Crafting a fitting message for the telecoms industry
Okoh Aihe

By Okoh Aihe

IN 1979, Prof. Ola Rotimi, playwright and wordsmith, a venerated idol of mine, who is resting in that fine place reserved only for the saints, wrote one of his plays, Holding Talks. The play falls into the genre of drama called theatre of the absurd, wherein a barber and his client are engaged in an endless conversation in search of nothing.

It is a long conversation over inanities. For instance, do you know Gabriel? The answer provokes a litany of harangue that really provides no answer. Or, your hand is shaking. It takes endless denial and submissions for the barber to prove that his hand is not shaking.

A friend reminded me the other day that since 1979 when the Second Republic took off in this country, the nation has been engaged in ceaseless and meaningless talks: one after the other which the leadership knows, is not only a ruse, but at best intended to confuse the way forward.

The new boss at the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, has started his season of holding talks. I do not want to suggest in any way that what he is doing would be in the similitude of the situation described above, but to give a timely warning that time is counting for him and that he should engage in actions that will indemnify his name in the good books of history.

Tagged: “Meetings with CEO and GMs of Broadcast Stations”, the Talks have held in Kano, Enugu and Lagos just last week, reserving Abuja for tomorrow, Thursday, August 26, 2021.

This may not have been the road chosen by some other people if given the opportunity, as there would have been the need to marshal a proper direction and programme for the growth of the broadcast industry. But I can see some desperate measures for a man whose house is on fire and is scrambling to put it off.

I do not know Mallam Balarabe Shehu Ilelah but the template I see is akin to that of a good man saying: I come in peace. How do we work together to save the broadcast industry from dropping into the abyss where it is headed?

For there is the need to accept that these are difficult times for broadcasting; except something urgent is done by somebody who comes with neutrality and less bias, there could be a spasm that will trouble the industry to no end.

I will attempt to do a summary of Illelah’s presentation at these meetings with the hope that it won’t be a parody of his position. It is as follows: Private broadcasters are becoming the dominant players, quite in contrast with the situation in 1992 when the industry was deregulated; the Broadcast Media not doing enough to educate Nigerians on happenings in the country; No time for Sensationalism, Public interest to occupy Centre of Broadcasting; Remember the Code, Remember the Broadcasting Act; Avoid Fake News; New Licences for Digital Terrestrial Television, DTT, awarded; DSO Kano for Launch Soon; NBC to be Self-Funding in 2022, and a Plea for Broadcasters to meet their Financial Obligations to the Regulator, including 2.5 per cent on Turnover.

The message is good but it’s packaged in such a way that the truth does not prick the conscience of those destroying the sector. By 1992 private entrepreneurs were encouraged to invest in the broadcasting industry with the promise that Decree 38 of 1992, which has since become an Act of Parliament – CAP N11, Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2004, would provide a level playing field.

The field has really not been level ever since. Private broadcasters have invested lots of money in the industry, acquiring state-of-the-art-technologies, while government stations have remained as propaganda tools, uninvested in, thus creating a kind of “they against us” situation. From my little understanding the success of the private stations, although most of them are just struggling to remain on air, irks the government so much that it seems there is always a search for opportunities to put private broadcasters on a leash.

It should trouble the new Director-General of the NBC that in the industry that he regulates, there are certain offices in the land, whether in states or at the Federal level, where some broadcasters must not step into.

Programmes are packaged from these offices by a designated station for circulation to other broadcasters who, with grumblings, must air such programme as truth?  There are things going wrong in the industry and the Illelah must try to resolve them frontally.

The new Director-General has a lot of hopes vested on the Nigeria Broadcasting Code and the National Broadcasting Act CAP N11 Laws of the Federation, 2004. Ordinarily he should be on a safe terrain, but I hate to disappoint him. The Acts give too much power to the supervising Minister who, at any time, depending upon his mood, can actually trouble the industry a little bit just to give the operators some little jitters and remind them that government is not too far away with a cane.

From my lay man’s point of view I will want to suggest that the Nigeria Broadcasting Code is a subsidiary legislation created by the NBC. However, the present Code launched on July 4, 2019, is so controversial that it has about 15 cases in court challenging it.

My candid advice, from one media professional to another, is for Illelah to generate the goodwill of inviting all parties in dispute for a roundtable discussion by way of reconciling disparate positions. That might just be one way to go because it is not very salutary to sweep debris over the truth.

Oh, just an ancillary remainder: NBC has little power over Social Media except some managed processes being pursued at the National Assembly are staggered into existence. Then they will be listed among the ammunition being stock-piled against private broadcasting and free speech.

And one final point. While preparing for the DSO launch in Kano, it might just be a worthwhile exercise for Illelah to review the entire process so far and find ways to remedy the wrongs slowing down the implementation. 

My little hint is that one thing he may find out is that there are too many personal interests built into the DSO project. Little bubbles of conflict of interest that must have to be deflated, as they can be inimical and self-abort any process no matter how strong the superstructure is.

I wish him luck.

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