By Okoh Aihe
The Digital Switchover (DSO) went to Kano State early in the month with some reloaded swagger and a little twist in the tale which at once looked very positive and promising. The November 2, 2021, Kano launch survived an interim executive before being executed in style by a broadcast boss who is trying to execute his game plan in a distinguished manner. It is to his credit that he has faithfully subscribed to the ageless maxim that “government is a continuum.”
The DSO which is one of the cardinal projects of this administration is a legacy project that couldn’t be executed in the lifespan of one government. So having inherited it from the Jonathan government, the Buhari government made it a major project and promised to execute it with prompt and panache. The administration was probably attracted by the capacity of the transition technology to affect the entire human ecosystem; yes, anybody would be enchanted by its capacity to stimulate job opportunities, unleash growth in the creative sector, and present new TV viewing opportunities to a segment of the society that was condemned to antiquated TV programming in the worst experience of analogue presentation. The economy would be a major beneficiary in a sustained period of blighted recession.
The DSO wears too many colours which, from whatever angle, is tantalizing. The content makers love the creative opportunities and economic empowerment. TV viewers see it as an alternative reality that could seduce their minds away from bad governance and deposit them at the tipping point of nirvana. Ah! The government loves the political appeal, of a promise fulfilled; at least what the others couldn’t do, they have achieved with flowing majesty.
However, the journey lost swiftness, got mired in superfluous controversies and, in fact, really just suffered from suffocating disputations, intrinsically, from very irritating bureaucracy that has attracted some troubling and interesting attention from relevant quarters. At a point the DSO story was a nightmare thus making final execution a remote possibility.
I had earlier written to commend the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for approving some money, N9.4bn on February 10, 2021, for payment of legacy debts owed some organisations involved in the DSO value chain. Unfortunately the money did not come with any magic wand!
But this is no time to cry over a world that is gone, but a time to look at a future of promise and possibility, which is the reason Kano has crept into the centre of discourse. On this page we lay no claim to the things that happened there but it will be remiss not to recall how severally we had called for the various stakeholders and governments at all levels to buy into the transition process so as to serve the DSO hot to the people as a prime dividend of democracy.
In Kano the narrative changed. The NBC achieved that amorphous target we had set for it and, in fact, surpassed all expectations. The launch took place inside the State House Auditorium. The governor and the Emir of Kano, among the Kano State crème de la crème, were in attendance.
You can glean this excitement from the presentation of Malam Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). “Permit me to put on record the overwhelming support we have received from the Executive Governor of Kano State, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduge. His Excellency’s commitment to the success of this rollout, remains most admirable and contagious. He did not only grant us audience at a very short notice, but he has gone ahead to own the process and so, for the past couple of weeks, Kano state has been preparing for this new change that is to come. The state house auditorium was expressly approved to host the phenomenal event and all the Local Government Areas were sensitized in preparation for this. A couple of months ago, about a hundred information officers were also trained, and equipped with basic information to assist in handling Frequently Asked Questions. If we have the buy-in of the Governors of other States like we have had in Kano, then, the DSO project will be completed in record time,” he said.
Kano State also presents some interesting stats. According to an NBC baseline study in 2017, the State had about 12,882,030 projected Population, 2,147,005 Households and 1.6 Million projected Number of Television Viewing homes. The figure would have gone up obviously thus pitching the State capital as the biggest economic hub outside of Lagos.
Let’s try to untangle the activities that took place in Kano prelaunch. Trainings were done. Information officers or some kind of ambassadors were recruited to run with DSO message, and about one hundred installers were trained, thus actually demonstrating the job creating potentials of the DSO. But that is only at the superficial level!
For me, something bigger happened, and that is the clincher. In a most welcome development, the NBC boss sensitised the gathering to an address that would be delivered by the DigiTeam leader, Engr. Eddy Amana who he described as well-resourced and the custodian of the historic landmarks of Digitisation. I will want to observe that what impaired the progress in the DSO transition for a long time was the attitude of some people in this government to institute a supposedly elite team that had little knowledge of DSO but were actually more interested in spending the budget. Some kind of shadow cabinet in the warped sense of it.
But let me confess to the truth. I am not so excited to believe that the demons embedded in the DSO transition process have been laid to rest immediately. Instead they will grow more crafty and sophisticated waiting to make their next move.
This is why I want to make this suggestion; that the Kano template which took a long time to format should be fine-tuned in preparation for use in the remaining States. Unfortunately the journey is only starting, leaving the NBC with loads of work to do if the country is ever to achieve the DSO target and join the rest of the world in modern broadcasting.
The job ahead is huge and the threat of failure should not be underestimated. The NBC needs help and so is the new head that is trying to cut his teeth. This is no time for political party definitions and predilections. Those who love this nation, including tech experts, should sink their differences and bury their little hatchets to help resolve the DSO puzzle. Time is of the essence and the NBC will literally need some hydrogen boosters to deliver on the DSO process.