This is Monday morning. At about the time of writing this material, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, is organizing a broadcast industry stakeholders meeting in Lagos to discuss the readiness of the Lagos zone to welcome the launch of the Digital Switchover (DSO). There is a reason Lagos has been picked to feature in the next phase of the programme and I think that has to be duly recognized. Commerce.
While this meeting provides an easy pick for a weekly tech column, I will want to observe that there are residual issues that deserve some attention in order to properly situate some unfolding events. But first, a little complaint. Monday is becoming a challenging day for me, because on that day every week, I have to search for words to sweeten the situation in the country, just to make some people feel good and reduce someone’s blood pressure.
I search for bold euphemisms to normalize a degenerate situation so as to make panic a stranger in a festering environment damaged willfully by incompetence or, at times, greed in high places. How do I ever tell a Minister that while enthusiasm is important, the DSO is going to be more challenging than we can imagine. While enthusiasm is bounteous, we need more of truth, much more of reality checks, and less emphasis on politics. While the advantages of DSO are seemingly overwhelming, there is a crying need of capacity in the sector that has to handle the logistics nightmare of making at least 40million set top boxes available to Nigerians.
How do I tell a troubled subscriber that telecom services are not going to be better soon because the unfolding situation in our nation gives no room for any operator with the ambition of rolling out good services to actually go beyond his capacity? It is easy to look an operator in the eye and declare you haven’t done well in Nigeria in terms of service rollout obligations and quality of service. But I have had some of them speak to me. They say they want to do good business in Nigeria, invest more to deliver healthy industry services, and make more money but they are not prepared to let any of their workers or contractors go on harm’s way as it is becoming increasingly difficult and dangerous doing business in Nigeria. Oh, you don’t believe? Tell me now with all sincerity, who owns the bushes and the highways or, please, permit me to resort to this euphemism, the ungoverned spaces? If the answer is blowing in the wind, it only explains while even good businesses are limping in Nigeria.
I am going to return to my subject of today, not the Minister’s meeting in Lagos because I know in his heart of hearts, he can, in lonely moments or flash of sobriety, confess exhaustion under the strength of the unfortunate rain that pours on us. Featuring on an NTA Good Morning Nigeria programme recently the Minister said the Federal Government will impose a fine of N100, 000 on any Nigerian brand that creates an advert outside of the shores of Nigeria and run same on CNN or any international stations broadcasting in Nigeria. He equally informed that any local brands which run adverts during foreign matches must put same adverts on Nigerian Premier Football League.
One can hardly disguise the hue of patriotism here except that it can be punishing if the variables are not properly weighed. Before commenting on this issue much further, I wish to notify the Honorable Minister that the 58th edition of MIPTV will be holding from April 12 – 16, 2021. Usually MIPTV, organized by REED MIDEM annually, holds in Cannes, South of France, but this year will be virtual because of the pandemic, the COVID-19 that has refused to go away. I want to implore the Minster to spare some little time from his very crowded schedule to attend. A lot happens at MIPTV concerning international programming, sales and advertising. It is in our national interest for him to attend as the country plans to deepen the operations of the broadcast sector and align it with international best practices. Nothing is new under the sun; there is so much to learn from those who blazed a trail in the industry; that is, if we are able to swallow our little pride and learn from the masters. One little addition, with the plethora of creative works coming out of Nigeria – in fact, Nollywood and the Music industry – Nigeria can actually take a pavilion in Cannes to drive the international community to our content.
The Minister is also relying on contents of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code to address certain knotty issues like advert production and placement, investment, anti-competition and a host of other seeming ills, saying very, outlandishly, that although NBC has issued about 30 pay TV licenses, only one is functioning because of anti-competitive tendencies of Multichoice.
The Minister is very wrong. Cable TV business is very expensive and challenging to run; more so in a country that swallows up investment like boiled eggs, where the banking sector is very fickle but extensively greedy. Multichoice is not the one driving out Shoprite from Nigeria. Multichoice is not the one driving foreign direct investment (FDI) to Ghana, the West African country we always compare with Lagos State; it is our laws, very bad laws, and the land is choking. Multichoice did not kill the dream of Tinapa in Cross River State. That was bad planning plus ignorance.
I have been looking at the Code again. There are things therein that read like satanic verses which, when manipulated for selfish intents, can blow up the industry like a landmine and shatter it into very tiny bits. They are not good and we cannot rely on them to build the industry of our dream.
There couldn’t be a better response than what came from the Head of Advertising Sectoral Groups (HASG) to the effect that “We put adverts where Nigerians’ eyeballs are.” Some of the best channels on DSTV are programmed locally but the contents have gone international because of the quality of production and packaging. If advertisers rush to them there is little anybody can do about it. I would rather encourage the Minster to be asking questions about what happened to NTA after Village Headmaster, Cockcrow at Dawn, Masquerade, Hotel de Jordan, Morning Ride, and a host of others.
And then this. I once watched a film on the fall of Benin Empire by a diaspora Nigerian moviemaker. The film wasn’t even shot in Nigeria but in Europe. You could swear you saw the old Bini in that movie. She had her reasons for not coming to Nigeria and those reasons have grown even more complex today.
While patriotism puts words in our mouth, we need to clean up our failures and begin to look for very appealing channels to tell a new Nigerian story that will be defined by those who genuinely mean well for this nation, not those who seek office for the love of self or the filthy lucre that drips from political heights.
Aihe writes from Lagos.