February 8, 2023

A broadcast conversation unbroken by hermetic controls

By Okoh Aihe

THERE is something about irony that dresses like an apparition and walks the street to humble man’s best intentioned efforts. On the last day of a two-day programme, last Friday, when a small group of people drawn from various fields of interest were working on a communiqué centering on the independence of the broadcast regulator, the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, the same regulator was dishing out sanctions to two broadcast operators, Arise News and Television Continental.

The Television Continental, from the stable of Continental Broadcasting Services, and Arise News, operated by Arise Global Media Limited, were sanctioned for sustained but documented breaches of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code. In the same way that you wouldn’t hit a tsetse fly from the head of a child without showing the dead fly as evidence, or the child would mistake it for a slap, the NBC, in the letters signed by its Director General, Mallam Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, listed a litany of breaches for which the two stations were fined N2 million each. 

It is unclear whether NBC equally engaged the stations in a sustained discourse about the entire process or whether the regulator simply caved in under political pressure. But whether the breaches actually exist is totally out of the question. It is always about due process, although the regulator should have acted earlier. The programme with the theme: Conversation Between Industry Stakeholders on Issues in Broadcasting Legislative and Regulatory Frameworks, was organised in Abuja by the Institute for Media and Society, IMS, on February 2 and 3, 2023, as part of activities under the “Support-to-Media” component of the European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN II) project. Participants at the meeting were drawn from different stakeholder groups, including the media industry unions and associations, the national legislature, regulators, and civil society organizations; media professionals, managers, and owners; as well as journalism and media training institutions. 

In plenary and panel discussions, the meeting addressed various topics, including: Contemporary reforms in the Nigerian broadcasting sector: the state of play; The Journey Towards Independent Regulation in the Broadcasting Sector: Issues in the Legislative/Regulation Reform Process; Government Appropriation, Digital Access Fees, Radio/TV Sets: Shaping a Suitable Resource Pot for Broadcasting in Nigeria; The Broadcasting Regulator in the Technology and Politics of the Convergence Era in Nigeria: What Jurisdiction? What Power? Addressing the Liberty of the Broadcast Industry: Trends in Legislation and Regulation in Nigeria; What Has Changed in the Licensing Process; Cost of Licensing, and Landscape Plurality?What has remained the same? Looking at the Sanctions System in Broadcast Industry Regulation through a variety of lenses: technical, economic, and political; and Third-Sector Broadcasting: Contemporary Concerns on the Sub-Sector’s Development. So many industry issues were washed up during discussions, some of them very bizarre and ludicrous. The regulatory fickleness and helplessness of the NBC in terms of its laws and resources were a central thread that ran through the discourse. The NBC appears too traumatised to be successful for a prominent agency that is central to the deepening of the democratic process, besides constantly keeping citizens informed in terms of information and education, and you may add entertainment.

Troubled by the unfolding information, it was agreed that the broadcast law needs urgent amendment, not just for the industry but for the survival of the regulator. The current broadcast law hardly has a spine, and the industry, with all its equipment to reach any part of the world, travelling on the wings of modern technology, has nearly lost its voice, ironically. Tell me, which other law in Nigeria, a country of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, will permit a minister to pick three out of a 10-member board, including the chairman, from his own state. The NBC law subjects the regulator to the whims and caprices of the minister, and Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who is the Minister of Information and Culture, has not failed to take full advantage of such a tantalizing opportunity. In fact, his hold on the broadcast regulator is overwhelmingly scandalous. 

From the information available, it emerged that of all the deregulated sectors in the country, the broadcast industry is particularly enduring a torrid existence at the moment, and that concerted efforts should be made to cure it of its troubling baggage. Specific recommendations were made, but permit me to transpose two to this article. They are as follows: One: The independence of the National Broadcasting Commission should be strengthened in law and in practice, including by ensuring that the tenures of the director-general and Board members are clearly stated and that they have security of tenure; that the funding of the Commission is adequate for its functions and secure; and that the Commission is insulated from political, economic, and other interference or pressures.

Two: Full powers should be granted to the NBC to carry out the full range of its regulatory functions, including the issuance of broadcast licenses. Accordingly, Section 39(2) of the Constitution and the proviso to it should be amended to vest in the Commission the final authority to issue broadcast licenses, while other encumbrances in the National Broadcasting Commission Act should be removed so that the process of licensing broadcast stations should begin and end with the NBC. 

 An appeal also went to the National Assembly to take urgent steps that will ensure that community broadcasting is properly recognized and defined in legislation, and adequately provided for in the licensing process, to better address the plurality of the broadcast sector. To situate the story properly, community radio licensing was one of the final acts of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 before conceding victory to former military leader, Muhammadu Buhari. It was a sweet victory for those who had engaged in a protracted struggle for the birth of that tier of broadcasting. A particular testimony by one of the proponents who is now an operator, even makes the case for community broadcasting more compelling. Engr. Morgan Okwoche, who runs the Agba Community Radio, Oju, Benue State, told the meeting that during the collection of PVCs in his locality, the station, which broadcasts in nine local languages, translated all INEC messages into local dialects, and embarked on an aggressive campaign that yielded generous results. “It was serious voter education,” he said.

“In a particular council ward, the information dissemination was so successful that all PVCs were collected except one, whose owner had died.” Because democracy dies in silence if we continue to silence the media, it was strongly suggested that the government should encourage community broadcasting in order to boost democratic beliefs at the grassroots. And even more overriding is the appeal that the government and the industry should give more support to the regulator in order to facilitate the good health of the entire broadcast sector. 


After reading my article last week, titled “Telecoms: A Humble Review of a Minister’s Scorecard,” a former colleague reached out to me immediately to bring two things to my attention. One, the title of “executive secretary” as head of the USPF has since been dropped in favour of “secretary,” as defined by the Nigerian Communications Act 2003. Two, that the office of the USPF was never moved from the NCC office at Maitama to Jabi (Mbora), as stated in my article. The error is regretted. It was never intended to diminish the status of the minister. I pray he is able to take this slap on the chin with graceful equanimity. My sincere apologies.