Nigeria: NBC and Matters Arising

11 November 2019

Maiduguri — One of the most interesting developments of recent times was the return of many previous ministers back to their positions, when President Muhammadu Buhari reconstituted his cabinet. A major beneficiary of that is Alhaji Lai Muhammed, who returned as Minister of Information and Culture. My checks within government and political circles showed that Lai Muhammed was a beneficiary of the Tsunami-like political movement, which swept the Bukola Saraki political machinery out of power in Kwara State. I also believe that some of the main projects of the Buhari Administration in the sector, like the Digital Switch Over (DSO), can become major achievements, that would be praised into the future, by Nigerians.

I have been puzzled by the earliest steps that Alhaji Lai Muhammed has been taking from the moment he returned as Minister of Information and Culture. One of the first groups that he met was led by the Acting Chairman of the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria BON, Mr. Godfrey Ohuabunwa. It was at the event that the newly re-appointed minister announced that President Buhari has approved wide-ranging reforms in the broadcasting industry. These include the licensing of online radio and television stations. He also responded to the request made by Mr. Ohuabunwa for a review of the Broadcasting Code, by telling his visitor that "Mr. President has actually already approved a review of the Broadcasting Code that is going to take care of many of the issues you have already raised here". I was curious about this, because last July, I saw a report on TVC from Kano, where the National Broadcasting Commission was launching the 6th edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

I was wondering which "Broadcasting Code", did the Minister of Information get approval to "review" again. Was there a Nigeria Broadcasting Code that the National Broadcasting Commission reviews and presents to the broadcasting industry, and yet another one, that the Minister of Information got "presidential approval" to produce? What would be the difference between the statutory Nigeria Broadcasting Code, which came from the work of the NBC and the one that the minister of information was talking about? Something did not seem right to me, so for the past two months, I have been making inquiries. What I discovered is the story I am telling in this article. From what I gathered, the story began soon after the 2019 elections.

At a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, there were critical observations about the performances of some radio stations before and during the 2019 elections. A former minister who was at the meeting confided that Lai Muhammed did not speak in defense of the work that NBC did to sanitize the broadcast airwaves, in the period. I got to learn from the NBC, that they closed two radio stations and sanctioned over forty for various breaches. This was apart from sensitization programs they organized all over Nigeria for broadcasters, along with a very significant study of hate speeches in Nigerian broadcasting. Lai Muhammed set up a committee, chaired by the Managing Director of News Agency of Nigeria NAN, and included as member, the NBC's Director of Monitoring, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba. I was told that he is actually the man directly responsible for whatever NBC did or didn't do right, in terms of the output of broadcasting stations in Nigeria. In being appointed into the committee, Lai Muhammed, I was informed, wrote directly to the very ambitious Idachaba, ignoring the Director General of the NBC, Malam Modibbo Kawu. The Committee's report was a 26-point hodgepodge of recommendations. But it was noteworthy, that in the accompanying note that Lai Muhammed sent to the SGF, for delivery to the President, he showed clearly, where his mind was. He stated that NBC was unable to effectively do its work, because the Director General, Modibbo Kawu, went to contest as governorship candidate in Kwara state.

I gathered further, that Lai Muhammed desperately pushed the SGF's office to get the report to be adopted by the FEC, especially when President Muhammadu Buhari travelled for Umrah and the OIC in Saudi Arabia. He had hoped that the Vice President, who is from the same Lagos political camp as himself, would be the easiest route to achieve his obsession to remove Modibbo Kawu from office.

As it turned out, the FEC was dissolved and Lai Muhammed was out for a few months. From Lagos, the story was that Lai Muhammed took his time out to perfect strategy, along with someone called Toyin Subair. A lawyer by training, Subair, I was informed had been an employee of Multichoice, before he went his own way, to start HiTV, which took Nigeria by storm, some years ago. Unfortunately, his project collapsed and he is said to hold Multichoice in absolute contempt. It is this Toyin Subair that is driving the part of Lai Muhammed's plan to break Multichoice's monopoly of the pay television service in Nigeria. Subair is also the person that Lai Muhammed has given the assignment to prepare a new "National Broadcasting Code", that he wants to use to supplant the legal, NBC-produced, Nigeria Broadcasting Code. Checks at the NBC reveal that Subair is co-owner of Inview, a technology company that works on the NBC's DSO; he was behind CCNL, along with Godfrey Ohuabunwa, and is close friend of Emeka Mba, the immediate past DG of the NBC.

Soon after the Buhari administration came to power, Toyin Subair was said to be working with Lai Muhammed at a point, to lobby for Emeka Mba, with Bola Tinubu to get Mba to be retained as the NBC DG. They didn't mind the fact that Emeka Mba had been a fundraiser for the PDP. Toyin Subair is reported to always brag that he had been responsible for the removal of three NBC DGs, in the past, because they didn't dance to his tune. His next target is Modibbo Kawu, who he is said to be very angry with, for hurting the monopoly that he and Emeka Mba, and Emeka's loyal lieutenant, Armstrong Idachaba, had built into the DSO project. The report from Lagos was that even Bola Tinubu publicly warned Toyin Subair to stop undermining Modibbo Kawu at the NBC, but he has continued to do so, working with Lai Muhammed, who is obsessed with the removal of Modibbo Kawu as NBC DG.

Early in October, Lai Muhammed set up a NBC Reform Implementation Committee, that is headed by Armstrong Idachaba, NBC's Director of Monitoring. The appointment was done without recourse to the Director General, and it ignored the fact that NBC had a Board in place; a board that was appointed by the same President Muhammadu Buhari, on whose authority, that Lai Muhammed said he is carrying out what amounts to an illegality.

Abba Gana Shehuri wrote from Maiduguri.

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