For DSO, a little consideration for the ordinary Nigerian

Okoh Aihe

The monetization and other advantages of the Digital Switchover (DSO) remain the most compelling narrative of this convoluting story. The entertainment sector will open up with foaming opportunities.

The league of talents available in the sector will suddenly sponge up the opportunities – whether in the movies, music, comedy, live theatre shows, technical and every aspect of the entertainment sector, will suddenly become some kind of attractive pie that every entertainer with a little gift, will scramble to have a piece of.

And all of us writers will have more stories to write, build up a dome of adjectives to decorate an industry that continues to search for its best days.

This is the one story the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, loves to tell. I cede that to him with all respect.

And when he tells the story, he waxes lyrical like Unoka in Things Fall Apart, seducing listeners with his flute, and perhaps those hearing the good news from the Minister will jostle for positions of advantage to reap from an opportunity unfolding piecemeal. The nation is bleeding for good stories. Every little strand is important to drop in the mix.

In spite of some spice of nihilism in a seemingly obliterating situation, I love good news and try to go overboard in search of some crumbs to sweeten our situation.

This is why I am contributing this material with the prayers that it be considered dispassionately even by those who grumble that the Simply Tech Column haunts them unjustifiably.

And there is no need to feel that way. The DSO process is a very big thing, bigger than personal convenience and predilections, and Nigeria, with the exaggerated claim of being the biggest economy in Africa, is far behind in execution. This is very painful and only a few people will understand why.

While we talk of the business benefits of the DSO, some people fail to actually reason that one of the most important components of the DSO is the social inclusion in the value chain which unfolds into benefits for the ordinary TV viewer.

This is why the NTA, for me, presented a rare piece of good news last week, when it reported the meeting between the lower house of the National Assembly – House of Representatives and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to discuss ways of ensuring that the DSO process runs smoothly and also provide benefits for the ordinary Nigerian.

It was a smart and needed move by the House and efforts should be channeled into such meetings to prevent the process from atrophying.

Hon. Odebunmi Segun, Chairman, House Committee on Information and National Orientation, in the report monitored by this writer, was very concerned about government expenditure in the DSO and how such expenditures were being managed to profit the ordinary Nigerian out there.

Government, he informed, has subsidized 908, 000 Set Top Boxes to be given out free. How far have we gone about it and how many have been activated? he asked.

For a simple recall, DSO means Digital Switchover from analogue broadcasting to digital broadcasting. Although some countries have since concluded the process, Nigeria is only now struggling along.

A cardinal feature of the process is that when concluded some television sets will be unable to access TV programming, thus making the Set Top Box, which will help convert these signals, mandatorily indispensable.

In the United States, Government gave out two coupons of $40 each to each TV home. The South African government is giving out free Set Top Boxes through the SABC. “Important notice.

If you see this message,” the station says, “go to your nearest Post Office to register for a free government subsidized decoder… continue receiving a television broadcast.”

It thus become very expedient to give considerate concern to the position of the ordinary Nigerian in the DSO value chain.

This is the fellow who earns the minimum wage of N30, 000, the fellow for whom there is little respite because even that amount, now less than $65, is not being paid by the state governor who justifies this aggravating wrench with dwindling revenue from Abuja.

A Set Top Box which some nations, including South Africa, are giving out free, costs N10, 000 at the moment. A state government which acquires 10, 000 Set Top Boxes will have to shell out N1bn.

This is a lot of money especially in the face of the economic tailspin facing the nation, and this Math staggered me last week into thinking that the DSO was heading for the rocks if some ingenuity was not introduced into the process.

The ordinary folk cannot afford it and the government may not want to be involved, pleading a worsening economic reality.

But here is my appeal. An attractive spinoff of the DSO is the Digital Dividends which will cede the broadcast frequencies given up by broadcasters to the telecommunications industry.

When former DG of the NBC, Mr Emeka Mba, tested the waters, one of such frequencies was ingeniously sold to MTN for about N34bn. There are two left, this writer was reliably informed.

Even when I am the first to admit that the worsening security situation in the country will likely attenuate the value of the remaining two, there may still be the compelling need to put them up for sale.

While such monies would necessarily go to the Federation Account, it is my appeal that a significant percentage be given to the NBC as seed fund to acquire Set Top Boxes for some TV homes across the country.

While one was pained by the insipid participation of the Lagos State Government in the DSO launch in Lagos recently, my prayer is that as the exercise berths in Kano, the State Government and the Local Councils should be fully mobilized to be part of the process, and explore the possibility of funding some Boxes for those who can’t afford them economically.

In addition, businesses, as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR), should fund some Boxes while wealthy individuals should give some kind consideration to the ordinary Nigerians by funding their little window to the world.

This is what I think. The DSO process is far from being foolproof. There are too many contradictions and checkpoints that can abort the process any time, too much of dredges that won’t be healthy to wash up. But the process should be niftily managed for the sake of the people.

Some of us will also need to manage our badly concealed interests, expectations and plain but irritating meddlesomeness. The ordinary Nigerian needs a little space. You can’t take food from his table and also take his television. That will be wicked.

Okoh Aihe writes from Abuja

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