Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture
Mohammed,NTA: ONE of the great dividends of democracy is that it creates the Legislative arm through which the people are represented and given a voice in government. Apart from legislation, this arm of government also controls the purse of the nation and the power to mitigate the excesses of the Executive arm.
It is this attribute of our democracy that made it mandatory for the Minister of Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed, to go to the National Assembly to defend the obnoxious proposal for a $500m (about N180bn) loan for the upgrade of facilities to enable the state-owned official propaganda outfit, the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, compete with the likes of America’s Cable Network News, CNN, as the Minister puts it.
The loan is apparently part of the controversial $29.9bn loan the Muhammadu Buhari regime has been angling to borrow. The uproar that this has raised further justifies the insistence by this newspaper and millions of well-meaning Nigerians that the details of the humongous loan should be made public for scrutiny. We still insist that the entire purpose of this loan should be disclosed item by item.
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There is absolutely no justification for this loan request. The NTA, which used to be the pride of the nation when it was a monopoly in the 1970s and 1980s, has lost a lot of public support because it has increasingly become the mouthpiece of the Federal Government. Nigerians now depend on private newspapers, social media, and radio and television networks for their credible and satisfactory media needs. It is these elements of the media industry that require the generous policy and waiver supports of government.
Government also needs to revive the National Orientation Agency, NOA, to resume its massive public enlightenment duties which have virtually been abandoned. Since the minister is convinced that the NTA has the technology and manpower to compete with these international private networks, the organisation should be encouraged to go ahead and compete, but not by burdening Nigerians with this loan.
We believe that this is another misplaced priority in a country that lacks adequate infrastructure, power and social amenities. As the current “poverty capital of the world” what point shall we be proving by attempting to compete with private-owned television networks from the wealthiest countries?
We call on the National Assembly to reject this loan request outright. We fear it might end up, like funds devoted to the digital switchover programme now under EFCC scrutiny, in the private pockets of political appointees and top civil servants.
Any money borrowed must be devoted to upgrading our infrastructure to enable our efforts at economic diversification to succeed and not squandered on the elephant projects of politicians and their bureaucrat cohorts.
We say no!
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