By Okoh Aihe
THE first time I heard the word, continuum, was when the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, used it in one of his statements. Known for being very cerebral, frank and never afraid to confront the truth and face reality, Awo in that particular statement said “government is a continuum.” The word struck home, perhaps also because of the context in which that statement was made but which I can’t remember now.
How I missed out that word which became a troubling vocabulary still beats my imagination. I wasn’t totally dumb. I had read books upon books, lots of them and still missed that particular word. So, when it came in those days that politicians craft their words and paint them on marble, not these days that most of the politicians are failed comedians, the word remained glued to my system, never to depart for any reason.
My little interpretation of the word at the time is that there should be a link between one government and another; whether it’s PDP or APC, there has to an unbroken chain in terms of one government handing over to the new government which will inherit all the troubles, good deeds and projects of the earlier, and just go on working without playing too much of politics with the life of the people.
But there was another word that came from history during the study of great empires and their kings. Even with the greatness of some empires with their kingdom extending as far as to Dahomey, which is in modern day Republic of Benin, not all their kings were great. For some of those kings whose reign could be tracked as lukewarm – not hot and not cold, historians would usually refer to their reign as a period of political interregnum. Nothing happened. The empire simply suffered a time warp with everything placed on a pause button.
Dear friends, I am not going to talk about this government because I don’t do politics; I do technology, the very simple ones that enable life, which we still fail to initiate or activate because we are never really able to distinguish between official responsibilities and favour or even help. Which is why people are being killed daily, the lucky escapees who are running for their dear lives keep “calling on government to help us.”
Is that what the Constitution says? However, let me return to my two words – continuum and interregnum. Each time I think of the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, and the Digital Switchover, DSO, project which the broadcast regulator is implementing, the words start to have a ‘civil war’ in my system. Which is more appropriate to use apropos the happenings at the NBC, is it continuum or interregnum? Which word is more befitting even in an impish way?
Continuum would have been more appropriate but the word becomes a fluke when applied to the NBC in its current state. In the past few years there has been a seething leadership crisis at the NBC. The NBC Act stipulates five years as the tenure for the Director-General who is appointed by the President on the recommendations of the Minister. In the life of this administration, which is just over six years, DG number four, Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, took over the saddle early June.
The predecessor wasn’t even confirmed. In spite of his knowledge of the industry, he was never really esteemed by the appointing powers for reasons that only the king makers know. The two before the unconfirmed had their tenures abridged and adulterated.
The Commission suffered and so were their projects thus making interregnum a favoured choice to summarise the flux in which the NBC has been dumped in the past six years. Even more unfortunate is the fate of the Digital Switchover which continues to suffer in the hands of a government that has little respect for regulatory institutions. At the moment it has suddenly become bewildering which direction the DSO is headed.
For the 119 countries in Europe, Africa, Middle East and Central Asia under the ITU, the process started in 2006 and a deadline was pegged for June 17, 2015. From all indications, Nigeria missed the 2015 deadline and also missed the 2020 version very badly. There are no indications that even if another deadline was set for the next three years that Nigeria would be able to meet it. The reasons for this serial failure are really shameful and archetypal Nigerian.
Leadership instability leading to a game of musical chairs, has already been listed. But assuming that the appointment of the new director general, Ilelah was capable of restoring stable leadership to the NBC, it may be germane, even if troubling, that recent happenings at the Commission does not guaranteed any stability in the immediate. Ilelah may have come with a good mind ready to work but the problems assailing him are complex, very complex; more like sending a sales person to the market with salt and also sending a rain maker.
Primary job of the Commission is to regulate the entire broadcasting sector. An added responsibility is the implementation of the DSO. By way of attaching importance to the implementation process, former President Goodluck Jonathan, set up a Presidential Team known as the Digiteam, which drew experts from different fields. The Digiteam was surreptitiously replaced by a Ministerial Task Force set up by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, with himself as Chairperson.
Membership is drawn from all kinds of groups, including Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria, APCON. The NBC which is the implementing agency is just a member. Continuum suffered jeopardy. A Ministerial Task Force took over from a Presidential Team, and the earlier has been fighting shadows ever since with direction pursued with reasons less altruistic.
We celebrated on this page when the Federal Executive Council, FEC, on February 10, 2021, approved the sum of N9.4bn for the NBC to settle legacy debts and formally fast-track the DSO implementation process. It was the strongest sign ever that the Nigerian government was tired of the little games going on within the DSO process and was desirous of getting the job done.
We just had a relationship with pyrrhic, and now the real victory seems to be eluding us. With the Ministerial Task Force based at the Ministry and NBC as fringe member, this writer can reveal, there was a perfect excuse for the money approved for the NBC to end up in the Ministry where the funds are being disbursed for contracts that were never awarded by the Ministry. Even if Ilelah had come to the NBC with a magic wand, he may obviously not be able to mint funds to execute vital projects like the DSO.
There is so much that is happening out there bringing this writer to an eerie conclusion that the DSO currently cannot survive any credibility stress test. It’s another pain for a people that were looking forward to a miracle from a group with more noise than action. And very little to give or offer.