By Tunde Akanbi
When any Nigerian comes into the world of his own, it is usually a world-class phenomenon. This is primarily because of the way and manner he approaches, confronts issues and resolves such distinctively.
It therefore goes without saying that Nigeria, as a nation among its peers and in spite of glaring challenges, has continued to be ranked in terms of available human resources and effective application of skills in tackling problems as they arise.
In Nigeria today, one of the projects that deserved applause for the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is the Digital Switch over (DSO), a multi-billion Naira project principally conceived and designed to enable Nigerians connect the world effortlessly.
But reverse is now the case due to a group of people with selfish motive, moving clandestinely to crucify some professionals behind the historical success of the project.
The project has not only further made more Nigerians to be abreast or more enlightened about government projects but even boosted their security awareness.
How? Unlike in the past, when Nigerians particularly the less privileged had no option but to tune or subscribe to unaffordable multichannel television network providers, they can now tune to free television after purchasing an ubiquitous decoder for just a token and subscribe with only N1,500 per annum to watch over thirty channels including foreign programmes, dramas, latest news and sports.
One of the brains behind the seamless digital communication success story is Sir Lucky Omoluwa, the CEO of Pinnacle Communications. With the rare feat alone, Pinnacle Communications deserved a national award due to the professional expertise and doggedness the communication giant put into the project, thus making Nigeria to move a step further in digital communication.
It is recalled with nostalgia the official inauguration of the project from Jos to Abuja, Ilorin to Kaduna and other states of the federation, which was beamed live to the admiration of the concerned beneficiaries.
Even before the DSO projects were completed, tested and confirmed to be working perfectly well and before final payments were made, a rarity to indigenous contractors, Pinnacle communications must have delivered the job. The signals are clear with very rich contents.
One other major benefit of digital transition is that digital technology offers greatly increased spectrum efficiency on the terrestrial television platform. With this, viewers across the country have been able to access many more and new television channels.
As if that is not enough, new broadcasters have entered the market, thereby increasing competition and viewer’s choice. This has also enabled government to put in place the necessary regulations to ensure the availability of local content, media pluralism and viewer production.
Similarly, the DSO has offered fresh opportunities for change of broadcast technology and equipment away from the analogue equipment that has become obsolete and difficult to maintain.
Digital broadcasting has also provided choice of channels to consumers, high quality service, controlled pricing of pay channels and thus lowered billing to consumers. With the development, they now pay for what they wish to watch and also get internet video- on-demand and value added services through set-up-boxes.
The Ministrer of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; the Director General, National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Mallam Ishaq Moddibo Kawu, and other technical crew deserved commendation over the project because of their laudable roles at different stages of the project.
But to the utter dismay of many beneficiaries of the project, some individuals and a group of beneficiaries of the project have opted to call a dog a bad name so as to hang it. They have started blackmailing and condemning it for personal interest against the larger Nigerians and even that of the Federal Government.
Must all things in Nigeria be politicized? Is it a must that all good things must come to you, your family, your friends or your associates?
This is where the issue of the fifth columnists in government comes in. Their bad blood has again begun to rear its ugly head.
To refresh our memories, a fifth column is any group of people, who undermine a larger group from within, usually in favour of an enemy, group or nation. The activities of a fifth columnist can be overt or clandestine. And the present unfolding scenario in the NBC, an agency under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture is of great concern.
The recent investigation of N2.5billion alleged contract scam in the NBC by the ICPC is worrisome, more so that it involved some big shots in the communication industry in Nigeria.
One undisputable fact is that Pinnacle Communications Limited is the only private licensed signal distributor for the Federal Government approved implementation of the Transition from Analogue to Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting in Nigeria, in accordance with the 2012 Government White Paper Section 11.2 (a) which approved that “more than one signal distributor be licensed in addition to NTA, the public licensed signal distributor. Another signal distributor should be licensed immediately.”
• In the year 2014, Pinnacle Communications Limited emerged successful bidder out of 9 companies after a rigorous public tender and full compliance with due process. Pinnacle Communications was licensed following payment of the stipulated license fees to the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), NOT NIGERIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION as stated in the alleged press release of ICPC spokesperson.
• Since then, Pinnacle Communications Limited has been a major facilitator of the Digital Switch Over (DSO) implementation process in Nigeria, notably as the broadcast signal distributor for the National Launch of the DSO in Abuja in 2016 at its state-of-the-art Broadcast Centre on Mpape Hill, which was performed by Yemi Osinbajo, Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Company was also responsible for the Kaduna Digital Broadcast Signal Distribution Centre commissioned in 2017 by the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai.
• This factual background to the involvement of Pinnacle Communications Limited in the DSO project in Nigeria is contrary to the alleged statement attributed to the ICPC spokesperson that the company was “fraudulently recommended to the Minister of Information and Culture for the release of N2.5 billion against the guidelines contained in the White Paper” and further reference to Pinnacle Communications as “an unqualified company.” The 2014 licensing of Pinnacle Communications in the DSO predates the appointment of the current DG of NBC in 2016.
• The DSO is all about the transition from Analogue to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT). Broadcast Engineering is a field in which Pinnacle Communications Limited has earned recognition and patronage for more than two decades of expertise and dependability of world class service and installations across Nigeria.
• Neither the DSO nor Pinnacle Communications Limited has anything to do with “migration of telephone lines from analogue to digital platforms” as the ICPC spokesperson is alleged to have stated.
• Pinnacle Communications maintains that the facts and clarifications provided above sufficiently define the context and extent of its involvement in the implementation of the DSO programme in Nigeria and the nature of its working relationship with the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).
• While noting that the ICPC spokesperson allegedly stated that the Commission was investigating “misapplication of N2.5 billion seed grant released to the agency (NBC) by the federal government for its digital switch-over programme” we wish to clearly emphasize that Pinnacle Communications Limited has not and cannot, as a licensee of NBC, trespass into the statutory functions of the NBC and/or the Federal Ministry of Information on the implementation of the DSO programme.
• To this extent therefore, all transactions between NBC and Pinnacle Communications have always been transparent and within the official approved operational guidelines and regulations as processed and executed by the NBC and in compliance with the terms and conditions of the license for signal distribution that Pinnacle Communications duly obtained.
Having made all the necessary statements in response to the ICPC’s investigations and taking cognisance of the pendency of Suit No FHC/ABJ/CS/779/2018 that Pinnacle Communications instituted in July 2018 in the Federal High Court, Abuja on a related matter against ICPC and 2 others, (NOT RELATED TO STOPPING ANY INVESTIGATION BY ICPC) Pinnacle Communications considers it unprofessional, ill-advised, injudicious, prejudicial and unfair for the ICPC spokesperson to make as alleged random references to disjointed portions of comprehensive submissions to its investigators, clearly skewed to portray Pinnacle Communications Limited as complicit in the alleged or any “misapplication” of funds by the NBC, over which Pinnacle Communications has no responsibility or control. Pinnacle Communications challenges the ICPC spokesperson, if the alleged press release was indeed made by her, to publish the full statements made to the ICPC by Pinnacle officials.
• Moreover, if truly made, the ICPC statement went beyond mere announcement of on-going investigations into the realm of unsubstantiated incriminations in the fashion of trial-by-media that invariably paints a premature and amateur picture of guilt, prior to judicial determination.
• In the circumstance, Pinnacle Communications Limited shall refrain from further clarification of the muddled statement allegedly issued by the ICPC spokesperson in its firm belief that judicial process will provide the appropriate and fair opportunity to comprehensively and decisively prove its hard-earned reputation as a world class company that, unlike the ICPC spokesperson, upholds integrity, ethics and legality in all its transactions, in accordance with international best practices.
• Pinnacle Communications wishes to assure NBC, stakeholders in the DSO, its staff, international and local business associates and numerous clients that it remains committed to meeting all its obligations, notwithstanding the malicious statement by the ICPC spokesperson.
Furthermore, pinnacle communications limited described the N2.5billion in question from public coffers as a very modest request for it to continue its digital distribution of television signals to Nigeria homes.
In his own position before the ICPC, the DG of NBC, Mallam Modibo Kawu, argued that the said payment had already been approved by former president Goodluck Jonathan before he left office in May 29, 2015.
It was, however, reliably gathered that the said money in question was sourced from private investors and earmarked for the development of digital switch over.
Another fact about the project is that the money was deducted from about N10billion in the NBC bank account.
It would be recalled that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) seized N10billion early 2016 amidst allegations that Mallam Modibbo Kawu’s predecessor, Emeka Mba, has squandered it.
There was also another claim in some quarters that the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, whose ministry is in charge of the deal was instrumental to the release of the N2.5 billion broadcast signals provider.
One aspect that involved President Muhammadu Buhari in the project is that he asked the EFCC to release the N10billion to Modibbo Kawu and the NBC in a letter dated September 29, 2016 via his Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari.
In the letter, President Buhari specifically told Modibbo Kawu that the fund had been released strictly for digital switch over project and mandated him to provide update on its judicious use. With this development, the money in question was judiciously approved by the Presidency.
All said and done, it appears a hidden agenda is in the offing to cruxify some individuals by a group that belongs to the fifth columnists. This has therefore brought to the fore the common saying that “whenever you are digging the hole for your enemy, don’t let it be too deep, because you might end up falling into the deep ditch”.
That the allegation and campaign of calumny cloaked in whistle blower work is coming preparatory to the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari for second term in office and formation of new cabinet smacks of desperation of power mongers.
However, it is confounding that while geniuses in advanced climes are being celebrated for coming into the world of their own and etching their footprints in the sands of time, the attitude here is pull him down syndrome. And one is tempted to ask. For how long would this “bad belle” subsist? The time is ripe to appreciate those with “natural cherished possession” in our midst.
Tunde Akanbi , a Media Professional, Public Analyst writes from Ilorin and can be reached via email@example.com