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Nigeria’s DSO: Fresh Missteps Loom

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By Dominic Omuedi

Heartwarming, it was for me, to read reports of the press conference addressed on Tuesday by Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, on the country’s Digital Switchover (DSO) process, which seemed to have been interred under the rubble of poor conception, mismanagement and corruption.

Nigeria’s DSO: Fresh Missteps Loom

The cheer brought by the government’s announced intention to reboot the process, positive as appears, has shown nothing beyond the fact that the DSO process is not completely forgotten. No more. No less.

At the press conference, Mohammed unveiled a 13-member Ministerial Task Force to take charge of the DSO process which, for years, has proceeded in staccato fashion and left the country trailing many others, including in Africa.

Members of the task force, to be chaired by Mohammed, include Armstrong Idachaba, Joe Mutah of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture (Secretary), Dr Armstrong Idachaba, acting Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC); Olusegun Yakubu of Pinnacle Communications and Toyin Zubair, promoter of the defunct HiTV and now of In view.

At the press conference, Mohammed announced that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) has approved outstanding payments to key DSO stakeholders, a development he said will remove all the hindrances to the entire process in the past three years. The funding source for the DSO, broadcast industry experts reckon, is from the N34billion paid by MTN for broadcast frequency.

“With the payment approval by FEC, and with 31 states to cover, we have our work cut out for us. We have no more excuses for not rapidly rolling out the DSO across the country, hence my decision to set up a 13-member Ministerial Task Force, which I will personally chair, to take charge of the rollout,” the minister said excitedly.

He added that the government took a decision last year, on account of the financial difficulties induced by Covid-19, that the DSO process will be private sector-driven, effectively cancelling the plan to provide subsidies for Set-Top-Boxes (STBs) or signal carriage.

What followed, typical of pronouncements on the DSO, was a raft of big-sounding and dreamy projections. The DSO, said the minister, will deliver over one million jobs in the next three years, with 50,000 of such coming via local production of 24 million STBs and Smart TVs.

“Not even 20 Set-Top-Box manufacturers can comfortably produce the initial requirements to feed the market.  Furthermore, our position in West Africa, coupled with our size, makes us the definite source of these products for the   whole sub-region,” he said.

Television production, he said, will create 200,000 jobs, as digitization will lead to “180 state channels, 30 regional channels and at least 10 national channels”. Digitization, he added, will boost local content propagation and draw many more Nigerians into the business. This, he said will create 400,000 jobs in film production and nudge Nollywood towards subscription Video-On-Demand on STBs and online, thereby providing cheaper distribution means, helping producers to make more money.

The envisaged boom in production, added the minister, will create an additional 200,000 jobs via increase in foreign demand for fully indigenous content and fetch the country in excess of $100 million.

“I have no doubt in my mind that a successful DSO is not just a job spinner, creating over one million jobs in three years, but also a money spinner,” said the minister.

Anyone familiar with the country’s DSO journey will not just doubt the minister’s projections, but dismiss them as drunkenly optimistic, especially given how squalidly it has been managed.

Undoubtedly, poor funding has inhibited the process. But more than that, squalid leadership and ill-conceived strategy are greater inhibitors. For instance, despite the pilot project, with the last roll-out three years ago in Osogbo, Osun State, there is no sustainable Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) coverage even in Plateau, Enugu, Osun, Kwara, and Kaduna states as well as the Federal Capital Territory, which were pilot states. Free Tv signals limited to state capitals.

This implies inhabitants outside state capitals are excluded and shows that the broadcast signal carriers selected for the DSO have inadequate technical and financial capacity for effective DTT coverage, the first step in the DSO.

The minister’s near-orgasmic projections on STBs, which convert analogue signals to digital, ignore the fact that the country, for strange reasons, chose a process that builds conditional access (CA) on top of the STBs instead of a standard affordable STB process. This means that the STBs process adopted for Nigeria’s for DSO will be out of the financial reach of most Nigerians. The standard STBs for DSO are supposed to receive free-to-air signal and affordable.  Those with conditional access built onto them are similar to pay television STBs and are much pricier. Inview, the company providing the TV system/ conditional access, has already been paid N1billion for running the TV system only in Abuja and Jos.

The company and others involved in the process are understood to have filed invoices for additional sums.

The cancellation of subsidy for STBs, forced on the government by the inclement economic climate, is certain to ensure that the prices of the boxes will stretch users to breaking point. Prior to the devaluation of the naira, for instance, the recommended price STB ranged between N20,000 and N30,000. The boxes used in the roll-out at pilot locations were all imported, with the Federal Government giving the alleged STB manufacturers guarantees to fund the importation to the tune of N5billion.

The inordinately ambitious projection that Nigeria will, within three years, be heaving with locally manufactured STBs is something akin to a boxer’s boast-full of sound and fury.

According to experts, there are only three companies claiming to have STB assembly lines in the country and not a single one is manufacturing.

How the few companies, even operating at full capacity, can assemble 24 million STBs over five years has something that has eluded experts, who reckon that it will take a minimum of five years to meet the demand of 24million users- if all the companies function at full capacity. Importantly, not one of those claiming to have assembly/manufacturing capacities are in operation, meaning that they are engaged in no economic activities and employ nobody, thereby bilking the country through government contracts.

But they are not alone and are actually encouraged by the disposition of government officials, who view funding for the DSO process as “serve yourself,” the local parlance for buffet.

In a 21 March 2019 report published by The Guardian, experts interviewed identified corruption as the main obstacle to the country’s transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. A Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is on suspension from office and facing prosecution by the Independent and Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) over allegedly fraudulent release of N2.5billion to a private company. The matter, which is before the Federal High Court, Abuja, relates to the 2016 release of N10 billion to the Ministry of Information and Culture for the DSO.

The ICPC is accusing the suspended D-G of using his position to confer a corrupt advantage on his associates in two private companies.

The suspended D-G is alleged to have asked the Information Minister to approve payment of N2.5 billion to Pinnacle Communications Limited, a private signal distribution operator, as “seed grant” for the DSO for which it was ineligible. Mohammed, who was listed as a witness in the trial, claimed he approved the payment based on expert advice given by the suspended D-G.  The DSO guidelines, provided by a Federal Government Whitepaper, directed that the process be exclusively managed by companies affiliated to the Federal Government. Based on the guidelines, two companies were nominated for the purpose. One of these was ITS, an affiliate to the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), which has no infrastructure of its own and is relying on the one owned by another private operator. It got also go N1.7billion as seed grant.

The assumption that our wonky DSO system will boost local content production because it will serve as distribution platform is also one without basis, as International Telecommunications Union (ITU) DSO policy is simply transiting free-to-air analogue signals to digital signal. Thus, Nigeria’s system, with its in-built conditional access system, will rob Nigerians of the constitutionally-guaranteed right to receive information in view of the fact that most free-to-air broadcaster are government-owned. In effect, 90 million Nigerians already living in poverty will be required to buy STBs, movies online and unlimited internet service to access such.

The claim that Nollywood output will benefit from better distribution is also a ruse. Nigerians are already using smart devices through which they access Nigerian creative content online.

Many have also blamed ministerial interference for the corrugated DSO process, arguing that worldwide, the DSO process is driven by the regulator and the industry.

What I have observed since 2015 is a lot of ministerial interference which, in addition to other factors, will leave the country panting to achieve DTT coverage by the time the rest of the world would have moved on a more modern platform, the OTT

-Omuedi, a retired broadcast engineer, writes from Ughelli


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Nigeria’s Public Debt Now N121trn – DMO

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Debt Management Office (DMO) says Nigeria’s total public debt has reached N121.67 trillion within three months.

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The Cable reports that this figure represents an increase of N24.33 trillion or 24.99 percent from the N97.34 trillion as of December 2023.

Nigeria’s public debt profile consists of the federal and subnational governments’ domestic and external debt stocks — the 36 states and the federal capital territory (FCT).

According to the DMO, the increase was primarily due to new domestic borrowing by the federal government to partly fund the deficit in the 2024 budget as well as disbursements by multilateral and bilateral lenders.

“Total domestic debt was N65.65 trillion (USD46.29 billion) while total external debt was N56.02 trillion (USD42.12 billion). Excluding naira exchange rate movements in Q1 2024, only the domestic debt component of total public debt grew from N59.12 trillion on December 31, 2023, to N65.65 trillion on March 31, 2024.

“The increase was from new borrowing to part-finance the 2024 Budget deficit and securitization of a portion of the N7.3 trillion Ways and Means Advances at the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Whilst borrowing, as provided in the 2024 Appropriation Act, will continue, we expect improvements in the government’s revenue to enhance debt sustainability.”

On June 13, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Wale Edun, announced the approval of two major “financial support packages” by the World Bank — valued at $2.25 billion. In May, the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) said the federal government has secured a $500m World Bank loan to boost electricity distribution in the country.

Prior to this, the federal government had received $750 million from the World Bank for humanitarian and social reforms and $1.5 billion for its economic stabilisation plan.


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Icasa Orders Shutdown of StarSat, StarTimes SA Arm over License Controversy

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Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has declined to renew the license of On Digital Media, the operator behind StarSat, the South African branch of StarTimes Media.

Icasa Orders Shutdown of StarSat, StarTimes SA Arm over License Controversy

The decision, communicated in a letter to On Digital Media, mandates the company to cease operations by September 18, 2024, leaving the reasons for this decision and the steps required to secure a new license unclear.

Despite the shutdown order, Debbie Wu, CEO,  StarSat assured that the company will not be closing its operations anytime soon and is actively liaising with Icasa to find a resolution.

“We can assure you and the public that On Digital Media/StarSat will not be closing its operations anytime soon” Debbie Wu, CEO, On Digital Media.

“There’s been no notice to staff and StarTimes is still selling StarSat decoders to new customers,” an insider told TVwithThinus.

Reports that Icasa hadn’t renewed StarSat’s licence surfaced in early June 2024.

Icasa claimed it had sent a letter in mid-March to Wu and Ronald Reddy, general manager for legal, risk, and compliance, On Digital Media indicating it may issue a statement to inform subscribers, content providers, and financial stakeholders about the shutdown.

“Take note that Icasa may publish a notice on its website and/or in the Government Gazette advising affected subscribers, content providers and stakeholders about the winding up of ODM’s broadcasting services“, the regulator said.

Icasa clarified that it does not have the mandate to consider transfer or renewal applications for expired licenses and instructed On Digital Media to share its plan for notifying subscribers, content providers and stakeholders about the service cessation.

Wu stated that the company is exploring all regulatory and legal issues surrounding its licensing and reiterated that StarSat will continue its operations for the foreseeable future.

“Should such an event materialise, which we doubt will happen, we will respect our obligation in terms of the law to notify all interested parties,” Debbie Wu said, according to TVwithThinus.

 


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Climate Action Africa Reinforces Africa’s Urgency for Climate Change @CAAF24 Event in Lagos

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Climate Action Africa Forum 24 (CAAF24) held in Lagos, Nigeria marked a pivotal moment in the global effort to address climate change, organized by Climate Action Africa (CAA), a leading environmental advocate in Africa. CAAF24 aims to galvanize action and underscore the urgent need for climate action across industries and communities across Africa.

The event, held at the prestigious Landmark Center, brought together a diverse array of stakeholders including government officials, business leaders, academics, civil society representatives and the media.

The theme of this year’s forum, “Green Economies, Brighter Futures,” highlights the imperative for immediate and collective action in mitigating the effects of climate change in Africa and achieving global sustainability goals.

“CAAF24 serves as a critical platform for dialogue and collaboration,” said Grace Oluchi Mbah, Co-Founder and Executive Director of CAA.

“With the event, we aim to increase education and awareness on climate change, showcase innovations and projects driving Africa to a sustainable future, and more actively contribute to the expansion of Africa’s green economy.”

The program featured addresses from Her Excellency, Madame Ramatoulaye Diallo Ndiaye, Former Minister of Culture Mali and Founder and CEO of the Great Green Wall of Africa (GGWoA) Foundation who was the special keynote speaker.

There were breakout sessions for panel discussions and workshops that focused on key issues such as the potential of forests and carbon credits, climate financing, Nigeria’s carbon market activation, mobilizing private capital for climate-positive investments in Africa, building resilient and livable African Cities and more. Sessions were designed to encourage interactive participation and exchange of ideas among participants from diverse backgrounds and sectors.

In addition to formal sessions, CAAF24 included networking opportunities and showcased the selection of outstanding innovations from over 800 registerations through the Deal Room, a platform that connected high-impact climate innovators in Africa with potential investors seeking to accelerate sustainable solutions.

Other highlights at CAAF24 were the audacious launch of the Billion Trees for Africa Initiative as part of CAA’s community programs and the unveiling of the Pan-African Green Economy Program (PAGE), a partnership with IDEA AFRICA and the Founder Institute that seeks to grow a new generation of 5,000 green innovators across Africa by 2035.

The selection of Omoniyi Praise (1st position), Treasure Nwosu (2nd position) and Alabi Abimbola (3rd position) as winners for the Climate Champion Quest organised by STEAM Funfest also stood out at CAAF24.

As Africa faces increasingly severe climate impacts, CAAF24 is a platform that is committed to unifying the participation of diverse stakeholders in advancing and achieving climate action in Africa. By reinforcing the urgency of climate change through meaningful dialogue and collaboration, CAAF24 inspires concrete steps towards a more sustainable and equitable future for all.


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