At the floor of the National Assembly, stood the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, he was defending the $500 million loan request for the digitization of Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). In his defense, the Minister said that the $500 million (N180bn) is needed to digitally transform NTA to be at par with the likes of CNN. The $500 million is part of the $29.96 billion loan request made by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Lai Mohammed told the Senate that the loan, if approved, will be used to upgrade Nigeria’s national Television to attain certain satellite signals that will improve its broadcast capabilities to fit the digital age. He said there is a lot in the Nigerian creative industry to show the world, but due to analog broadcasting system, the creative industry is hidden from those who need to see it.
The Minister added that the creative industry employs no fewer than one million young persons directly and indirectly.
“If this this project is approved, there will be more visibility for our people in the music, fashion and film industry.
“In 2014, we made $23 million from music alone and about $53 million in 2019 and we are looking forward to making $83 million in 2025. You can imagine the kind of growth we will have if only we digitize all the NTA stations in the country,” he said.
The Minister added that the aim of the digitization is to provide jobs and generate revenue for the government. He noted that the creative industry contributes 1.492 to Nigeria’s GDP.
“Apart from agriculture, which is the largest employer of labor in Nigeria, especially the youths, the next largest employer of labor is the creative industry.
“The International telecommunication Union (ITU) in 2006 gave June 17, 2015 as deadline for all members of the organization to migrate from analogue to digital. Regrettably, we were unable to meet the deadline alongside most countries in sub-Sahara Africa, the deadline was moved to 2017, which was not reliable and today the target is June 2020,” he added.
He said Nigeria cannot afford to lose out on this last chance to go digital as it would impact negatively on the country’s ability to educate and entertain its people. Moreover, it will make it difficult for Nigeria to harness talents in the creative industry in a way that will result in employment. The Minister said if the loan is approved, $245 million will go into the establishment of media and culture industry center, while digitization of NTA stations and construction of integrated television services will cost $11 million.
While it’s true that the digitization of the NTA has lingered for so long, the question that has bothered many Nigerians lies on the $500 million loan request.
In 2011, the ministry of information announced the constitution of NTA and Nigerian Broadcasting Commission into a committee to work out the cost of digitizing the 109 NTA stations network. The stations were assigned each to a senatorial district. The cost of its implementation was estimated at $100 million (N15 billion). But that wasn’t all the cost. There was $7 million cost of platform provision per location for the 109 stations that would be handled by NTA and StarTimes network.
The committee recommended that the cost be spread over 5 years period, between 2011/2015 at N3 billion per annum as Federal Government counterpart funding schedule. None of it happened.
In 2015, NTA said it required $15 million to complete its digitization programme and N6 billion for total restructuring across Nigeria. Then, there was a mid-year deadline to be met and funding was a challenge. The Nigerian national television had secured a partnership with StarTimes, a Chinese telecommunication company operating in Nigeria and offered to provide the techniques for the digital migration. As it has been in previous cases, the fund was not provided.
Nigeria was lagging behind; the International Telecommunication Union’s deadline for 2015 was evidently not going to be met. Nigeria and many other African countries fell to it. However, the digitization of NTA remains a challenge the Nigerian Government needs to take on, but her unwillingness to provide the needed fund for the project was the bigger challenge.
It’s 2020, and the clamor for digitization is once again in the air. But this time, Nigerians are not buying it. The objection of Nigerians appears to stem from utmost priorities. At a time when the country is swimming in debt, and infrastructural deficit is high on basic human needs, the quest for NTA digitization is seen as a white elephant task. Moreover, people believe there is no moral justification of borrowing $500 million to embark on digital transformation of TV stations that will not put food on the table of the common man.
A Twitter user, Morris Monye tweeted: “Lai Mohammed should fear God. Haba! $500 million (N180bn) can build 10 world-class cancer hospitals. It can create at least 25, 000 SMEs that will improve the lives of at least 5m families. Why does he need a loan of $500 million (N180 bn) to digitize NTA. What concerns you and I with NTA”?
How the cost of digitization has quadrupled in five years is another cause for concern to many. At a time when there is a hollow trust between the people and the government, every intention of the government becomes questionable.