The Go-getter At The NBC’s Helm Of Affairs, by Muktar Tahir
Nigeria’s broadcast industry has over the years been witnessing growth with more and more broadcast stations coming onboard especially with like-never-before digital sophistications, but the regulator – National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) – was only foot-dragging in terms of catching up with these technologies and regulatory jigsaw.
The appointment of Alhaji Balarabe Shehu Ilelah on June 11, 2021 as the substantive Director-General of the NBC, President Muhammadu Buhari has once again demonstrated a political will towards turning around the country’s broadcast industry.
Before now, the NBC was reduced to a toothless bulldog in terms of wielding the big stick on the erring broadcast stations. Worst of all, the erstwhile leadership of commission had got entangled in corruption allegations, at the detriment of the country and the broadcast industry which needed more attention and commitment towards the digitization agenda.
That needless court cases had only foot dragged the digital switch-over program to an unreasonable extent that saw Nigeria lagging behind in the comity of nations which is migrating to digital broadcasting ecosystem.
The good news, however, is that Ilelah is now in charge. He is a square peg in a square hole when it comes to broadcast industry. He has proven himself to be talented and mentor who devoted his time to mentoring people. He is a technocrat who knows his onions. Ilelah, an indigene of Bauchi State, is a veteran broadcaster who had worked with NTA Bauchi before leaving Nigeria for the then Soviet Union as a journalist. His last broadcasting job was in China where he spent decades doing what he knows how to do best. In fact, he became a rallying point whenever international broadcasting is mentioned in China. Aside from broadcasting, Alhaji Ilelah is a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In 2019, he ran for Bauchi South Senatorial seat under the APC platform but lost to PDP candidate. A go-getter and silent achiever, Ilelah has all it takes to overhaul the country’s broadcast ecosystem.
Within this shortest period of his appointment, Illelah hit the ground running by picking up the gauntlet of the Digital Switch-Over (DSO) program, after realizing that Nigeria is far, far behind schedule in terms of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) deadline for the switch-over of the entire broadcast ecosystem from analogue to digital system. This is currently the big project before Director-generla Ilelah.
It could be recalled that the federal Government had launched the pilot phase of the digital transmission project that kick started the digitisation process in Nigeria in Jos, Plateau state, where the pilot-city was switched onto the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) platform on April 30th, 2016.
Digital Broadcasting moved to Ilorin, Kwara state, on December 20, 2017. This was immediately followed by Kaduna, Kaduna State, in December 22, 2017,
In February 12, 2018, Enugu, was switched on, while Osun State, concluded the first phase of the digital switchover, when digital broadcasting signals on terrestrial television broadcasting platform, berthed in Osogbo on February 23, 2018. This ended the first phase of the project.
The switch on of Lagos signaled the beginning of the second phase roll-out of Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) Broadcasting in Nigeria. Taking up the gauntlet, DG Ilelah switched over Kano State, bringing the number states so far rolled on to eight.
Also in his bid to revolutionize the NBC, Alhaji Ilelah is working towards making the commission a self-funding agency because at the moment, the NBC it is drawing its salaries and other funding from the federal budget. His target is that from January 2022, the NBC will no longer rely on the federal budget before executive its projects. Little wonder that on his assumption, he, there and then, tipped the broadcast licensees to offset their financial obligations, especially, license fee and 2.5% commission on turnover (COT), warning that he would wield the big stick on the defaulters.
The director-general is also working towards unveiling an affordable license fee regime with a view to opening up doors for many industry players and in turn availing Nigerians the opportunity of DTT broadcasting.
Just couple of weeks, the Commission released the list of 159 companies, Institutions and communities granted provisional broadcast license by President Buhari to operate Radio and television in the country. With the Digital Switch Over, there will be over 200 channels and probably over a thousand organised production outfits looking to feed them with content. All these will require infrastructure investment, in production destinations, with studios, graphic and sound hubs etc. At the end of it all, we would have created millions of jobs.
Already the DSO is affecting the lives of Nigerians positively, poor and indigent Nigerians can now watch a multiplicity of 30 channels and with diverse content creation. The box manufacturing plants are already creating jobs and there is on-going acquisition of technology and technical skills. When the whole country is finally switched on, it is our hope that the NBC will become one of the revenue-generating agency of the government that can rival the lives of the NNPC, NCS and the FIRS in terms of revenue generation for the Federal Government.
Mr Tahir wrote from Abuja