Why community radio path should be trodden softly, by Taiwo Alimi
BEFORE the recently approved licences for the community radio system in Nigeria are activated and stations begin to spring up, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has been urged to ensure that goals and features peculiar to this third tier of broadcasting remain the operational guidelines for the prospective handlers.
Former Director-General, Voice of Nigeria and promoter of Ogijo near Sagamu-based Integrated Community Initiatives Centre (ICIC), one of the beneficiaries of the community radio licences, Aremo Taiwo Alimi handed down this admonition saying the long-years of agitation for the establishment of community radio stations across the country could be in jeopardy if the processes leading to the take-off were not well thought out with the NBC providing the direction and leadership.
The seasoned broadcaster who had also served as Chairman, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) asserted that “close to 90 per cent of those that are struggling to operate community radio stations do not understand the meaning, how and what it should entail.”
The NBC, Alimi said, “must assert its authority and draw up modalities based on the late Prof. Alfred Opubor’s national community radio report submitted to NBC in 2006 and then draw up all the necessary details. It is after this and probably create a community radio licence department within NBC, that they can then summon all those who will have interest to set up (not just community radio stations, but) indigenous community radio stations, otherwise you will be promoting commercial stations as community radio stations.”
The prospective stations, he insisted, must be indigenous community radio stations using the dialects of various communities as language of transmission.
He described the approval granted by the former President Goodluck Jonathan and announced by the Director-General of NBC, Mr. Emeka Mba on May 13, 2015 as “good news for Nigeria,” having remained, for many years, the only country in the entire Africa without community radio system. Alimi explained further, “And when, a few years ago, we met in Nairobi and we signed an African Union media charter that there must be three tiers type of broadcasting in Africa: public, commercial (private) and community radio broadcasting, all African countries have adopted that except Nigeria.
So, we must congratulate Nigerians that a Nigerian government has approved that we must have the third tier of radio broadcasting in the country.”
Commending the push the DG of NBC gave the campaign since May 2013 when Mba assumed the headship of the commission, Aremo Alimi captured how he began to advocate for community radio in Nigeria in 1992.
He reminisced: “What has happened was that having gone through as Commissioner for Information in Ogun State, 1986 to 1991, I now realised the need for the community radio and based on my attendance at the meeting of Heads of States of African Union and where we discussed it, I began to now advocate why we must have indigenous community radio system in Nigeria since 1992.” The prefix – indigenous – according to Alimi is imperative to reflect the understanding that “those who will constitute the team that will operate the station must be indigenes of that community.
For instance, in the case of Integrated Community Initiatives Centre (ICIC), the committee for Ogijo radio is peopled by the leader of the market women, head of all the carpenters, a lawyer, the head of Hausa/Fulani community in Sagamu LGA among others. These are the people that constitute the committee reflecting all segments in the Ogijo community. Not the people in the urban centres.
“So, NBC needs to reorganise the structure of setting up the stations before issuing out the approved licences. Thereafter, the beneficiaries must be invited to make presentation publicly to ascertain the level of preparedness in terms of structural facilities and programming. ICIC has done all these and relevant documents already sent to the Federal Government through the NBC.
For instance, there is going to be a weekly programme to be addressed by the Iyalode of the market talking to the market women and traders in the indigenous language. There is a lot of works to be done by the NBC.
It is important that you do not rush a thing like this. People must understand the goals and features of indigenous community radio system in Nigeria,” he said.
But how will Nigerians perceive a seasoned broadcaster who had operated at highest echelon of broadcasting as the Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON) and Chairman, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), now supervising community radio in Ogijo area of Ogun State?
Aremo Alimi’s response however revealed the aspiration to use the premises of the radio station to undertake training and retraining of broadcasters (established and green horns) in order to reclaim the glory of the industry. “This is the type of legacy a person like me given my years of experience in Nigeria, Africa” can bequeath to the profession,” said Alimi lamenting, “broadcasting has gone low in Nigeria. And we can’t continue like that. What it needs is training and retraining. Once we are able to do that, the community radio station that we intend to set up will be running automatically. I am not going to be involved. In any case, to run a community radio station, you do not need more than seven staff. And the rest will be volunteers. Ours is to use it to training. The community will determine the programmes that will go on the radio: farming, health, all types… in their indigenous language. Thereafter, you begin the test running to ensure that everything has been put in place…
“But the way NBC is going about these community radio licensees is not the best, before you know it some of these stations will go on air, and that will be a disaster,” he warned.
On when ICIC radio in Ogijo is going to commence operation given its high level of readiness, he said,
“We are yet to have the licence, we have to pay for the licence. There must be a procedure: you fill forms, submit documents and pay a minimal licence fee as a matter of emphasis. I will continue to say it must be minimal licence fee, for instance, N10,000. This is because it is not commercial or public station, therefore, it is not for money making by either the government or the regulator. Therefore, when we have the licence, we then start workshops, seminars for those that will be running the station for proper orientation. That is the way it must be done.”
Alimi singled out Egypt and Cameroun as two countries in Africa where community radio stations have continued to serve as tool of grassroots mobilisation, social integration and national development. He recalled with nostalgic feeling his visit to a community radio station in Cameroun where all members of staff are female. “The technician, driver, announcer, the anchor… are all female including the person who climbs the mast.”
He reiterated the belief that Nigeria’s first set of community radio licensees would draw lessons from the success story of operators of the third tier of broadcasting in neighbouring countries, Cameroun and Egypt especially.”So, it is left for Nigeria to plan well for the smooth take off of this tier of broadcasting. All other countries did not rush the commencement of operations of community radio. It must be well planned and tested before you allow any person to say it has started operation, otherwise, such person will be running commercial station.”
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