Federal information agencies are bogged down by inadequate funding, obsolete equipment, and poorly remunerated manpower despite their statutory roles of communicating government policies and programmes to the Nigerian public, Daily Trust reports.
"These public agencies are so under-funded to the extent that they can't even aid the government to communicate its programmes and policies to the Nigerian society as it should be," a senior official of one of the agencies, who declined being named because he's not permitted to
speak, told Daily Trust last night.
Daily Trust analysis of budgetary allocations of the five public-funded information agencies revealed that in 2018, their total allocation was N26.3 billion. The five agencies are all under the federal ministry of information and culture.
They are the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Voice of Nigeria (VON), Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), and News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
The proposed budget for NOA in 2018 was N6.56 billion, NTA (N6.90 billion), FRCN (N8.07 billion), NAN (N1.62 billion), and VON (N3.56 billion).
Of the three agencies - NTA, NAN, and FRCN that generate revenue - only the NTA is generating enough to maintain its workforce and execute some overheads. This is unlike the FRCN and NAN where the issue of staff welfare and obsolete equipment have become recurring decimal.
Industrial harmony is eluding both FRCN and NAN over unpaid allowances, among others. FRCN Kaduna, which was hitherto a leading source of information to many Hausa speakers in Nigeria and neighbouring countries, is now a shadow of itself.
The Radio Kaduna, as popularly called, does not operate full hours because it cannot afford diesel to run its transmitter in Jaji. "Whenever our transmitter in Jaji is off because of power supply, the radio station goes off air. The transmitter guzzles diesel that the station's meagre resources can't afford," a senior staff of the station said.
How agencies can aid FG's programmes
A senior federal official who spoke to Daily Trust said NOA is one agency that if properly funded can aid the government to communicate its policies and programmes to every nook and cranny of the country in languages that Nigerians will understand.
NOA is a federal agency "tasked with communicating government policy, staying abreast of public opinion, and promoting patriotism, national unity, and development of Nigerian society."
The orientation agency has 813 offices across the country - each in all the 774 local government areas, 37 in all state capitals and the Federal Capital Territory, and the national headquarters. The agency has staff strength of about 5,000, according to Daily Trust findings.
These offices are manned by senior officials who are sourced principally from the communities and are deep-rooted in the culture of the people.
The official, however said lack of funding has been making these officials redundant
"These NOA staff are trained in communicating government policies and programmes right from the days of MAMSER [Mass Mobilization for Self Reliance, Social Justice, and Economic Recovery]. They are mostly senior officials from Level 13 above. They are sourced from these communities where these offices are located to bridge language and cultural barriers.
"But they are now redundant. These officials would have reached out to the public at the grassroots in tackling problems such as herders/farmers clashes, cultism, deradicalization programmes, IPOB agitations, among others," the source said.
He said there were new emerging social phenomena such as JSS students being initiated into cultism, secondary schools' students raping their female colleague in broad daylight, the menace of drugs addiction that the agency can handle through grassroots advocacy.
Apart from poor funding, the complicated budgetary process is another cog in the wheel of the orientation agency's progress.
The source said for 2018 budget, NOA only got less than N500 million operational cost some weeks ago. "This attitude apparently stopped us from executing proactive campaigns when challenges emerge. For instance, we couldn't execute any campaign at the heat of the IPOB problem. The same thing happened when the herders/framer's crisis was taking its toll on the society," the source said.
Investigations by Daily Trust revealed that MAMSER was better funded during the military regime compared to NOA. MAMSER drew its finances from the local government, state and federal governments. This is unlike NOA which is wholly funded by the federal government.
VON works 12 hours daily
It is not only the local information agencies that are under-funded. VON, Nigeria's equivalent of the Voice of America, which is funded by the United States government, is cash-starved also.
The agency, which is the international broadcasting station of the country, has closed down its bureau in New York, South Africa, and London due to paucity of funds.
Instead of operating 24 hours, the agency now operates only 12 hours radio transmission "because it can't afford to fuel its transmitter."
The director general of VON, Mr Osita Okechukwu told Daily Trust last night that the agency is indebted to the tune of N60 million on diesel alone. He said low oil prices have drastically affected the budgetary allocation of the agency.
He said unlike from 2009 to 2014, where the agency got its full allocation, now the agency only gets 50 percent of its allocation which is not enough.
As a result of these challenges, "VON has partnered with the Nigerian foreign ministry. We now use its platform to reach out to all Nigerian missions across the world," Okechukwu said.
He said the agency utilizes its 24-hour smartphone application and webcast to transmit its content.
What needs to be done
All the government officials who spoke to this reporter said the government will have a better deal only if it deems it necessary to "galvanise its available resources and manpower on the ground to communicate its policies and programmes to the public."
"Bridging the gap between the government and the governed can be easily achieved through these agencies. If they are properly funded and utilized, they will drastically reduce the challenges of fake news, hate speech, speculations, and rumours," another official said.