By Istifanus Dan’Asabe
There was nothing unexpected from the “exclusive” story about the phantom “multi-billion naira contracts” at the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). The medium was used for spewing that hare-brain and illiterate assemblage of pseudo voices of some faceless “sources”.
The Saturday story was long overdue for all observers of the ethnic and religious politics being played by some communal warriors at the NBC for decades. These civil servants at the NBC have formed an ethno-religious kingdom inside the NBC and vowed to decide and control who is appointed as the director general.
They were taken aback when Balarabe Shehu Ilelah was announced as the DG of NBC on June 2021. Mr Ilelah doesn’t possess the right genes and lack the ethnic and religious configuration to lead the agency as far as these communal warriors are concerned. For them, Mr Ilelah is least qualified to pilot the affairs of the agency because of his ethnicity and faith.
That is the basis for the tales by moonlight story. It was an open secret that the same religious zealots fought Malam Ishaq Modibbo Kawu when he held sway as the boss of NBC. With Modibbo out, they expected someone that share their faith to be appointed.
Evidently, the cabal mellowed down when Mr Armstrong Idachaba was appointed as acting DG in February 2020. With the appointment of Mr Ilelah as DG by President Muhammadu Buhari, the group went back to the trenches, readied their arsenal and relaunched a full-blown war against Ilelah. They have resolved to malign, distract and scandalize Ilelah by every means possible.
Many observers are still appalled how these group wants to convert a professional federal agency like NBC into a white garment church. NBC was set up in 1992. And it is on record that in its 29 years history, Muslims headed the agency for only five (5) years. Malam Nasir Danladi Bako served for three (3) years, between July 1999 and November 2002. Malam Ishaq Modibbo Kawu served for only two (2) years, from June 2016 to February 2020. Mr Ilelah is the third Muslim to head the commission.
All the former DGs of NBC were Christians, right from the pioneer DG, Dr. A. Tom Adaba, Dr. Silas Babajiya Yisa (November 2002 – August 2006), Mr. Bayo Atoyebi (August 2006 – March 2007), Engr. Yomi Bolarinwa (March 2007 – May 2013), Mr Emeka Nkem Mba (May 2013 – February 2018, and Armstrong Idachaba (February 2020 – June 2021).
It is clear that Christians headed NBC for 24 years of the 29 years of its existence. This antecedent has emboldened these religious bigots to rise against anyone appointed to steer the affairs of the apex regulator of broadcasting industry if he doesn’t profess their faith.
Ilelah’s appointment was lauded by all stakeholders in the industry as that of putting a round peg in a round hole and President Buhari’s clear demonstration of political will towards turning around the country’s broadcast industry.
Apart from his religious leaning and perhaps ethnicity, Ilelah has all it takes to revolutionise the broadcasting sector in the country.
He studied broadcasting, practiced broadcasting and taught broadcasting across at least three continents: Africa, Europe and Asia. He began his broadcasting career as an editor for the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) in Bauchi, where he also worked as the producer of news and current affairs programs.
He broadened his knowledge, skills, and horizons by moving to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR-Moscow) and worked as an editor and newscaster/Foreign Language Expert with Radio Moscow International.
He then moved to Beijing, the People’s Republic of China, where he worked as a Senior News Editor/Foreign Expert with China Radio International.
Ilelah also worked as a BBC Hausa Service foreign correspondent from China.
Not only that, he also worked as a Senior Lecturer at Beijing’s Foreign Studies University, where he taught Media Communication, Translations, and Languages from April 1998 to April 2001.
His experience is enough to turnaround the Nigerian broadcast industry to a world-class one that can favorably compete with its counterparts across the world.
It was therefore surprising whey he was greeted with these communal issues instead of professional matters that is the core mandate of the commission.
Having realized that Ilelah’s competence can’t be flawed, the religious zealots resorted to corruption-labeling. They accused him of contracts inflation, taking census of contractors based on their ethnicity and religious affiliations.
Despite painstaking attempts to furnish and garnish the story, the online publication failed. Lies remain lies no matter how well garnished. The story has evidently failed to achieve its essence. There was no single mention of a contract, contractor or company that was awarded contract without due process. “Some of the workers” of NBC who are the principal sources for the story couldn’t even mention one person that was unduly favoured in the entire story.
Another issue is that none of these “workers” can volunteer to expose the alleged nepotism being perpetrated by Illelah. How ingenious.
All these point to the singular motive of the story. These “workers” are not happy with Ilelah not because he is not competent or he is corrupt, but they are angry because he belongs to a religion other than theirs.
Take for instance this claim in the story:” And the way and manner the DG has used religion as a tool is alarming. Contractors are classified along with religious lines and other despicable acts.” Can you imagine this? This alone exposed the desperation of this religious bigots. They have resolved to blackmail him simply because of his religion.
The NBC statutorily has a Department for Procurement. This department has many members of staff from different religious affiliation. It is sheer ignorance to accuse the DG of directing the procurement department to shortlist only contractors from a particular religion. Because of their desperation, the cabal also showcased their ignorance of the Procurement Law. Procurement is not a one department issue. It involves so many layers and so many officers and even agencies. It is only childish to accuse the DG of appropriating all these functions to himself. It is impossible.
I call on Mr Ilelah not to be distracted by the antics of these desperate communal warlords. They will surely fail. He should continue working towards unveiling an affordable license fee regime that will benefit industry players and avail Nigerians the opportunity of DTT broadcasting.
Not long after his appointment, NBC released the list of 159 companies, Institutions and communities granted provisional broadcast license by President Buhari to operate radio and television in the country.
This is no small achievement factoring the millions of jobs these over 200 channels and thousands of production facilities that will feed them with create using the Digital Switch Over value chain.
Mr Dan’Asabe writes from Abuja.