On September 5, 2014, the Emeka Mba-headed National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), issued a Broadcasting Signal Distribution License to the Nigerian company, Pinnacle Communications Limited. This followed the completion of the process for the preparation of the Nigerian broadcasting digitization process, which commenced with the Expression of Interest (Prequalification to Bid for Broadcasting Signal Distribution License), published in the web portal of NBC in March 2014.
The NBC’s action had been the outcome of the decision by the Nigerian Government to award three of such licenses as follows: one reserved for an entity carved out of the NTA (to protect the Nigerian public interest); a second license that was to be awarded through an open and competitive bid, in order to stimulate competition and a third one that was expected to be warehoused for the future, based on developments in the broadcasting market.
NBC organized a transparent bidding process which was praised within the broadcasting industry and beyond, for its fairness. And not only that; it was well known that President Goodluck Jonathan had insisted that given the historic significance of the digital transition, Nigeria’s process should be seen by the whole world to be without any corner cutting and favouritism nor should it be shrouded in any form of controversy. And while it lasted, the NBC seemed to have done everything by the book. Companies were prequalified, bids were evaluated and those who didn’t meet the standards set fell by the wayside.
In the end, on national television, Pinnacle Communications Limited was announced as having fairly and transparently won the bid. It was on that basis that the company was issued a license after paying the over N600million that was the requisite sum for the license. It seemed that the Nigerian digital process was truly enroute. Pursuit to its newly acquired position as the winner of this Second National Broadcast Distribution License, Pinnacle Communications put together a team of broadcast industry leaders from the USA, France, China and Nigeria to begin to lay the building block of a process that was to be kick-started by December 2014.
But as the saying goes, the devil is always in the detail. Because on September 7th, 2014, NBC issued another license to start the same process to another company called MTS Communications Limited which had been one of the original bidding entities which fell by the way, unable to meet the set standard. What was the surprise here was that MTS was issued a license from the back door and was asked to pay only N200million not the N600million that Pinnacle Communications Limited had paid to become the SECOND National License holder, according to the open bid conducted by the official body for the bidding process, DIGITEAM, headed by one of Nigeria’s leading broadcasting engineers, Engineer Amana! When this controversy emerged, the Emeka Mba-led NBC started to defend its apparent subversion of its own process by pleading that it was bowing to “orders from above”! It sounded strange, given that practically everybody associated with the digitization process was aware that President Goodluck Jonathan insisted upon a fair, open and honest process; so the plea of “orders from above”, was clearly dubious and untenable!
But it went even worse, when it also emerged later, that GOTV which is part of the South African-owned MULTICHOICE, was similarly issued the same type of license and the absurdity of the new award is underscored by the fact thatGOTV/MULTICHOICE did not participate in the original bidding for the license, yet they got a similar licensetowhat Pinnacle Communications Limitedwon fairly and for which it paid a total sum of over N600 million.
It is equally worrisome that Emeka Mba, the NBC DG, USED TO BE an employee of MULTICHOICE! The coincidence is troubling! But in all these developments, it appears that the Emeka Mba-led NBC has dug potholes on the road leading to Nigeria’s broadcasting digitization. The stakeholders have been set into confusion and the trust that should envelope what was expected to become a major national process is giving way to recrimination and suspicion.
In the meantime, a Nigerian company appears to have been done in, because it entered the process with a belief that it was a licensed SECOND National Broadcasting Signal Distributor. It has invested heavily and has even brought in national and international partners into a process which has become shrouded in controversy.
It is the genuineness of license that normally drives the enthusiasm of investors and given the other licenses issued from the backdoor by the Emeka Mba-led NBC, it seems our hopes for a hitch-free broadcasting digitization process has been set to naught. But Nigeria cannot afford the subversion of a transparent process. What is in the government plan is to license a SECOND National License operator (for an initial period of 15years!) and that second licensee is Pinnacle Communications Limited. Any licensing done under cloak-and-dagger or by subterfuge and deceit must NEVER stand! President Goodluck Jonathan SHOULD set the records straight to restore the legitimacy of Nigeria’s broadcasting digitization process. No “Orders from Above” can stand!