Journalism in the service of society

Like the lizard, broadcasting lies prostrate



 I AM looking at two pictures of the Information and National Orientation Minister, Muhammad Idris. One is ebullient with smiles breaking all over his face as he assured the Independent Broadcasters Association of Nigeria (IBAN) members who visited him that the Tinubu administration would avail a single-digit loan to help stabilise and grow the broadcast industry.

In the other picture which was Monday this week, the minister cut a somber mood as he appealed to the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to please call off their strike and give life back to the nation which was so seriously abridged by a blistering national strike over minimum wage. The minister needs help to convey his message to the people to demonstrate that the government is not doodling over a serious matter that calls for an exigent response. Idris needs help urgently.

The first picture was from TV Continental. Great pictures. On Monday, I was flipping through stations to get updates on the strike, I must commend their efforts, and how well they did, to keep the nation informed about the strike which was comprehensive, proving with pictures that there was no violence anywhere. Now my generator is running out of diesel and, I too, need help urgently. Don’t mind me ooh, I only power the generator and charge my inverter – is that what they call it?

Dear friends, the nation is in stilts and it is our responsibility to make it walk the right way by our actions, demands, and responses. The times are too dire for frivolities and every one of us must shirk idle talks and rodomontade proclamations about achievements that are hardly visible on the dashboard. We need to confront the truth, no matter its bitterness, to place the nation on a concrete footing.

The minister was confronting the truth when he made that promise on behalf of the government. Coming from the media himself, from the print genre, Idris knows how badly things have turned. The economy has hit the media very badly, just like the rest of us all, sans the politicians, who still drive mint SUVs on behalf of the people to avoid bad roads.

I am sure as the moon and the stars that this strike would come and go with little results and that skirmishes would continue concerning the next line of action. But here is my concern this day;  the minister was right to have made that promise to the broadcasters and must pursue it to the very end despite intervening factors that may come his way. There will always be so many things in the government’s basket but it takes political dexterity and administrative wizardry to sort them one after the other without sleeping on anyone in particular.

You listen to the radio and your life is transported to the world of dreams with digital sound effusions. When you watch television, you want to behave like a movie star, speak grammar like Rueben Abati on Arise TV or make good documentaries like Adebayo Bodunrin for AIT, or develop the confidence of Nkoli and Adaora on Kakaaki or Chamberlain on Channels Television. Oh, the life of glamour can have a soft underbelly that is difficult to manage.

Only very few people will know what it takes for these on-air personalities to come on television and make us happy every day or to visualise our lives in dreams. I have stuck around broadcasting for a long time and all that comes to my mind always is the metaphor of all lizards lying prostrate, making it difficult to know which particular one has a stomach problem. Was that Prof Ola Rotimi speaking and great actor and dancer, Columbus Irosanga, delivering the line? Oh, Lord may this memory remain fertile and not fade!

Despite the glitz and glamour, despite its capacity to bring remote events to our living rooms, like the Oscars, Champions League finals and the seamy side, the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, and the burial of the Wigwes, broadcasting is in desperate need of help and the Minister of Information and National Orientation was right to make a promise.

In fairness, the challenges facing the broadcast industry didn’t start under the Tinubu administration. They have always been there but this government has taken some drastic economic decisions that have aggravated an already festering situation. In the early life of the administration, a broadcast executive complained that he was using over N38m to run his generators monthly, with the electricity bills close to that. This was long before the electricity tariff increase, which has taken things through the roof. I am not so gifted in mathematics to multiply that amount by 200 percent. In summary, let me say that energy is now the biggest headache facing the industry which may be the reason the minister advocated for the adoption of renewable energy.

The fickleness of the Naira before other international currencies like the Dollar is another challenge that has gotten more complicated. Broadcast equipment and service parts are not manufactured in the country, meaning that every imported item is denominated in Dollars. Like every other business, broadcasting has been hit very badly. Some broadcast operators will tell you now that they don’t even earn enough money to pay salaries, not to talk of ceding any money for equipment purchases.

Some international organisations bailing out of Nigeria say they have found it very difficult to continue doing business there. The economy is weak despite our claims. The cost of the Dollar has rubbished all expert projections. Quite several big corporates have left and others are warming up but where do the broadcasters and many others go? Those who know a thing about business have said that the over 26 percent interest lending rate is too steep for business operations. The minister is right in saying the administration will provide some cushion.

While the minister’s promise is appreciated and expected, I humbly suggest that the minister source money to complete the Digital Switchover (DSO) process which the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is pursuing on behalf of the government. Voices within the Commission told this writer that nothing is happening in that respect. That is not good enough. The DSO is an international decision of which Nigeria is a part. Besides, there are too many economic benefits to be harvested – the digital dividends, spectrums that will be released that will become handy for the government to sell at huge amounts, the creator economy that will be activated – big content-making opportunities for Nollywood, the music industry and other related industries. There is just too much that the DSO has tied down and I reiterate that the government works through the NBC to achieve desired results.

What more do I have to say? Life is about give and take. That is what Ola Rotimi said in Kurunmi, when he interpreted the cries of the frog buumi buoo, buumi buoo – you give me, I give you. I give you, you give me. I still see the glint in RMD’s eyes as he delivered those lines. Moments of exhilaration you want to say.

We need those moments now to help each other. It doesn’t matter if the minister is the one who starts it for the broadcast industry. In the long run, he and the government he represents will be major beneficiaries as they will get more opportunities and enhanced broadcast channels to reach the people. After all, good communication has been in short supply in this government.

*Aihe writes from Abuja


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