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Lawyer urges reps to revisit 2017 DSO probe report

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Lai Mohammed
Lai Mohammed and NBC reform committee Chairman

A United Kingdom-based Nigerian lawyer, Timothy Agbo, has called on the House of Representatives to revisit suspected discrepancies in the implementation of Nigeria’s digital switchover (DSO) programme.

Agbo, who once worked in the Nigerian broadcast industry, stated that without appropriate scrutiny of the programme’s implementation, the country will be wasting time and resources on the DSO. The lawyer recalled that in 2017, the House Ad Hoc Committee on DSO investigated the programme’s implementation and found numerous procurement infractions among other discrepancies.

“I recall that the report of the committee, headed by Hon. Sunday Katung, was adopted by the House, which observed procurement discrepancies, underhand dealings in equipment supply and injudicious use of funds provided for the programme among others. Despite the observations, nothing was done. For the country to reap adequate dividends on her investments in the programme, there is a need for the House to take a look at the current status of funds, income and expenditure as utilized and generated by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the Ministry of Information and other government agencies involved the digital switchover programme,” said Agbo.

The House, he said, observed that the NBC awarded contracts for middleware payment and encryption of the national Set-Top-Box (STB) system among other related services eight months before it was registered. This, he said, was in breach of the Procurement Act and other extant legislations.

“Section 5.3 of the House report showed that the company, Inview Technology, registered in the United Kingdom, was contracted to provide the middleware payment and encryption for the national STB system and other complimentary services. This arrangement was not envisaged in the Federal Government DSO Whitepaper, as there are many indigenous firms with the same expertise. The committee also discovered that the company was not incorporated before the contract award, contrary to Procurement Act,” said Agbo.

A perusal of the section referenced saw the committee state thus: “NBC contracted Inview Technology Nigeria Ltd on March 18, 2015 to provide the middleware, payment, and encryption for the national common STB software and integrated digital TV broadcast control and other complementary services. The company, previously known as Inview Technology Limited and registered on Dec 2, 2014, was changed to Inview Technology Nigeria Limited with the special resolution by the company on September 21, 2015. It registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) on December 8, 2015. Thus, the company was registered eight (8) months after the contract was awarded to it contrary to provisions of the Procurement Act.”

The lawyer also noted that the House questioned the integrity of the facilities of the two licensed signal distributors, which have been unable to provide the expected 80 per cent network coverage. He recalled that a House member, Ehiozuwa Agbonayinma, had demanded a probe of the link between ITS, Pinnacle and the Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, for possible conferment of undue advantage.

“The inability of the licensed distributors to provide the envisaged network coverage up to now shows that they are not capable of the role assigned to them,” he said, in reference to the observation of the committee.

The committee, in its report, said that one of the two signal distributors, Integrated Television Services (ITS), which transmits from Jos, Plateau State, did not have signal distribution license but was allowed to operate and had not paid any license fees to NBC despite being funded by the government. It also described the service of the other, Pinnacle Communications Limited, which transmits from Abuja, as sub-par, saying the equipment deployed were outmoded and had the challenge of non-coverage of the entire Federal Capital Territory as envisaged.