On behalf of the Board of Management (BOM) and members of staff of the NBC; as well as all the stakeholder groups working to deliver Nigeria’s Digital Switch Over (DSO); I will like to welcome you all to this press conference. It is always good to be back in Lagos, the media capital of our dear country, and the city that has been at the heart of arguably, the most vibrant media tradition in Africa, since the late 19th Century. In 1980, I was reading news on the National Network News Service of Radio Nigeria, from this city. I also studied here in the Department of Mass Communications at the University of Lagos. And when I worked as pioneer General Manager of the KWTV, I read news on the network of the AIT. My most recent engagement with the media in this truly wonderful city, was as a columnist with VANGUARD newspaper. It was from that sojourn, that I was appointed Director General of the NBC, by President Muhammadu Buhari, on May 25th, 2016. That was just a little over a year ago. Time flies!
My dear colleagues! You would notice that I have with me at this press conference a significant cast of individuals. Apart from those from the NBC, I am with significant representatives of the main stakeholders helping to drive Nigeria’s Digital Switch Over (DSO). These include DIGITEAM; Signal Distributors; Set-Top-Box manufacturers; Middle Ware supplier; and content aggregator. The effort to deliver the DSO in Nigeria, is the work of these as well as significant players in government and the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As a matter of fact, we flew into Lagos just yesterday evening from Uyo, Akwa Ibom state, where we held a three-day retreat with representatives of the National Assembly, on the DSO process. Those engagements with our stakeholders are very critical to the delivery of the process, as mandated by the Nigerian people.
When I was appointed DG of the NBC a little over a year ago, I found that the DSO process was one of the most important tasks that the NBC was carrying out. It was however dogged by a host of controversies. First, the Second National Signal Distributor, Pinnacle Communications Limited had been in dispute with the NBC. They were in court, because of a host of grievances arising from the way that the contract with them had been handled by the NBC. Pinnacle Communications Limited had been the single biggest contributor to the DSO process, so it became imperative that we did everything to get them out of court, to return them to the DSO process. After several meetings, we reached an agreement, and Pinnacle Communications accepted to drop their litigation against the NBC. They returned to the process; were appointed as signal distributors for the Abuja DSO. The company mobilized very significant financial and other logistical resources, which helped us to achieve a successful launch in the FCT. Even the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who represented President Buhari, to launch the Abuja Switch Over, was very impressed with the facilities that Pinnacle Communications Limited installed; and they were done, without receiving any financial assistance whatsoever, from government.
Similarly, our Set-Top-Box manufacturers had committed resources to the importation of 850, 000 STBs from China, but because the EFCC had seized funds from the NBC, under the ancien regime at the NBC, we could not meet our commitment, which totaled the sum of $26million. Thankfully, President Muhammadu Buhari, who had always been convinced of the importance of Nigeria’s DSO process, finally approved release of the seized sum of N10Billion to the NBC. That took place in September 2016. In the meantime, we had made the decision, even in the midst of all these issues, to carry out the DSO in Abuja. We successfully carried that out, offering in the process, thirty local, regional and national channels to viewers in Abuja. That was an upgrade to the 15 channels we offered in Jos, plateau state, when the NBC launched the pilot phase of the DSO, in April 2016. So in 2016 alone, we achieved much more than had been done in the lead to the deadlines of 2012 and 2015!
It is also significant to let you know that we appointed a company known as The Outsource Company (TOC), as the call center managers for the switchover, starting from Abuja. They commenced with appointing thirty call agents, but that was soon increased to 90, who work three shifts every day, in order to meet the demands of viewers who either want to activate their boxes or make complaints or inquiries. Let me share with you some of the interesting statistics arising from the DSO experience. So far, a total of 745, 480 STBs have been imported into the country; 566, 478 have been delivered, while 485, 409 have been sold and 332, 095 were activated in Jos and Abuja. Our call center has been very busy! As at June 11th, 2017, TOC has received 796, 026 calls from customers, while they received 21, 369 complaints about one or the other problem. The DSO process is also a learning experience for all of us driving it, and we have continued to enrich our experiences in a manner that can only redound to the benefit of the process as we move forwards.
NEXT PHASE OF THE DIGITAL SWITCH OVER (DSO) IN NIGERIA
Following the successful launch of the Abuja switch over last December, we announced a plan to launch in one state from each of the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. Consequently, the following states were chosen for the next phase of the project: Kaduna in the Northwest; Gombe in the Northeast; Kwara in the North Central; Osun in the Southwest; Delta in the South-South and Enugu in the Southeast. I am happy to inform you that at our last stakeholders’ meeting last week, the decision was taken to launch in Ilorin Kwara state by the end of June; Kaduna by the beginning of July, these follow the completion of the installation of the transmission facilities in these locations; and subsequently, we would launch Osogbo in Osun; Enugu in Enugu state; and then Delta as well as Gombe state. These decisions were taken when issues around the financial commitments of the NBC to its various stakeholders had not been clearly settled. But we proceeded with the faith that the DSO was just too vital to our national progress and should not face any more delays.
Our stakeholders were naturally apprehensive about their payments; those who had huge banking commitments like our Set Top Box manufacturers; the satellite company evacuating our programs; the signal distributors; call center operators and the content aggregators. Yet, each of these continued to believe in the process sufficiently to remain committed to the delivery of the DSO. After a very careful process of audit of claims, I am happy to inform you that we have met our financial commitment to these stakeholders, thus strengthening the resolve to take the DSO further.
Nigeria’s DSO process has today become the most talked about in Africa; it was designed by Nigerians; and is being implemented by Nigerians. This is not the case in quite a number of settings in Africa; and the consequence is that we are constantly receiving inquiries and visits from other African countries, to understudy the work we have done. This week in Uyo, we received a delegation from the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority, on this subject; we had very fruitful discussions on the Nigerian DSO; offered them the Nigerian roadmap and we have decided to intensify assistance in their process. On Monday this week, the Minister of Communications of Niger, also led a delegation to Abuja for the same purpose; while early this month, in China, we held preliminary discussions with the Zambian broadcasting regulatory body on their proposed plan to come and study the Nigerian DSO process. And the government of Sierra Leone has begun discussions with some of the Nigerian companies engaged in the Nigerian DSO process, to partner with them to kick-start the Sierra Leonean DSO process. In truth, Nigeria is the leader now on the African continent, in the process of transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. We must be proud of the work we have done as a country!
At practically every opportunity that I have been interviewed by our colleagues, the most constant question was always whether we would achieve the complete switchover to digital television by June 17th, 2017. Many have misconstrued the process, assuming that on that date, almost like a magic wand, Nigerians would wake up to find that we have switched off analogue and switched on digital television, all over our country. A colleague in one of the newspapers, last week went to town, with screaming headlines, that ‘Nigeria has missed the digital switchover deadline again’! But as I have always informed our colleagues and Nigerians, June 17th, 2017, is a BENCHMARK DATE for the digital switchover in our country. Our mission remains constant: to switch off analogue completely when we achieve up to 95 percent access to Free Digital Television content across our country. All Nigerians are entitled to access to information, irrespective of class, creed or location; and the new technology of digital broadcasting is already enhancing access in a most revolutionary manner. That would soon become a nationwide experience for all Nigerians. We remain optimistic, that by the end of the year, at least half of the country would have access to Free Digital Television content. Our timeline plan is to execute a phased implementation of 6 states, at a period. So as we conclude the six states currently in progress, we would choose another set of six states, reflecting the geo-political zones, for the next phase, until the entire country is completely covered. In respect of a specific switchover date, I believe that the countries of the ECOWAS sub-region would re-assess the issue, given that all member countries have not met the June switchover deadline. But again, it must be emphasized that the delicate nature of the DSO process, has always obliged countries to carefully manage the process to avoid problems. Most countries of the world have had to adjust their switch off dates. Let me re-emphasize that one of the fears about delayed DSO transition, is the problem of trans-border signal interference from analogue transmitters. The good news is that our neighboring countries have not achieved anything close to what Nigeria has been able to do so far. As a matter of fact, none of the countries in the ECOWAS sub-region has a DSO process that matches what we have achieved in Nigeria.
The DSO process is a huge financial, technical and logistical challenge. Switching on a huge country like Nigeria, requires tremendous financial commitment. We would like to thank President Muhammadu Buhari, who stated last December, through Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, that Nigeria is irrevocably committed to the DSO. We have continued to receive the support of the Federal Government and we would like to place on record too, the tremendous support of the Senate and the House of Representatives. To accelerate the progress of work, we are engaging with the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, so that the states can partner with us, especially in the procurement of Set-Top-Boxes as well as critical assistance for the installation of transmission systems by our signal distributors. Let me assure you all, and all Nigerians, that the NBC and the stakeholders of the DSO process are committed to achieving the completion of the process. We would intensify publicity so that Nigerians can better appreciate the significance of the process and how far we have come, and what more mileage needs to be covered. The DSO process is changing the face of television in Nigeria. We want to thank all Nigerians for their continued support in our march to digitize broadcasting in Nigeria.
Thank you very much for your attention!