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A Grand Conspiracy Against Government Owned Digital Signal Operator – Its

By Emmanuel Onwubiko
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Gentlemen of the forth Estate of the realm, we have invited you to this speaking and advocacy event which we are obliged to host as one of the concerned media communication stakeholders, to once more alert you and through you to Nigerians, of the grand conspiracy to retrieve the operational license granted by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to the Integrated Television Services – a digital communication enterprise established by the publicly owned Nigerian Television Authority. ITS is in a technical partnership one of the global leaders in digital broadcasting known as StarTimes of China.

We are here too to take a critical look at the report turned in by a sub-committee of the Federal House of Representatives to investigate matters connected to the delayed total digitization of broadcasting in Nigeria.

Our intervention today is a follow up to the last media briefing session in which we tasked the broadcasting industry regulator – the National Broadcasting Commission to disclose all the informations available with them on the alleged payment of N2.5 Billion to a privately owned Digital Signal Operator-Pinnacle Communications.

Gentlemen, we will shortly return to the issue of the Freedom of Information request we made over 21 working days ago to the National Broadcasting Commission on the alleged disbursement of public fund amounting to N2.5 Billion to a private business enterprise which the government agency had earlier licensed as a digital signal operator alongside the government controlled Integrated Television Services which is in a technical partnership with STARTIMES OF China.

First, let us express our strong condemnation for the ignominious and ignoble role being played by one Mr. Tony Dara, an erstwhile staff of NTA who has of recent being noticed signing series of advertorials targeting the corporate integrity of the Integrated Television Services (ITS) with some allegations that the transmitters this government enterprise uses for the Digital Switchover are out of fashion.

This signatory to the numerous commercial advertorials in the person of Mr. Tony Dara has also been referred to as an authority in broadcast engineering.

But our research shows that his employment with NTA was terminated for purportedly absconding from duty.

This much has been stated by ITS in its only response published few weeks ago as advertorial in response to the rash of publications seeking to smear and/destroy her corporate credibility.

All these campaigns of calumny are obviously targeted at forcing the hand of the broadcast regulator to retrieve the DSO license it gave to the publicly owned ITS.

The following is a brief information on the man Mr. Tony Dara as documented by an internal memo issued by the NTA dated January 19th2007 which we recently sighted.

Anthony P. Dara, a Technical Officer II on GL.08 was employed by NTA Abuja as a Maintenance Assistant I on GL.06 on 16th April, 1996. His appointment was confirmed a year after.

On 5th October, 1999, he produced an HND Examination Result from the Polytechnic. Thereafter, he was upgraded from GL.06/5 to GL.08/1 on 1st July, 2000.

He was posted to the OB/Task Force Unit at the Headquarters on 1st August, 2001 to join the initial Crew for the 24 hour transmission.

In 2002, he applied for and was granted two years Study leave without pay to study for the award of a Degree – BSc. Broadcast Technology at De Montfort University Leicester. He was expected to resume work by July, 2004.

On 13th August, 2002, he wrote for an extension of the approval to accommodate the period of his studies i.e. up to July, 2005.. Action was not concluded on this request. Invariably, the approval given to him ended by July, 2004.

Mr. A.P. Dara did not bother to report back to his duty post at the expiration of his Study Leave even in July 2005 neither did he write to the Authority.

A letter of Voluntary Retirement dated 17th November, 2006 was received from him on the same date in response to the Bureau for Public Service Reform (BPSR) Circular. From all indications Anthony P. Dara has returned to the country after the course but failed to report to the Authority. This is a clear case of abscondment.

Abscondment from duty attracts a penalty of DISMISSAL from duty.

The Board of Management is therefore invited to consider this case and in order to serve as a deterrent to others take action with retrospective effect from July, 2004 when he was to report back to duty.

His letter of termination goes with reference details as follows: NTA/NCR/G.240/101 was dated 20thMarch, 2007.

The Board of Management of NTA at its meeting of 9th March, 2007 approved the termination of your appointment with effect from 31stJuly, 2004 as your services are no longer required by the Authority; he was told by NTA in a letter endorsed by Barr Uzoma S. Ozordi(Asst.Manager Admin(HQ) for ED(Finance&Admin.

We are of the opinion that this originator of ostensibly false information about the quality of transmitters mounted by the government owned ITS may be doing all these corporate image demolition assignments for a formidable force which seeks to erect a monopoly in the DSO sector or he may be executing a choreographed enterprise to damage the trust the federal government reposed on ITS which were clearly enshrined in the Federal government whitepaper.

Clearly, he doesn't seem to have the kind of slush fund he now uses for this special project because recently his former employee in a media business he started called NN NEWS 24 or so approached our office seeking redress to get this same person to pay him his entitlements whilst he worked for him. So how come he now has so much fund to sponsor damaging but false advertorial materials against ITS?

Our duty as human rights defenders is to intervene when it has become so obvious that there is a grand design and conspiracy to edge out a player such as ITS for the selfish reason of gaining monopolistic control over a sub-sector of the media communication/digitization of broadcasting environment basically because of the monumental financial potentials that there are whenever Digitization of Broadcasting in Nigeria is completely actualized especially if a profitable business model is adopted to enable digital signal distributors to recoup their huge investments.

This same writer of these destructive articles and advertorials against ITS was alleged to have unsuccessfully lobbied for a training contract worth hundreds of millions with the NTA which was reportedly rejected on the ground of the manner he was forced to exit his erstwhile place of employment. Could he be doing all these out of malice? Your guess is as good as mine.

Gentlemen of the media, may I inform you that the grand conspiracy against ITS has surpassed the mere project of sponsorship of advertorials by one Mr. Tony Dara and has even been taken over by the Federal House of Representatives AD-HOC committee to investigate the process of digital (broadcast) switchover (DSO) in Nigeria headed by Mr. Sunday Marshall Katung.

In the report turned in to the House which was published in an online medium on November 9th 2017, it would appear that the agenda to demonize ITS received official blessing of this sub-committee because of the heavily compromised and biased, conclusions irreportedly made targeting ITS. The damaging corporate profiling of ITS by this committee of the FHR is at best jaundiced and amounted to a hogwash and should not be allowed to stand.

The sub-committee appeared to be doing the bidding of the privately owned digital signal operator and went all out to pass a vote of no confidence on ITS. This is dubiously ridiculous.

The sub-committee had stated thus:“The roll out in Abuja in December, 2016 achieved on the Platform of Pinnacle Communications offers 30 channels of programming with high picture quality, reliability and redundancy.While quality and cost effective service delivery is most unlikely with the current implementation process particularly with subsidy removal by the Federal Government, allowing market forces to determine the cost and preferences of the viewership like any other electronic appliances in the market space as proposed by STB Manufacturers Association during the investigation, would defeat the essence of the DSO innovation in Nigeria.”

The committee then went for the jogular of ITS thus:“The Committee observed that State Government involvement in the DSO process was part of the new implementation strategy unveiled recently by NBC. The strategy was adopted mainly to finance bulk purchase of STBs for indigenes of the States. While it was commended, given the social element it represents, selective implementation of the switchover within states, as observed in Plateau State was condemned.”

“The Committee condemned the proposed partnership of ITS/Startimes of China to achieve the switchover, given NTA/Startimes spread all over the Country. The Committee observed that the arrangement would require appropriating public funds for the Joint Venture. This strategy would be a disservice to the nation, hence the need to immediately redefine the nature and structure of the relationship.”

This sub-committee overlooked the reported disbursement of N2.5 Billion by NBC to a privately owned Digital Signal Operator even when it had quarried the NBC for the illegal use of N34 Billion it generated from auctioning of spectrum license to MTN.

Hear them:-“In the bid to raise funds for the switchover process, MTN Communications was assigned a broadcasting license with associated spectrum in the 700MHz range at a special auction conducted by NBC in April 2015, where MTN was the sole bidder.

$171m (N34B) was paid to NBC in August 2015 for the license grant. Though NBC claimed to have received approval from the former President to auction the spectrum, evidence of this approval was not presented to the Committee. Nevertheless, the auction has not had any significant impact either on the access or affordability of DSO in the country.The Committee observed that the Federal Government has the capacity to raise a digital dividend of about $1Billion from the sale of spectrum emanating from the digital switchover from analogue to digital terrestrial broadcasting. A legislative framework on the switchover with guidelines on ownership and allocation of Spectrum is imperative in the ongoing process.”

Gentlemen, as you can see, even when this sub-committee reached a determination of impropriety or otherwise by NBC in the use of the self-generated revenue, they made no recommendation as per any administrative measure to uncover how these humongous amounts were spent. This shows that the primary target is ITS. We will file a protest to the speaker of the Federal House.

In the protest we will task the speaker to find out whether the allegation that the sub-committee chairman purportedly travelled to Quincy Illinois, USA about same time that the owner of the private Digital Signal Operator allegedly travelled to USA is true. If indeed it was a holiday, we will want to know why the coincidence in travel plan happened, if the allegations are factually corroborated in the coming days.

On our request to NBC for information on the disbursement of N2.5 Billion, we want to express our shock that till date, the DG of NBC has failed to respond thereby leaving us with one of the two options: go to court to compel the enforcement of our FOI request or proceed to EFCC. We have put our legal team on notice on what action to take tomorrow.

We write in our capacity as one of the key players and indeed change agents in the organized civil society community.

We are also writing this request in our position as independent stakeholders interested in monitoring the administration of the media communication’s sector.

With the greatest respect, may we inform you that this request is predicated on the extant freedom of information Act of 2011 with specific reference to section 2(1) which averred thus: “Notwithstanding anything contained in any Act, Law or Regulation, the right of any person to access or request information, whether or not contained in any written form, which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution howsoever described, is hereby established”.

As concerned civil society leaders, we have followed the trajectories of the digitization of broadcasting in Nigeria and we have meticulously observed the methodical approaches that the Nigerian State has adopted towards the realization of the digital switch over.

We are aware that twice Nigeria missed the deadline due to some teething challenges but we are also in the know that the switchover process has begun with the licensing of a private DSO and the Public owned Integrated Television service-an outfit belonging to the largest television station in Africa - Nigerian Television Authority. We are abreast with the various ramifications of the recommendations embodied in the Federal government's White Paper on the digitization switchover programme of the Nigerian government.

Our specific area of interest is to request that your good offices furnish us with the official memorandum which okayed the alleged payment of N2.5 billion to the private digital signal operator. This information is already in the public domain but your good offices have yet to provide transparent information to the members of the Nigerian public regarding the rationale behind the payment made from the public treasury to a private firm licensed by government to engage in the commercial enterprise of Digital Signal Distribution.

We have followed the reports of alleged favoritism, nepotism and double standard which have trailed the licensing of the private digital signal operator just as we are completely unable to find any justification for the reported grant of N2.5 Billion by your good offices to a private firm.

Kindly let us know under which arrangement this payment was made and when and how the recipient intends to refund this humongous amounts which by right is a property of the people of Nigeria.

We have taken the pains to meticulously go through the extant government's white paper and we have yet to locate any specific recommendation asking Nigerian government to give out public fund to a private firm for the purposes engaging in the business of digital signal operations under the digitization of broadcasting.

We know that this private firm was tasked to show evidence of her capacity to mobilize requisite logistics to commence the use of the licensing mechanism.

The information glued from the Government's Whitepaper stated that the transition from Analogue to Digital Broadcasting in Nigeria is a part of a global initiative driven by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The Geneva 2006 Agreement had set 17th June, 2015 for UHF and 17th June, 2020 for VHF as the dates after which countries may use those frequencies currently assigned for analogue television transmission for digital services, without being required to protect the analogue services of neighboring countries against interference. These dates are generally viewed as an internationally mandated analogue switch-off dates, at least along national borders.

Consequently, in 2007, late President, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua approved the transition from Analogue to Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting in Nigeria, effective from 17th June, 2012, in line with the ITU resolution. On 13th October, 2008 the then President inaugurated the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on Transition from Analogue to Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting in Nigeria, with the following Terms of Reference:i. Recommend a policy on digital terrestrial broadcast transition using global best practices. ii. Recommend appropriate regulatory framework.iii. Recommend a National Broadcasting Mode; iv. Assess the impact of the digitization on the consumers and recommend possible government intervention; v. Determine the quantum of expected digital Assess environmental impact of digitization, if any, and recommend steps to be taken.vii. Advise government on any action relevant to smooth transition in Nigeria.

12.2. In order to maximize the existing broadcast infrastructure, the Committee recommends that the existing and massive broadcast transmission infrastructure owned by the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA). The Voice of Nigeria (VON) and the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) in the country should form the backbone for the new Broadcasting Signal Distributor, which must be able to absorb the transmission infrastructure of other existing broadcasting stations. This whitepaper recommendation adopted by govt shows that these campaigns of calumny against ITS are selfish and destructive.

Delivered at a press briefing by Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, National Coordinator of HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA).

NOV. 12TH2017.

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