As the Federal Government kicks off the second phase of the country’s Digital Switch Over (DSO) journey, there are fears within the broadcasting industry that its completion, expected to take three years, is under threat from corruption and ill-conception.
Industry insiders point to the lack of transparency and apparent corruption that attended government spending on first phase of the DSO, leading to Nigeria’s failure to meet two earlier deadlines to switch from analogue to digital broadcasting.
A Jos-based broadcast engineer, who does not want his name in print for fear of a reprisal, explained that a major hindrance to progress in the switch over process is the dodgy handling of monies earmarked for the first phase of the country’s DSO journey by those in charge.
He pointed to the N2.5billion corruption scandal that erupted from the 2017 payment of seed grant to a private company, in breach of the guidelines of the Federal Government Whitepaper on Digital Migration, which led to the suspension and eventual arraignment of a former Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).
“The suspended NBC Director-General, if you recall, is facing charges related to intent to defraud the Federal Government by paying the said sum to a company that was not entitled to receive such grant. His suspension and arraignment followed petitions to the ICPC by stakeholders. Payment of the grant was approved by the Minister of Information and Culture who, curiously, was not charged along with the suspended Director-General,” he said.
He also described the recent approval of N9.4billion by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), announced last month by the Minister of Information and Culture, as payments to key DSO stakeholders, as “a standing invitation” to those that mismanaged monies earmarked for the first phase.
According to him, most of the stakeholders paid for the first phase are unable to justify payments received, as evidenced by the lack of DSO infrastructure and a halt to the programme since 2018.
In February, the Information Minister announced the approval of N9.4billion for payment of outstanding payments major DSO stakeholders, adding that the move will take care of the funding problems that have hindered the programme in the last three years.
Another broadcast engineer, based in Lagos, disclosed that the source of the money for the DSO second phase spending was the N34billion paid by MTN for broadcast frequency. He noted most of those to be paid from this sum are those unable to justify the payments so far received. He said one of the licensed signal carriers, affiliated to the Nigerian Television Authority, got N1.7 billion for the commencement of the DSO but is dependent on the infrastructure of a major Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) operator’s network coverage in just four cities across the country. He also noted that the other licensed signal carrier, which got N2.5billion as seed grant, has coverage in only the capitals of the five states of Plateau, Kwara, Osun, Kaduna, Enugu and the Federal Capital Territory, which were the pilot locations despite payment by the Federal Government.
“Free TV with which the NBC hopes to drive the DSO is operational only in six locations. How can this infrastructure gap be bridged in three years?” he asked.
A retired staff of the Nigerian Television Authority said the country’s conception of the DSO was flawed from the start because of the adoption of Set-Top-Boxes with conditional access (CA) built into them. He explained that what is needed to convert analogue to digital signals are standard type STBs, not those with conditional access like those pay television operations, for which he claimed the provider of the system was N1billion in the first phase.
The Information Minister recently announced that the next phase of the DSO will begin in Lagos State on 29 April and will be followed by Kano, Rivers, Gombe and Yobe states.