO, has al­ways obliged coun­tries to care­fully man­age the process to mit­i­gate com­pli­ca­tions. Sev­eral in­stances abound where, ow­ing to snags, some coun­tries had to ad­just their switch off dates. Again, the NBC has as­sured that one of the most feared com­pli­ca­tions in dig­i­tal switchovers glob­ally - the prob­lem of trans-bor­der sig­nal in­ter­fer­ence from ana­logue trans­mit­ters would not oc­cur in Nige­ria given that our neigh­bor­ing coun­tries have not achieved any­thing close to what Nige­ria has been able to do so far. As a mat­ter of fact, given my knowl­edge of the in­dus­try, I dare posit that none of the coun­tries in the ECOWAS sub-re­gion has a DSO process that matches what Nige­ria cur­rently has.

Mal­lam Is’haq Kawu, the ex­tremely hard­work­ing Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of the NBC has fre­quently as­sured that all Nige­ri­ans are en­ti­tled to ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion, ir­re­spec­tive of class, creed or lo­ca­tion; and that the new tech­nol­ogy of dig­i­tal broad­cast­ing is al­ready en­hanc­ing ac­cess in a most rev­o­lu­tion­ary man­ner. As learnt, the NBC projects that by the end of this year, at least half of the coun­try would have ac­cess to Free Dig­i­tal Tele­vi­sion con­tent. The Com­mis­sion’s time­line plan is to ex­e­cute a phased im­ple­men­ta­tion of six states, at a pe­riod. Once the six states cur­rently in progress are fully switched over, the Com­mis­sion would choose an­other set of six states, re­flect­ing the geo-po­lit­i­cal zones, for the next phase, un­til the en­tire coun­try is com­pletely cov­ered.

Given that the DSO process usu­ally poses huge fi­nan­cial, tech­ni­cal and lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenge, it is com­mend­able that the cur­rent NBC man­age­ment has adopted pru­dence as a watch­word, es­pe­cially in its pro­cure­ment pro­cesses. On this score, it is a no­to­ri­ous fact that the NBC in­sists only on ven­dors and other sup­ply chain part­ners that make ra­tio­nal, rea­son­able and af­ford­able bids. Pur­suant to this, the Com­mis­sion has ex­pect­edly stepped on for­mi­da­ble toes - fat cats who were poised to reap off the na­tion. It is there­fore not sur­pris­ing that many of these re­jected con­trac­tors have gone to town with all sorts of ne­far­i­ous claims about the DSO. The most out­landish of course is the much trum­peted al­le­ga­tion that ob­so­lete tech­nol­ogy is be­ing de­ployed for Nige­ria’s DSO. Hav­ing trained and worked for over 18 years as a com­mu­ni­ca­tion En­gi­neer, I can only dis­miss this al­le­ga­tions as not just il­lit­er­ate but laugh­able. The truth of this mat­ter is that com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy changes fre­quently and this usu­ally do not negate the es­sen­tials or fun­da­men­tals of the pre­ced­ing tech­nol­ogy. I have, with all sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity and pa­tri­o­tism car­ried out a thor­ough ap­praisal of the tech­nol­ogy thus far de­ployed for Nige­ria’s DSO and I to­tally dis­agree with per­sons ped­dling the ut­ter false­hood that they are ob­so­lete. They are not at all. I be­lieve it is about time Nige­ri­ans be­gan ris­ing above pe­cu­niary and self-serv­ing con­sid­er­a­tions and join ef­forts to rid this na­tion of en­grained cor­rup­tion in our pro­cure­ment pro­cesses. It is my can­did view that the NBC un­der the very fo­cused Mal­lam Is’haq Modibbo Kawu needs our col­lec­tive sup­port and en­cour­age­ment as it rig­or­ously and dex­ter­ously pur­sue the DSO ef­forts rather than the dis­trac­tions and all-too typ­i­cal rant­ing of very rich but ex­tremely cor­rupt con­trac­tors and their co­horts. Umoh, a Com­mu­ni­ca­tion En­gi­neer, wrote this piece from Abuja.

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