A time to restructure NTA, FRCN, and VON

Martins Oloja<br />

As the President’s men and the ruling party’s operatives are still celebrating their last week’s strategic political gain for releasing their report on the expediency of restructuring the troubled federation, I would like to suggest to the celebrators a low hanging fruit they should pluck immediately as an icing on their new cake.

Before our very eyes, Abuja’s hardliners are being transformed by the renewing of their minds as brother Paul of Tarsus once noted. And I think we should encourage them in the spirit of nation building instead of spreading more wet blankets all over them.

This is not a time, therefore, to doubt the authenticity of the new spirit in Abuja despite a recent new year’s “bad verses” from the president on restructuring. We should accept that the president and his bad men are now afraid of the people who have just been encouraged to rebel against them by Nigeria’s most prolific letter writer to sleazy menin power.

All told, to God be the glory, the president and his party are no longer afraid of this bogey called restructuring or federalism. I once asked here in one of the articles that gave Inside Stuff the “2017 Dame Award” on “Informed Commentary”, “Who is afraid of restructuring and change?”

I would, therefore, like to join the train of institution builders this week too through a suggestion within the context of my old “Operation-Fix-Nigeria” theme.

This time, I would like to ask for restructuring of one of Nigeria’s most significant institutions that successive governments have been competing to ruin: the public broadcasters known as the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) and Voice of Nigeria (VON).

My interest in these public broadcasters as they should be called, was renewed recently though two related issues involving two Nigerian significant female journalists, Kadaria Ahmed formerly of the British Broadcasting Corporation(BBC) and Toyosi Ogunseye former Sunday Punch Editor who just joined the same BBC, a very successful public broadcaster. The first was Kadaria’s when she marked her 50th birthday in December last year with a colloquium on the state of the media and a book presentation.

At the parley attended by notable people including the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, her first employer in Nigeria, Dr. Wale Babalakin, who built and still manages the best local airport in Nigeria, the Channels Television founder and chairman, John Momoh and wife Olusola, vice chairman, among others, Kadaria who hails from Zamfara state but raised in Kano was unveiled as one of Nigeria’s best journalists from the stable of the BBC.

Kadaria, a former editor of the defunct Next,which once threatened to change the face of journalism in Nigeria, signifies the distinctive journalism at the BBC. I was there and listened to all the testifiers to the quality of Kadaria in learning and character.

John Momoh too spoke to the sterling quality of journalism that Kadaria brought to Nigeria from the same BBC where she spent thirteen good years. Dr. Babalakin spoke glowingly too of her exceptional emotional intelligence before her book was publicly presented.

Yinka Oyegbile, an old soldier from The Guardian who was with her at Next and now of The Nation spoke of the quality the artful Kadaria exhibited. She demonstrated quality from the BBC world service when in 2011 she had to take over from where the CNN’s Jonathan Mann pulled out at the last minute of the presidential debate. She was to assist Mann who was the advertised anchorperson on the platform of the then NN24, organisers of the 2011 presidential election debate. That was the event that announced the former BBC brand ambassador called Kadaria Ahmed.

At the NIIA, Lagos where Kadaria was celebrated, I wanted to draw the attention of the political leaders on the occasion to the prevailing conditions in the country that have not made the Nigeria’s public broadcasters brands of good equity. I could not. But early last month, an opportunity came for me when Ms Toyosi Ogunseye generally believed to be the next editor of The Punch daily, assumed duty as the Head of BBC West Africa.

The two striking stories of Kadaria and Toyosi and the BBC have set me thinking about the expediency of discussing the rise and fall of institutions in Nigeria. What is more, that is why I am fully persuaded that instead of reading regularly from the book of lamentation on how the military juntas in Nigeria tactlessly seized the then Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service (WNBS) and changed it to NTA now in focus, we should think of how to rebrand it now from the ruinous clutch of the federal government and indeed the presidency. There has been no credit to give to any government since the takeover: no government has added value to the NTA, FRCN and VON. We only pretend that it is well.

And here is the thing and conclusion of the whole matter: why is it that Toyosi can join the BBC, a public broadcasterinstead of a Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS)? How is it that the only reference point is that the FRCN and A Time To Restructure NTA, FRCN, And VONNTA too made John and Sola Momoh, for instance? And sadly, why can’t Channels Television get some values from the FRCNand the NTA that trained its owners some years ago?

The same sad commentary can be extended to the Daily Timesand the New Nigerian,among other once prosperous state-owned newspapers such as Daily Sketch, Herald, The Observer, Chronicles, The Tide, The Triumph, The Standard, The Voice, etc, the Nigerian system has destroyed too.

The point really is that all these once fruitful newspapers that have been killed by the Nigerian leaders once made the Dele Giwas, the Doyin Abiolas, the Segun Osobas, the Nduka Obaigbenas, the DoyinMahmuds, the Ray Ekpus, the Yakubu Mohammeds, the Dan Agbeses, the Garba Shehus of this world. Most Nigerian elders would remember this recent aspect of our history.

In other words, I used to think that the idea of prosperous state-owned newspapers was an idea whose time was long gone until I travelled to Liberia recently and stopped over in Ghana where I got a copy of the state-owned newspaper the Daily Graphic. As a newspaperman, I didn’t need to ask any question about the quality of the content and production. The newspaper is generally regarded as the most influential and the most commercially successful newspaper in Ghana today.

But note this paradox of history: the well produced daily newspaper in Ghana has some striking similarity in history with our own Daily Times that the military regime seized, ruined before a civilian government sold it in January 2004 to an undertaker.

The Daily Graphic’s Success Story:
The Daily Graphic is a Ghanaian state-owned daily newspaper published in Accra Ghana. The newspaper was established along with the Sunday Mirror in 1950, by Cecil King of the London Mirror Group. With a circulation of more than 150,000 copies daily, the DailyGraphic is the most widely read newspaper in the country.

In 1979 the newspaper was renamed the People’s Daily Graphic under Jerry Rawlings for a few years to “remind the people that it belongs to them”.

The newspaperalso publishes two weekly entertainment newspapers, namely The Mirror and Graphic Showbiz. Graphic Sports, the most read sports newspaper in Ghana, is also a product of the company. The company also publishes the Junior Graphic, aimed at a younger audience and the Graphic Business, a business and financial newspaper, the Graphic Advertiser, a free ads newspaper, and the Nsɛmpa, a regional weekly for the Ashanti region.
Between Nigeria’s Daily Times and Ghana’s Daily Graphic:

When Nnamdi Azikiwe (“Zik”) launched his powerful West African Pilot in 1937, dedicated to fighting for independence from British colonial rule, established newspapers such as the Nigerian Daily times (as it then was), lost a large part of their market. The Daily times responded to the Zik’s challenge by raising some foreign capital for restructuring its operations, especially investing in the editorial team. By the end of the World war II in 1945, the Daily times was remarkably hostile towards colonial rule.

And it came to pass that in 1947 the London-based daily Mirror Group headed by Cecil King bought the Daily times, the Gold Coast Daily Graphic, the Accra Sunday Mirror and the Sierra Leone Daily Mail. In other words, both the Daily Times and Daily Graphic began a journey together in 1947 under a common ownership, Cecil King. But it is a paradox of history today that while one is still thriving in the hand of its current owner, Ghanaian government, the other, Daily Times has been destroyed by its owner, the Nigerian government.

It will interest the young readers to note that the Nigeria’s Sunday Times, a weekly title in Daily Times Nigeria Limited actually sold more than one million copies when Mr. Gbolabo Ogunsanwo was its Editor in this same country.

In the same vein, the New Nigerian established in January 1966 by the North’s iconic regional leader, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, was also a very influential and profitable newspaper the federal government that took over the Daily Times also compulsorily acquired and ruined.

The federal military government of Nigeria acquired 60% of the Daily Times and its main rival, the New Nigerian, on September1, 1975, the year they also compulsorily acquired three regional universities without rhyme or reason.

So, as the wind of restructuring is blowing even in Abuja now, I would like to advise Nigeria’s Information and Culture Minister Alhaji Lai Mohammed to lead the charge to restructure the public broadcasters – NTA, FRCN andVON in public interest. After all, the tone for the re-engineering of the three separate organs was thankfully set in 2013 when the Stephen Oronsaye Panel report and White Paper, which recommended rationalization of numerous government agencies, also suggested a merger of the three organs to be Nigerian Broadcasting Service under one national executive management.

But for the national broadcasters, this is a time to restructure with a view to privatizing them ultimately. What good do the NTA, FRCN and VON still servethe federal government that underfunds and mismanages them? Don’t get it twisted, the ruined broadcasting corporations, still keep some of the brightest and the best broadcasters who have ironically been working in bondage.

What is more, technology has disrupted the dubious national security fear the military authorities used to hold on to the organs. First, the authorities can muster some robust political will to sell their major shares (of NTA, FRCN & VON) to the members of staff and some interested Nigerian investors. Yes, I mean resourceful investors who can rebrand the broadcasters into a truly African Voice that can also project the culture of the black race in global context.

That radical move will be a reassuring signal that indeed the presidency and the ruling party are irrevocably committed to restructuring of the troubled federation. This certainly is a time for the federal government to free the long-suffering NTA, FRCN and VON and let them go and prosper in the field where Aljazeera too, owned by Qatar (through a public trust), is serving the interest of the Middle East.

In this article:
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