For digitisation, no more importation of Set-Top Boxes, says Information Minister
•Plateau govt to subsidise STBs
Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has reiterated strong belief in Nigeria meeting the new deadline of June 17, 2017 for transition from analogue to digital terrestrial television broadcasting. In a recent chat with The Guardian, the Minister disclosed that the government had resolved that Set Top Boxes (STBs), the major tool that will facilitate the transition and enable viewers to receive digital signals on their monitors would now be manufactured locally.
“Barring any unforeseen circumstances, we will not allow anybody to import STBs. What we used to drive the pilot scheme in Jos would be the last set that would be imported. After that, they are going to start manufacturing locally. Many of them are already meeting with their AOM in China and other places to set up manufacturing lines. And there are even many who had not been licensed by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), who are already manufacturing, so, what needs to be done is to look at their boxes whether they meet our requirements and they would be licensed. We are quite confident that in two months time, many of them will resume full manufacturing.”
On why Digitisation has never been captured in the budget since 2007 when the process began in spite of its status as national project, he clarified, “I was reviewing the matter and apparently, the ministries of Information and Communication in the last administration actually agreed that the digitization process, was not the kind of thing you put in the budget, it is not a yearly thing, so, what was decided was, okay, we were going to sell some spectrums and the proceeds of the sale would be used for digitization project.”
What is driving the digitization now, as it is being alleged that the PAC document from where the White Paper emerged has been jettisoned? “The White Paper on Digitisation still remains the major document driving the process and you can’t go out of it, otherwise, you would be acting without any mandate. To a large extent, it is still the same White Paper that is the guiding document for digitization.”
Before the appointment of the new heads for the six information agencies under the Ministry on May 25, there was the allegation that Alhaji Mohammed was micro-managing these agencies with little or no space for those presiding over the affairs of the parastatals in acting capacity to operate.
He debunked the allegation thus: “When the old executives were disengaged and the new acting executives were put in place, I was given a mandate to ensure accountability and transparency in all the six parastatals and since they were acting CEOs, they did not have the authority of approval that the substantive CEOs had, therefore, whatever needed to be approved by the acting CEOs, should have to be brought before the minister. And of course, it is not just your routine thing, I held the assignment seriously and that was why there was this hue and cry about micromanaging. I have satisfied my conscience and I have served my nation.”
On how the present government can enhance the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, the minister said when people want any information; they should approach the Hon. Minister of Information or any of the spokespersons of the President.
“But since I became the Minister six months ago, I have not got one request from anybody saying that, ‘in furtherance of the FOIA, I am making request to get so and so information.’ Not one! I can’t remember that anybody has sent to us that he/she wants to know what is happening, for instance, in the Ministry of Finance. I have not seen any request. And I have never turned down any journalist from our doors. So, if anybody wants any information let him/her come to us. We will assist him. In any event, the entire information order has changed completely and these days we wake up to see restricted documents on the Internet. But let’s do things properly, I am sure if you look at the Information Act, it also prescribes the process for asking for information.”
Meanwhile, the Plateau State Government is to subsidize the cost of Set-Top Boxes for its citizens as the Digital Switch Over (DSO) in broadcasting spreads from the state capital, Jos, to the entire state.
Governor Simon Lalong announced the subsidy plan in Jos last week while responding to a request by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who paid him a courtesy visit along with members of the Inter-Ministerial Task Force on DSO.
He said the state is prepared to take full advantage of the DSO for the benefit of the citizenry. “On our part, we are taking this seriously and we have advised the Commissioner for Information to also start processing for the advantage of the citizenry here on the Plateau because even if they cannot afford (to acquire the boxes), we are preparing to subsidize
for them,’’ the governor said. He described the pilot launch of the DSO in Jos as a welcome development, coming at a time when peace has been restored in the state.
Earlier, the Minister thanked the state government for its support for the DSO programme and expressed satisfaction with the progress so far recorded since the launch of the pilot phase on April 30, 2016.
Mohammed said stakeholders would continue to improve on the distribution and activation of the Set-Top Boxes, while also working to correct any lapses that may occur.
He urged the state government to take full advantage of the DSO by assisting the citizens to acquire the boxes, without which they cannot enjoy the benefits of the DSO.
Also, as part of the pilot phase, the Federal Government has provided 200,000 Set-Top Boxes free of charge for the residents of Jos.