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NATIONAL SECURITY: The danger Nigeria faces on digital migration

By Jide Ajani

A signal is about being sent from the Department of State Service, DSS. The signal is from its Borno State Command.  The new leader of the dreaded Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsular, AQIM, is in transit to Niamey, Niger Republic, and may sneak into Nigeria.  Details of some reconnaissance that had been conducted would be contained in the signal.

Whereas Sunday Vanguard could not confirm whether the communications system of the DSS has been fully digitalized as it ought to and should have been, the fact of routing the signal through some other facilities that are yet to be compliant gets the message lost in cyber space.  That constitutes a clear and present danger for national security.

The date is June 15, 2015. And the whole world has made the switch from analogue to digital.

That was the message Professor Emewo Anselm Biakolo brought to the Digital Dialogue Nigeria.

“The purpose of Digital Dialogue Nigeria”, according to the facilitator of the programme, Jenkins Alumona of Strategic Outcomes, “is to provide a platform for growing knowledge and information of digital transition. I believe strongly that a great deal of work around digital migration is the dissemination of information on the requirements and processes of digital transition.  People need an understanding of its impact on them as individuals and their businesses”.

Therefore, when Biakolo directed the attention of the audience at the workshop to the security imperatives of the migration of transition as some would have it described, some jaws dropped.

Biakolo, a professor of communications and the Dean, School of Media and Communications, Pan-African University, Lagos, wanted a participatory session on his presentation on THE ROLE OF THE MASS MEDIA IN ATTAINING DIGITAL MIGRATION 2015.

After getting some vibes from the audience made up of journalists and media practitioners, Biakolo went on to make his presentation.  His was not the first. But he raised some very important points.

The idea of the dialogue is to sensitise Nigerians to the coming standard technological environment in which all players on the globe would operate.  Nigeria is a signatory to the agreement.  All countries of the world are expected to make that migration and should Cameroon, Benin Republic or Niger meet the deadline and Nigeria doesn’t, there would be interference in communication signal in Nigeria and within those countries too.  Therefore, why should Nigeria be the wet-bed fellow?

On communication and national security, Biakolo said:

“High powered transmissions may lead to interference from (or by) neighbouring countries, which could in turn create a compromise of national security: due to critically affected national sectors like Broadcasting, Telecommunications, Maritime (maritime communication), Aviation (aeronautic communication)”.

He then went on to list the arms of Nigeria’s security community that may be affected as follows:

“The Nigeria Police Force

“State Security Services (SSS)

“The Nigerian Army

“The Nigerian Navy

“The Nigerian Air Force

“Defense Intelligence Agency (Military Intelligence)

“National Intelligence Agency

“Nigerian Maritime Administration & Safety Agency”

These institutions may be affected because, in 2015, the International Telecommunications Union, ITU, will convert the entire broadcast network by switching the terrestrial platform from analogue to digital.

This will help to maximize the benefits of digital broadcast rather than managing the limits of current analogue formats.

There is already a White Paper for implementation of the Digital Migration policy.

In conclusion, Biakolo warned of “the danger of a communication blackout!  The situation is more than a national concern. It calls for multi-level stakeholder involvement. It also calls for the involvement of surrounding countries (including Cameroon). The media must play coordinating, advocacy and informatory roles”.

But the details are still out there and the typically Nigerian attitude of befuddling issues is setting in again.

During the conference, there were arguments for and against Nigeria’s preparedness.

And coming to the rescue of the Federal Government was Bolaji Adebiyi, Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan and Media.

Adebiyi made the audience understand that contrary to what Nigerians are saying about lack of continuity, “President Jonathan has kept faith.  He has continued the programmes of his predecessor and he is also doing some new projects for the benefit of Nigerians.  The same thing applies to this migration because there is already a White Paper and some committees are already working to ensure that that deadline is met”.

He then put the blame at the doorstep of journalists:  “I think our colleagues should go all out to get the White Paper and interpret the document to key stakeholders and members of the public. This should involve advocating the benefits of digital broadcasting to end-users.”

Interestingly, it is not as if things are not working out.  Already, there is MultiChoice’s GoTv.  And you also have the Nigeria Television Authority, NTA, that is test-running the programme with its alliance with Startimes. The NTA/ Startimes alliance is 30 percent NTA and 70 percent Startimes.

That is part of the problem.  Just as Nigeria’s joint venture operations in the petroleum sector runs into some challenges from time to time, this may create its own bitter flavour.

Is this not dangerous for our national security considering that Startimes will be technically in charge of carrying our signal, as is likely to be?

Alumona said, “Yes there are security imperatives. We need to understand that there can be panic if there is a switch over with less than adequate information. People could wake up and find that their old TVs are not showing. Fraudulent people can take advantage and invent scams that could defraud the poor and ill informed. So it’s essential that people should be kept informed.

“I will want to believe that by 15th June 2015 we will be ready. I will also prefer the comfort that there are things happening behind our backs that will ensure that we transit to digital broadcasting by the set day. But the truth is that the Nigerian people need to know if there are developments”

The future of digital broadcast may even exclude some current broadcast players due to inability to secure the required equipment.

Prior to Biakolo and Adebiyi’s presentations, the Director General of the Nigeria

Broadcasting Coporation, NBC, Engr. Yomi Bolarinwa, gave the keynote address which set the tone for the event.

The first paper was presented by Dr. Nick Wells of Digital Video Broadcast, DVB-T2 Around The World. He explained the technology of DVBT2, which is the latest in the globe for digital transmission.  That is the one Nigeria has bought into. Engr. Edward Idris Amana’ paper, on PREPARING FOR THE TRANSITION OF

TV BROADCAST SERVICES TO DIGITAL, gave an insight into the engineering requirements of the migration.

Being true to her calling, Amaka Igwe’s presentation on the Dynamics of Content Development in a Digital Broadcast Environment created its own gyrations which got the audience feeling her.

By the time she finished, the technological jargons that had confused many became simplified.

“In digital transmission, broadcasting companies will only have the role of content providers while government through contracted parties will undertake the job to distribute the content.  The Nigerian Federal Government intends to licence a minimum of two and maximum of three broadcasting signal distributors, to facilitate transition and service delivery processes. January 2015 deadline had been set for a complete migration to digital broadcasting in Nigeria.

“It means that 58 NTA Channels, 34 State Channels, 22 Private Channels, 34 Cable can all be on one Carrier.  And this can be seen by all who have the set up boxes where ever they are – the set up boxes do the conversion from analogue to digital”.

In terms of technology, she explained that there would be need for more content because more channels would have become more available.

“24 hours of transmission a day multiplied by over 500 channels multiplied by 365 days.

For a distribution on more platforms; the hours of programming needed are enormous”, Amaka Igwe stated.

There is no doubt that the digital era means there is need for change in the way Nigeria style of  Content Development and Distribution is done.  The era of man-know-man would not work.

“The New Deal requires new skills and new tricks – Market Segmentation & Specialization.  Definitely few will survive.  There would be ‘DYNAMIC’ changes and new styles of advertising”.

She advocated an intervention in content financing as well as a strong policy on content aggregation.  That ‘Dynamics’ should start now!!!”

On the second day, two more presentations were made.  First by Efere Ozako, a lawyer, on Creating a Framework for Digital Migration in Nigeria, while the second paper was by Gehrard Petrick, on Preparing for Transition of TV Broadcast Service to Digital.

On the whole, the audience was sensitized to the need for understanding the migration issues.  More importantly, however, is the need for the conveyance of the message to the larger public.

The audience was taken through the two-day event by Aki Anastasiou, a seasoned South African journalist, who says the possibilities are endless; and Okechukwu Onyegbule, aka Okey Bakassi, a Nigerian standup comedian.


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