By Okoh Aihe
y phones were ringing nonstop last week, like a lone tap in a village square at a remote end where some politicians have demonstrated some high end benevolence to the people by way of assuaging their error of judgement in ever trusting a politician. The taps in the village square, where they still exist, run nonstop. Such fate befell my phones for no convenient reason.
Messages were also pouring in. Have you heard? Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture has appointed a lackey to chair the Board of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). Some were ready to talk about the relationship between the Minister and Alhaji Lateef Bolarinwa, the newly appointed Board chairman, whom he has used to disaggregate, albeit unsuccessfully, the concourse of politics in his native Kwara State.
Why would anybody ever serve me this kind of information at a time this nation should have declared emergency in nearly every area of life – security, economy, aviation, the power sector, petrol, diesel, cooking gas and please don’t add kerosene, because that is for the ordinary people who enjoy nobody’s love and care.
I can agree that I have kept track with the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) since it was created in 1992. I have also followed closely some of the Ministers of the Information and Culture Ministry which houses the parastatal – Prof. Sam Oyovbaire, Chief Dapo Sarumi, Prof Jerry Gana, Mr Chukwuemeka Chikelu, Dr Frank Nweke Jr, and Prof Dora Akunyili of blessed memory. Quite a number of them with their own style of politics, predilections and governance style that could at once be irritating but also very attractive and exciting. In all their weaknesses and strength they built a broadcast sector that is unfortunately panting for more help today.
Alhaji Mohammed has been the Minister of Information and Culture since the inception of this administration. Whether by a trait in persona or in the fault lines of this administration, he has managed to roil the skin-deep peace of so many people to the extent that even his good deeds become poison in appreciation.
On this matter of the appointment of the Board Chairman, I do not blame him. You may say that the Board positions have been vacant for over a year, why is he just acting now? My little answer: this government has never been known to act with speed otherwise, the nation wouldn’t be in such a dire and decrepit state.
I want to observe here that the fault is in the law setting of the NBC, National Broadcasting Act CAP N11, which concentrates lots of powers in the hands of a serving and supervising minister and also creates instability for the board. It will take a minister of high sense of calling and discipline not to take advantage of the provisions of the Act. Quite a number of politicians in our national space have never been known to enjoy such attributes.
Under the Composition of the Commission, the Act states as follows:
“The chairman and other members of the Commission shall be persons of proven integrity, experience and specialised knowledge in the broadcasting industry or who by reason of their professional or business attainment are on the recommendation of the Minister and with the approval of the President capable of making useful contribution to the work of the Commission.”
And also, “the Chairman and other members of the Commission shall be citizens of Nigeria who shall be appointed by the President on the recommendations of the Minister.”
For a long time the board appointment has really not taken cognisance of the finer details of the Act; for the appointees to have track record in business, broadcasting, law, engineering and other professions. Especially under this minister, the last board headed by former Minister of State for Communications, Alhaji Ikra Aliyu Bilbis enjoyed no peace or prestige. It was a cocktail of misunderstandings between the board and the minister until their tenure expired and were sent away with scant respect.
It is a matter of morality who the minister decides to appoint but such action must leave a space for the judgement of history that may confine present messianic heroes to the realm of opprobrium. It is also in the interest of such appointee to find a good space in such history for his sake and the health of the society.
While I am really not too bothered about the residual past of Alhaji Bolarinwa I will want to bring the following points to his urgent attention. They are as follows:
- The NBC used to be a flagship parastatal with the workers always walking with a swagger while wearing a smile. But in the past seven years the NBC has suffered a deficit and decline. It will be the responsibility of the new board, working with the Director General, Mr Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, to reinvent the system and bring smiles back to the faces of loyal workers who have almost become a shadow of themselves. The healing process must star immediately. The workers need to find their happiness again and be given the opportunity to do their job professionally.
- The new board must bring life back to the flagship project of this administration, the Digital Switchover (DSO), which has nearly hit rock bottom in spite of efforts to resuscitate it. The process missed the first switchover date from analogue to digital transmission in 2015 and another in 2020. I am sure as the coming of tomorrow that this administration will not complete the process but let there be some milestone achievements. The new board must lead the drive.
- The present Broadcasting Act creates instability in the broadcast sector in that it gives only three years to board members as tenure. The Act says “the Chairman and other members of the Commission shall hold office for three years renewable for one further period of three years only.” This is rather steep. I had pointed this out when I spoke to a sub committee during the review of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code. For instance, the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 prescribes four years for the board while also creating two Executive Commissioners that can bring legacy experience into the industry. The new board should encourage a review of the Act.
- There are insinuations that the new Code suffers serious conflict of interests because of certain personalities who tried to smuggle some harmful clauses into it. As I write, those clauses remain and industry operators are afraid that at some point some individuals could be in a position to corner the broadcast industry or ruin it entirely. The new board should do necessary due diligence and act on such claims.
Broadcasting, just like other genres of media practice, is very sensitive and should be handled with some tact and brilliance. My little counsel, though unsolicited, is for the new board chairman to hang his political paraphernalia in his state and get down to work so that the industry can begin to breathe some fresh air. Two opportunities are open to him: to take actions that will undermine the broadcast industry or do a damn good job and write his name in the record books. I suggest the latter.