The Sun News

Hiccups in digital switchover project

By  Rakiya Longwai

FOR the Nigerian broadcast industry, it must have been a rude shock to encounter the damning report on the status of the equipment and facilities deployed by  the Federal Government-owned NTA off-shoot, Integrated Television Services (ITS), for the Digital Switch Over (DSO) pilot project in Jos and the Ilorin broadcast centre.

It is disheartening to say the least that after years of failed attempts to launch the nation’s digital broadcasting system and meet the international dateline for the switch-over from analogue broadcasts, our success in switching on is again doomed by a deliberate bungling of routine implementation processes.

In the first part of “Realities of the Digital Switch On (DSO)” focused on signal distributors widely published in the media by Mr Tony Dara, a renowned broadcast engineer, it was revealed that behind the façade of official bravado over the Jos pilot project lurked a scandalous scenario of obsolete equipment, old transmitters and buildings and failure to meet set targets.

The disturbing implication of these lapses is that the nation is heading for another display of the “bad image” to the rest of the world as well as short-lived success of government implementation of the DSO, not to mention the tirade of tantrums from millions of Nigerians soon to be shut-out from receiving digital broadcasts.

For general information, it should be understood that the idea of granting NTA automatic status as national digital signal distributor for the DSO was to enable the Federal Government to provide leadership and retain dominance for control in the national interest relying on NTA’s undisputed spread and experience in television broadcasting.

As long ago as 2012 when the White Paper on DSO was released and an implementation team tagged DigiTeam established with the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) as supervisory regulator, the ITS should have been up and doing to live up to expectation and justify the confidence reposed in the “expertise” of the “largest television network in Africa”. The series of forced postponements in launching the DSO was like injury time to perfect the take-off of the pilot project in 2015.

Alas, the situation today, going by the Dara Report, is that the combined collaboration of government agencies-DigiTeam, NBC, and NTA/ITS- has not achieved the anticipated grand success of national roll-out of digital broadcasting in Nigeria, a feat that several nations across the world have accomplished impressively.

What these agencies have delivered amounts to a false start of one bogus step forward and several bungled steps backward, mere motion without movement. It is another indictment of the role of government agencies in carrying out their statutory functions to the people of Nigeria in accordance with international best practices and good governance.

Specifically, one is at a loss to understand how and why NTA/ITS under the watch of NBC and by extension the Information Ministry could go ahead and install “transmitters that have been discontinued by the original equipment manufacturer,” as the Dara Report authoritatively asserted.

Or, why were old analogue antenna masts and towers of the NTA transmission system retained for “switch over” to digital broadcasting? So, even the Jos pilot project showcase of government in DSO put up by ITS supposedly to cover the whole of Plateau from three sites “remains an illusion”, since only Jos city location, not the entire Jos township, can receive digital signals? And we cannot even provide new buildings customized for the DSO equipment and facilities and we are “managing” old buildings “that are clearly neither fit for purpose nor appropriate for digital broadcasting workflow.”

We are clearly bedevilled by the notorious “Nigerian factor” again contrary to the best efforts of the reformist Buhari administration to change the disastrous course of the ship of state. At the root of all the identified flaws in the NTA/ITS components of the DSO NIGERIA project are the same old cankerworms of maladministration and hidden agenda among other entrenched malpractices that are against national and public interest.

Nigeria cannot afford to be the butt of jokes as the Dara Report predicted and therefore the National Assembly DSO Committee should seize advantage of the candid, authoritative and patriotic findings and do the needful to prevent the imminent crash-landing of the DSO “pilot” project by launching a thorough public inquiry to unravel the scandalous aspects of the NBC/NTA/ITS implementation of the DSO NIGERIA.

Anything short of prompt and transparent review of the situation described in the Dara Report will only confirm that the Nigerian Factor bedevilling the DSO and all the concerned federal authorities is not only an infectious pandemic but also potentially incurable, even to the national legislature.

In addition, it is advisable to consider the constitution of a body of patriotic and independent professionals in the broadcast industry to act as implementation vigilante for the DSO NIGERIA project since those who saw some things wrong with it refused to say anything!

Meanwhile, Mr Tony Dara should not be intimidated as we expect him to complete the revealing investigation by covering the entire spectrum of DSO NIGERIA implementation so far.

Longwai is a student-broadcaster in Jos

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