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FEC returns life to the DSO

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Digital  Switchover

By Okoh Aihe

NIGERIA is not starved of good people to do us proud. On Monday, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala demonstrated this in making history as the first African and first woman ever to become the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, WTO, to global acclaim.

Her first virtual press conference espoused the qualities for which the world picked this international economist and development expert to be admitted into the revered inner sanctum of universal civil service.

Few hours earlier, in faraway Las Vegas in Nevada, Kamaru Usman demonstrated that Nigeria wasn’t lacking brave hearts as he successfully defended his UFC welterweight title against Gilbert Burns and totally annihilated the unfortunate fellow in the third round. Raw power of the highest sort properly channelled into usefulness. A commentator even said he had a Ph.D in cage fight! That is the height of dexterity and accomplishment.

As it is always, we look at the pecuniary end of everything, the naira and kobo view imposed by government policies and conditions that are lacking in substance and articulation. But I see the scarf of the Nigerian colours of green-white-green, made of Nigerian fabric (Aso Oke) around Okonjo-Iweala’s neck; I see the Nigerian Flag draped at Usman’s corner of the cage, and I see a Nigeria in full flight, ready to take on the global community with our best eleven on the pitch.

But not so at home. Our best eleven are very far away from the playing pitch because of ethnocentric factors that are tearing the country apart and the leadership is complicit for their inability to deal with it. Good news have been so much in deficit here that you literally have to scavenge for them. This is why Okonji-Iweala brings a nourishing breather.

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Apart from the crushing story of near anarchy unfolding in the land, I started feeling some elation from mid last week when the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, after the Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting, announced the approval by Council of N9.4bn to fast-track the Digital  Switchover, DSO, process which, for long, had floundered in Nigeria.

The Digital Switchover process commenced in July 2006 under the auspices of the ITU and was expected to end by 2015 and 2020 respectively. The process would free up broadcast frequencies for uptake by the telecommunications industry for mobile, broadband and last mile connectivity services to the various ends of a country. For Nigeria, this would put more phones in the hands of people, further stimulate the data sector and extend more affordable services even to areas where telecommunications services are yet to berth. Unfortunately, Nigeria missed both cuts.

Expressing regrets, Mohammed said: “We were not able to make it. But with the approval of this memo by today, we would be striving to switch from analogue to digital. The effect of the move today is that the digital switchover is real and the economic effect of it will be the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs in content production, channel distribution, Nollywood and electronic appliance productions to service about 20 million Nigerian homes. At the end of the switchover, we would have created the biggest free-to-air TV platform in Africa. I will be announcing a ministerial task force that will execute the council resolve, either this week or next.”

It doesn’t matter anymore that Nigeria was failing in the process very dismally. What for me is more important is that government has taken a major decision that will rev up the digital switchover engine. And this is much better than anything that has come from Mohammed for weeks.

Really it can be very exhausting to watch a minister declare that this government has done more to secure the nation than any other government. And following after that are images of burnt houses, a number of deaths and all kinds of depressing things too benumbing for the body to manage.

We seem to be insulated from the chaos around us as we throw figures about the place, forgetting always, that truth is measured by the reality on ground.

On the DSO, Mohammed scores very high. And this is what government is all about – to breathe life into dying or dead processes and give the ordinary folks something to hope for.

The DSO is returning to life and the world can begin to see us differently again. Mind you, the N9.4bn is little drop in a sea of needs, like a measure of tea spoon from a swimming pool. But, at least, a journey has started with all fervency.

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Acting Director-General of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, NBC, the body executing the DSO process for Nigeria, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, also looked very relieved on Monday as we x-rayed the DSO journey so far. While trying to make a strong impact at takeoff point, the Commission took some decisions, including going into agreement with some service providers without following due process.

The Commission suddenly found itself with over N12bn debt overhang. The process was trapped, with the various stakeholders nearly submitting to a stupefying helplessness. Thankfully, the Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP, made a redeeming intervention, offering professional advice and clearing the way forward.

“It is a relief for everybody. You can’t drive a process with credibility issues. The issue of support by governments – Federal, States and Local Councils – is key to the success of the DSO project,” he told this writer. Suddenly, Idachaba observed, the intervention has infused transparency and confidence into the process, thus challenging all parties involved in the project delivery to expedite action by way of responding to the   good faith demonstrated by government.

Expectedly, this FEC approval will take care of legacy debts owed service providers, including signal distributors and set top box manufacturers. Then the real game for the survival of the DSO will begin.

All pretenses will be thrown over board and the various stakeholders will have to re-strategize to deliver the DSO as it was originally conceived. After what seems to be a bailout intervention, the DSO will have to fend for itself and sort out its complexities.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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