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 Opeyemi Maiyegun

Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan, must have felt really good about himself on Wednesday when announcing the constitution of a seven-man ad-hoc committee to probe the recent tariff adjustments by MultiChoice Nigeria.

The announcement was accompanied, according to a statement signed by Lawan’s media aide, Dr Ezrel Tabiowo, by directives to MultiChoice to revert to the old prices “in tandem with the prevailing reality of the economic situation in Nigeria” as well as the adoption of pay-per-view billing model.

I, too, would have felt good about myself if presented, like the Senate President and his colleagues were with a cheap opportunity to posture as being madly in love with the masses. The trigger for the proposed probe and directives was a motion by Senator Patrick Abba Moro, who fed off the recent adjustments in the tariffs of the MultiChoice-owned DStv and GOtv platforms.

 “MultiChoice Nigeria,” Moro said, “willfully and perpetually increases the cost of its bundles because there is no regulation whatsoever in the area of fixing rates. Without recourse to the economic situation of the country, MultiChoice has again raised the cost of its DStv and GOtv bundles.”

The tariff adjustments, he added, have provoked outrage among subscribers, who he said also complained that weather-induced signal degeneration and epileptic power supply inhibit the full enjoyment of the services before their subscription expires.

 Moro further said that what Nigerians want is the pay-per-view model, similar to the metering in electricity and mobile telephony, model rather than a fixed monthly subscription model.

What the Senate wants in a nutshell, according to the statement from the Senate President’s office, is for the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to order pay television companies to “introduce a pay-per-view model of subscription as against the month-to-month prepaid model presently in place” and “immediately review their bouquet prices downwards in tandem with the prevailing reality of the economic situation in the country”.

Every Nigerian, I believe, should be interested in what the probe will unearth. But before then, I wish to state that I cannot pretend to be delighted that the prices of DStv and GOtv packages have gone up. I am actually worried about the development, as many like me will come under greater financial strain in these already straitened times. That said, what came from the Senate on Wednesday can be classified as insensitive, ignorant, lacking in self-awareness, unoriginal and possibly xenophobic.

That the Senate was sufficiently misguided to believe that its priority, 48 hours after train passengers were killed and abducted between Kaduna and Abuja, should be a probe into pay television operations, provides a bold hint of the direness of the minds in its leadership cadre. That it gave the country’s economic situation as the reason for demanding a downward tariff review shows it is at loggerheads with reality.

The most recent consumer price index released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows a 0.1% uptick in the country’s inflation rate of 15.7% in February from 15.6% in January, a development ascribed to the climb in prices of goods and services, following the nationwide fuel scarcity. Consumers, as well as providers of goods and services, are being suffocated by spiralling costs of purchase and operations. Diesel, used by many businesses to self-generate power, currently costs N650 per litre.

Two years ago, it cost N224 per litre, an indication of a 190 per cent price jump. Electricity, which cost N46.93 per Band B KWH has climbed to N53.23, a 13.4 per cent rise. The price of a 50kg bag of rice has risen by 19.2 per cent from N26,000 two years ago to N31,000. Airfare from Lagos to Abuja has risen by 122.2 per cent from N22,500 in 2020 to N50,000.

That the Senate has failed to make anything resembling an intervention in the prices of numerous essential commodities, but in pay television services does not show it truly cares, however hard it has tried. It is also not self-aware. Had it been, it would realize that the dire economic situation, the reason it is calling for a downward review by MultiChoice, is, in some way, occasioned by the extortionate remunerations of its members.

The current Senate has simply torn a leaf from the manual of the immediate past one which, during the recession in 2016, though it was inappropriate for MultiChoice to increase prices.

It held a public hearing into the prices of the television company, out of which nothing came out.

Like the current Senate, the 8th one called for the adoption of the pay-per-view model, something it has skimpy or no understanding of. Pay-per-View, used for the broadcast of big-ticket events and more expensive, is falsely presented as cheaper and requires one keen on seeing such an event to pay separately for it. A little internet search would have prevented the misinformation the Senate is spreading about pay-per-view.

Also, the age-old argument that the metering in electricity and mobile telephony is applicable to television has no leg to stand on. It ignores the fact that television content is not metered like airtime/data or electricity units. Pay television content is not consumed a la carte except on Video-on-Demand platforms like Netflix or DStv BoxOffice.

Pay television is a luxury service, not an essential one or an inalienable human right to life, movement or speech. The day I can no longer conveniently fund a lifestyle is the day the lifestyle will be ditched.

I want goods and services to be cheaper, as I belong to the lower rung of the economic ladder. But I understand they cannot always be except we push for Nigeria to become a Soviet-style society of rigid price controls. The country’s high-cost operating environment makes it impossible for businesses to keep prices, including agricultural commodities stable.

I have also observed faint hints of xenophobia and this dates back a long time. MultiChoice, which has South African origins, is, without fail, accused of inappropriateness any time it adjusts the prices of its services. The naira, our national currency, continues to emaciate almost daily and affects the cost of living as well as of doing business. Other economic dynamics intervene.

But for some logically obscure reasons, the Senate assumes that MultiChoice has taken multiple doses of booster jabs against the effects of the anorexic value of the naira and other factors.

I do not remember the Senate directing Alhaji Aliko Dangote, the industrialist, to execute a downward review of his cement prices. It is also not interested in what ails our currency. But on pay television, it comes out snarling like a hyena.

If, as the Senate admitted, “there is no regulation whatsoever in the area of fixing rates”, what is it relying on to issue directives? Nothing beyond the desire to appear as it cares about the people. It does not and the people know.

* Maiyegun, a calligrapher and public commentator writes from Ibadan

Vanguard News Nigeria

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