The Director General of Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), Yakubu Ibn-Mohammed, was appointed last year May.
He joined the services of the NTA Jos in 1977 as Current Affairs Producer. He later held various senior management positions, among which were Controller News and Current Affairs, NTA, Jos; General Manager, NTA Bauchi; Director of News, NTA headquarters; and Executive Director Special Services, NTA headquarters, before his retirement in 2012.
The graduate of Social Sciences from Ahmadu Bello University and former Special Adviser to Governor Muhammad Abdullahi Abubakar of Bauchi State on Media and Communications, in this interview with our reporter, spoke about the 40 years of broadcast outfit, why the veterans of yesteryears are back on your screens, why the NTA has no apologies for being called the mouthpiece of government and the reason media must be responsible ahead of the 2019 elections and much more.
Some of us actually believe NTA is older than 40. Why the ongoing celebration and what’s the story behind it?
The story behind it is the same story behind every landmark that you mark. The decree which later became an Act setting up NTA was promulgated in 1977, which is when NTA came into being. Before then we had television stations spread across length and breadth of this country. Some of them state owned, like NTA Jos use to be called Benue/Plateau State TV and so on and so forth. In 1976, a decision was taken by government to bring them all under one umbrella and that is the present Nigeria Television Authority. The decree was promulgated and it took effect from 1977. So, 1977 to 2017 made it 40 years of the coming into being of NTA and we thought 40 years is no joke in the life of an organisation, we decided to make a little noise about it, let the people know that NTA is 40.
So we decided to mark the 40 years anniversary differently. We decided to depart from the normal mode of celebration, instead of starting off by holding dinner party where people meet and give each other a pat on the back, since it about television, let the celebrations start on our screens, let the people know that NTA has attained 40 in 2017 by what they see on our screens.
We decided that what made NTA tick in this 40 years included our On-Air-Personalities, newscasters, and presenters. So we decided to call those of them that our still within reach to come and relive memories of those days that made NTA great with a view to motivating those in the system, to aim to be like them. That is essentially why we decided to invite newscasters of yester-years to come and grace our screens.
Aside bringing back the veterans to read the flagship news, what other things are in store to celebrate NTA at 40?
Apart from bringing in veteran newscasters and veterans presenters, we have also dug into our archives to bring out some vintage NTA programmes that made NTA tick in the late 70s and early 90s. Programmes like Village Headmaster, Behind the Clouds, Cock Crow at Dawn, Ichoku, Samanja and so on and so forth. It was a deliberate thing to make people conscious of the 40 years of NTA’s existence first and foremost on their television screens. And I think we have achieved that with the veterans casting the news, presenting Programmes, the transmission of old vintage Programmes, people are aware that NTA is 40.
By April we are going to put a stop to it. We started last year and we are going to terminate sometimes in April. There will be a public lecture with a topic which is a topical Nigerian issue, followed by an award night where we will say thank you to our veterans, colleagues both those serving and those that have retired.
Can you share your most memory moments with us in the course of your career?
I have many memorable moments but three stand out. My interviews with Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Ibrahim Waziri and Mallam Aminu Kano-The 5 presidential candidates in the 1979 elections. Then coverage of the 1986 World cup in Mexico. Also my stay in Benin as NTA Zonal Director where I met your MD Mr. Eric Osagie when he was special adviser to then Governor Oshiomole.
What lessons have you learnt about life?
Life has taught me that every obstacle is a challenge meant to be conquered. It has also taught me to get up whenever I’m down….never to stay down.
Who influenced you more growing up, your dad or mum?
I will say my mum because I spent more time with her because dad was always away fending for us. From him I learnt the meaning of being responsible.
Is NTA in anyway threatened by private television stations that seem to have made greater impact in their few years of existence?
Not at all. Competition is beautiful, competition is positive, so NTA is not at all worried by the advent of public television stations. As a matter of fact we look at them as our babies, because if you go to AIT, Channels, TVC, you must find an element of NTA presence. For example, John Momoh of Channels is a product of NTA, so we are not at all worried by the emergence of private television in this country, as a matter of fact it is a welcome development, and it helps to keep us on our toes. So, we welcome it and the relationship between NTA and these private outfits is quite cordial, the market is big enough, the World is a global village and the days of monopoly in whatever sense not only in the media but in every aspect of human development, the days of monopoly are over. We do not deceive ourselves, we are no way under any illusion as to our position, but the most important thing is that when it comes to television in Nigeria, NTA is first amongst equals.
Talking of healthy competition, the NTA is seen as government’s mouthpiece, not having a free hand to run and has been accused of deliberately shutting out news to protect government. What do you have to say to that?
There is a difference between being a government mouthpiece and being controlled editorially and policy wise by the government. We have no apologies to anybody, we are government owned. If NTA does not propagate government policies, is it AIT, Channels TV that is going to do it? It is the responsibility of NTA to propagate government policies and like I said we have no apologies about that. But whatever you do, there are people who are bound to look at it from their very narrow prism. Of course it is said, he who pays the piper dictates the tune but I will like to assure you that NTA is not told to take this story or reject that story. Whatever we do at NTA, the first consideration is national interest.
You are in the media; there are stories that are better left untold because before you take a story you have to consider the repercussions. What will be the impact of this story on Nigeria’s security interest, what will be the impact of this story on Nigeria’s national interest? So we take all those things into account while going about our business and sometimes people mistake it for undue influence of government. No. Sometimes you cannot rule out the issue of self censorship but I can assure you that NTA is not under any pressure from any quarters to sweep any story under the carpet. But we are guided at all times by the primary national interest of Nigeria.
How do you unwind?
I do that by spending time with my wife and if alone I like reading or watching football and documentaries.
NTA is known as the largest network but some of your out stations are no longer functioning because of lack of equipment etc. what are you doing to revive them?
Well, NTA at the moment has about 108 stations, these numbers comprises the community stations which you find in every state, and then we have the state capital stations, some of the Capital stations are zonal centers. And then of course we have Abuja and the network center in Lagos.
It is not easy to maintain 108 stations, some of them are not commercially viable but because ours is public service we have to keep them going especially in an environment where the knowledge of the place of television in advertising is not high. It is tough but since my arrival as Director General, we have made conscious effort to ensure that all the state capital stations are on air. We are now trying to stabilize them, consolidate and then we will go after the community stations. Every state in Nigeria has at least three TV stations, the state capital stations and at least two community stations. You will agree with me that these community stations cannot be economically viable, so we have to support them from the headquarters and you know how the squeeze is financially on every institution in this country.
We have been getting the support of the federal government. For example, all our state capital stations have been supplied with digital equipment to make them ready for the digital era. So it’s tough but we aware of the challenges and we are making conscious efforts to overcome these challenges with the support of the federal government and of course the National Assembly. Last year, we bought digital equipment for all the zonal centers and this year we are extending that same gesture to all state capital stations. As soon as that is consummated, we will go around to the community stations. It is not easy but it is do able and we are being supported by the federal government and the National Assembly in our quest to make sure that our reach is not adversely affected by obsolete equipment.