The Director-General, National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, Mr Is'haq Kawu, has said that NBC's mission is to switch off analogue completely when Nigeria has achieved up to 95 per cent access to Free Digital Television content across the country.
Addressing newsmen in Lagos, weekend, he said: "All Nigerians are entitled to access to information, irrespective of class, creed or location. The new technology of digital broadcasting is already enhancing access in a revolutionary manner. That will soon become a nationwide experience for all Nigerians. We remain optimistic that by the end of the year, at least half of the country will have access to Free Digital Television content," the DG disclosed.
The June 17, 2017 Digital Switchover deadline, Modibbo said, is a benchmark date for the digital switchover in Nigeria. "Many have misconstrued the process, assuming that on that date, almost like a magic wand, Nigerians would wake up to find that we have switched off analogue and switched on digital television, all over our country. Our timeline plan is to execute a phased implementation of six states, at a period. So as we conclude the six states currently in progress, we would choose another set of six states, reflecting the geo-political zones, for the next phase, until the entire country is covered."
In respect of a specific switchover date, the DG said he believes that the countries of the ECOWAS sub-region would re-assess the issue, given that all member countries have not met the June switchover deadline. He said the delicate nature of the DSO process has always obliged countries to carefully manage the process to avoid problems, and that most countries of the world have had to adjust their switch off dates.
"Let me re-emphasise that one of the fears about delayed DSO transition is the problem of trans-border signal interference from analogue transmitters. The good news is that our neighbouring countries have not achieved anything close to what Nigeria has been able to do so far. As a matter of fact, none of the countries in the ECOWAS sub-region has a DSO process that matches what we have achieved in Nigeria."
According to Moddibo, the DSO process is a huge financial, technical, and logistical challenge. Switching on a huge country like Nigeria, he said, requires tremendous financial commitment. "We would like to thank President Muhammadu Buhari, who stated last December, through Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, that Nigeria is irrevocably committed to the DSO. We have continued to receive the support of the Federal Government and we would like to place on record too, the tremendous support of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
To accelerate the progress of work, we are engaging with the Nigerian Governors' Forum, so that the states can partner with us, especially in the procurement of Set-Top-Boxes as well as critical assistance for the installation of transmission systems by our signal distributors.
Let me assure you all, that the NBC and the stakeholders of the DSO process are committed to achieving the completion of the process. We would intensify publicity so that Nigerians can better appreciate the significance of the process and how far we have come, and what more mileage needs to be covered. The DSO process is changing the face of television in Nigeria. We want to thank all Nigerians for their continued support in our march to digitize broadcasting in Nigeria."
The DG disclosed that Set-Top-Box manufacturers had committed resources to the importation of 850, 000 STBs from China, but because the EFCC had seized funds from the NBC, under the (previous) regime at the NBC, the commission could not meet its commitment, which totalled $26million. "Thankfully, President Muhammadu Buhari, who had always been convinced of the importance of Nigeria's DSO process, finally approved release of N10 billion to the NBC in September 2016."
According to Modibbo, NBC has successfully carried out the DSO in Abuja, offering in the process, thirty local, regional and national channels to viewers in Abuja, an upgrade to the 15 channels that has been offered in Jos and plateau state when the NBC launched the pilot phase of the DSO in April 2016. "So in 2016 alone, we achieved much more than had been done in the lead to the deadlines of 2012 and 2015," said the DG.
He also said the commission appointed a company, The Outsource Company (TOC), as the call centre managers for the switchover, starting from Abuja. "They commenced with appointing thirty call agents, but that was soon increased to 90, who work three shifts every day, in order to meet the demands of viewers who either want to activate their boxes or make complaints or inquiries."
Some statistics on DSO in Nigeria
So far, a total of 745, 480 Set-Top Boxes have been imported into the country; 566, 478 have been delivered, while 485, 409 have been sold and 332, 095 were activated in Jos and Abuja. As at June 11th, 2017, TOC has received 796, 026 calls from customers, while they received 21, 369 complaints about one or the other problem.
"The DSO process is also a learning experience for all of us driving it, and we have continued to enrich our experiences in a manner that can significantly benefit the process as we move forwards," the DG said.
Next phase of DOS in Nigeria
Following the successful launch of the Abuja switch over last December, NBC made plans to launch in one state from each of the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. Consequently, the following states were chosen for the next phase of the project: 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.
Later, it decided to launch in Ilorin Kwara state by the end of June and Kaduna by the beginning of July. This will follow the completion of the installation of the transmission facilities in these locations; and subsequently, it will go to Osogbo in Osun; Enugu in Enugu state; and then Delta as well as Gombe state. "These decisions were taken when issues around the financial commitments of the NBC to its various stakeholders had not been clearly settled. But we proceeded with the faith that the DSO was just too vital to our national progress and should not face any more delays," said the DG.
He also said that sstakeholders were naturally apprehensive about their payments; those who had huge banking commitments like our Set Top Box manufacturers; the satellite company evacuating the programs; the signal distributors; call center operators and the content aggregators. Yet, each of these continued to believe in the process sufficiently to remain committed to the delivery of the DSO.
"After a very careful process of audit of claims, I am happy to inform you that we have met our financial commitment to these stakeholders, thus strengthening the resolve to take the DSO further."
"Nigeria's DSO process, said the DG, "has today become the most talked about in Africa; it was designed by Nigerians; and is being implemented by Nigerians. This is not the case in quite a number of settings in Africa; and the consequence is that we are constantly receiving inquiries and visits from other African countries, to understudy the work we have done.
This week in Uyo, we received a delegation from the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority, on this subject; we had very fruitful discussions on the Nigerian DSO; offered them the Nigerian roadmap and we have decided to intensify assistance in their process.
On Monday this week, the Minister of Communications of Niger, also led a delegation to Abuja for the same purpose; while early this month, in China, we held preliminary discussions with the Zambian broadcasting regulatory body on their proposed plan to come and study the Nigerian DSO process. And the government of Sierra Leone has begun discussions with some of the Nigerian companies engaged in the Nigerian DSO process, to partner with them to kick-start the Sierra Leonean DSO process. In truth, Nigeria is the leader now on the African continent, in the process of transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. We must be proud of the work we have done as a country!"
On why state like Lagos was not chosen as start point for the DOS, the DG said it is not a good strategy to start with state with huge population like Lagos; that it is wiser to start with small states and learn from any mistake that may be occur before taking on big states like Lagos, Kaduna or Kano.
The DG who described Lagos as the media capital of Nigeria, which has been at the heart of the most vibrant media tradition in Africa, since the late 19th Century, said: "In 1980, I was reading news on the National Network News Service of Radio Nigeria, from this city. I also studied here in the Department of Mass Communications at the University of Lagos.
And when I worked as pioneer General Manager of the KWTV, I read news on the network of the AIT. My most recent engagement with the media in this truly wonderful city was as a columnist with VANGUARD newspaper. It was from that sojourn, that I was appointed Director General of the NBC, by President Muhammadu Buhari, on May 25th, 2016."