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Digital Switch Over and the Challenges Ahead

* Set Top Box manufacturers plead for release of fund

By Stanley Nkwazema

Indeed, it has not been an easy journey for Nigeria leading to the Digital Switch on for terrestrial television which started in 2008 when Nigeria signed the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) protocol, literally meaning that we are bound to transit from Analogue broadcasting to digital, in line with the current global trend.

Interestingly, before the Jos and Abuja switch on which happened on the 22nd December 2016, several efforts were made to realise the migration without success. Nigeria had to move the date from 2015 to June 2017, but with the trend and lack of commitment on the part of National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), it will be a miracle if the date is realised.

The federal government in addition to Signal Distribution also identified Set Top Boxes (STB) as some of the most critical components of the transition even as 30 million STBs were estimated to be needed for the Nigerian market.

In its bid to encourage indigenous companies create jobs, the NBC licensed 13 indigenous firms to locally manufacture STB in the country after each paid N50 million totaling N650 million. In the government white paper, 10 million of the boxes were to be subsidized for identified household. As at today, only 1.2 million are already subsidized under the first phase which leaves a huge gap of 8.8 million and 28.8 million STBS for the success of DSO.

The Jos launch took place in April 2016 while the Vice President Yemi Osibanjo anchored the Abuja launch in December.

 It would be recalled that though the Abuja launch was a huge success despite initial hiccups associated with such projects due largely to the limited coverage area by the Signal Distributor Pinnacle and the lack of public education on the activation of the box. It was confirmed that the numbers on the boxes were clearly ignored and households are now finding it difficult getting to the signal distributor.

Again, it is worthy to note that while the activation and lack of signal are being bandied as an untenable excuse, the STBs have come out to explain that their job is to produce and hand over to the NBCs while CCNL and FreeTv handle the activation.

It is indeed very clear that the federal government through the Abuja launch had shown commitment through the support and attention by the Minister of Information and Culture to the digitization, with a firm resolve and determination to meet the June 2017 deadline.

The hard work of the Set Top Box manufacturers and all stakeholders on the whole project may be an exercise in futility if the companies continue working on credit. The NBC has failed to release the N10 billion STB Guarantee Fund hitherto held by the EFCC. The EFCC released the fund after it was convinced that it was clearly meant to fast track the payment of the subsidy to the manufacturers working without any money being paid so far.

Before the Jos launch last April and owing to the urgency and need to meet the launch date, the NBC had authorised manufacturers to import STBs for that purpose. Again, to encourage the STB manufacturers overcome the common fears of lack of patronage, a situation that hampered previous attempts, the NBC decided to provide trade comfort to the manufacturers by way of Bank Guarantees to enable them manufacture and import. Interestingly, 850,000 have so far been produced and 450,000 delivered to Jos and Abuja while 400,000 are warehoused by the manufacturers for delivery.

Ironically, it is no longer news that while the NBC is sitting on over $150 million realised from the sale of the spectrum in 2015 and also the N10 billion released by the EFCC for the bank guarantee, no STB manufacturer has received any payments for the production and delivery nor has the NBC honoured its bank guarantee to the manufacturers despite the fact that the federal government has released the funds against the guarantee issued to manufacturers by the banks.  

The DSO is a laudable project to enable Nigeria be at par with other members of the ITU, however, the dateline may be a mirage if the NBC fails to fulfil its payment obligations for the STBs ordered while the NBC and the Digiteam should adopt a national roll-out timetable for proper planning process.

The proper roll out timetable will no doubt enable state governments and stakeholders, including signal distributors broadcast stations, content aggregators and the STBs to key in and plan accordingly.

The NBC needs to mandate the setting up of at least 2 in-country Digital TV testing centres which will be approved by Standards Organisation of Nigeria.

The local government areas that had earlier indicated interest should also key in for the remaining 8.8 million STBs proposed for subsidy since the boxes will be an added IGR for the states.

More worrisome is the fact that the NBC is yet to set a cut-off date for the subsidy so that any subsequent purchase will be based on market price even as the manufacturers would want necessary waivers on imported components and also granted special foreign exchange window for the components.

While showing its willingness to make the transition seamless, the STB manufacturers requires several components and parts that are made by different vendors and OEMs. Some of the parts, especially the Chipset which is the core of the STB, need a lead timeline of between 12 to 16 weeks from the order to delivery. The Manufacturer would need to still integrate and test before shipping out

One thing that is lacking is an aggressive enlightenment by the NBC. At the initial stage, government stands to create over 6500 jobs through the manufacturers while Nigeria will also be the first country in West and Central Africa to create Surface Mount Technology (SMT) and Chipset industry. There will also be benefit in terms of technology transfer for chipset, design and PCB implementations which opens up ancillary manufacturing opportunities for other electronic devices and possible creation of AAA batteries manufacturing opportunities due to the massive quantities of batteries needed by the STB remote control. On funding for the projects, the federal government had last year approved the sale of spectrum to kick-start the process which was about 25 per cent of the sales. Therefore, it may not be out of place if government raises more funds from the sale of the remaining or part of the 75 per cent of the spectrum. Pursuing the option of local and the state governments financing the purchase of the STBs should also be pursued with more interest. If the federal government delays further, the 2017 switch off date will certainly be impossible. Plans by neighbouring countries to roll out will further put Nigeria in a very tight corner.

Individuals as Visionary Leaders and Agents of Positive Change

Gladly, we have come to the end of another year.  A time for stocktaking, and especially to say, Thank You to our Creator for the opportunity of seeing the end of another year. Many of us have good reasons to cheer about, others barely survived the vagaries of a tortuous year, yet others are thankful, but very eager to see the end of a difficult/horrible year.  In all circumstances, we all have cause to thank God, for it could have been worse.

Among countries touched by the evil hands of terrorism/conflict/violence in the outgoing year, were Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, South Sudan, Mali, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Somalia, France, Germany, and Turkey to name but a few. But the same year also produced a new Secretary General for the United Nations, the African Union failed to elect its new chair, while elections in the United States, Ghana and The Gambia produced surprising results. The jury is still out on the election result in The Gambia, but the growing trend of opposition parties wresting power from powerful incumbent governments across the globe should be a welcome development for believers in democracy, with all the flaws of that system.

Similarly, there is Brexit and its unravelling aftermaths. Also, that the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize went to Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos who may not be surprised, given his tireless efforts to bring the more than 50-year-long civil war in that country to an end. But for art enthusiasts, at least, the Nobel Literature Prize going to American musician Paul Dylan is certainly a redefinition of the boundaries of literature.  Add that to the unpredictable consequences of migration, global economic hardships, political unpredictability and humanitarian crises, events of 2016 will surely reverberate into the coming 2017 and beyond. These have left the world at a cross-road or on a difficult patch and in dire need of visionary leadership which can only be provided by visionary agents of positive change across the continents. By leaders here, we mean, everyone, the people, the citizens. We are all leaders in our own rights.

 It is no longer sufficient to sit and complain, or to point accusing fingers at others. We must all from our small corners, rise up to our responsibilities. If we want a positive change, we must act and work for it to happen.

In this regard, I want us to borrow a leaf from Rwanda’s experience through the perspectives of my new friend, Juvenal Turatsinze. Juvenal, a Rwandan himself, titles one of his books, “The Formula for Accelerated Change,” which draws inspiration from the works of the great Bahamian award-winning author, evangelist and public speaker, Myles Monroe, who died in a plane crash with his wife in September 2014. In a nutshell, Juvenal’s formula for accelerated (positive) change (C=VxP²xAxP), is about “Visionary People Together in Action to achieve (positive) Change over Time”.

Rwanda has used, and is still using this formula, not only to exit poverty to prosperity, But also to transform from a near failed State that experienced one of the world’s greatest tragedies (the 1994 ethnic genocide that killed more than 800,000 people) to become one of the emerging countries with the highest economic growth rates and best socio-economic indicators in the world today.

That rapid or dramatic national change is a product of a combination of four key ingredients (Vision, People, Action and Time), all working together for positive results. If Rwanda can do it, so can any other nation, which is ready to translate hope to reality. Curiously and more importantly, the same formula can also work for an individual, family, group, community or a corporate entity.

We all desire positive changes in our lives and in this Special Season, I wish to remind us that it is the accumulation of positive changes we make in our lives as individuals that will add up to the positive changes in our homes, society/community, corporate world, nation and the world at large.  We must all play our parts as individuals in order to enjoy the spin off from our collective efforts.

Let us bring Vision to our individual leadership role, working together to take Action/s over Time as Change Agents, to achieve the Positive Changes we all desire and deserve.

Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year (2017) to you all in advance!

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