Emeka Mba, Former Director General (DG) of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), who was accused of a N15 billion fraud earlier this year, breaks his silence in the 79th episode of The Africa Music Law Show with Ms. Uduak. Mba tells his side of the story on his processing of Nigeria’s digital switchover and what really happened to the allegedly missing N15 billion.
Below are some excerpts from the interview:
On the significance of switching from analogue to digital
“It’s an international telecommunication mandate that all countries, all the 168 member countries should switch from analogue broadcast to digital, principally because it makes use of the spectrum. As more and more devices are out there, telecommunications, all those smartphone use a lot of bandwidth.
Analogue television uses a lot of bandwidth as well; and essentially with digital technology… transmission platforms, only a fraction of that bandwidth can be used for television. That is freeing up a lot of space. A good way to describe it …would be to say if you look at NTA, for example, one NTA channel, Channel 10, for example, uses 8MHz of spectrum to broadcast NTA signals in Lagos. Now, if you compress with digital, that 8MHz of spectrum can fit 20 channels.
On why Nigeria did not meet the 2015 deadline
“…Because of the huge cost… In the U.S. (during its 208 digital switchover) it cost $40-60 billion depending on who is doing the math. In the UK it cost them almost 7 billion pounds. So it is a lot of money but obviously the cost savings for government and the multiplier effect is way, way better. It is better for every country to do it…. Unfortunately, we (Nigeria) started this journey in 2006, we set it for 2012 but as some things in Africa, … we talked the talk but we couldn’t’ walk it. We couldn’t provide funding to do that….”
On why NBC did not receive funding for the digital switchover
“They (the Government) were saying it, we came out with a budget but they were not funding it…that was the major problem. In the meantime we at the NBC, we kept working, at least from the planning perspective, to do what we could do with the resources we had in-house to at least get the planning stage going. Because the cost of the setup boxes, the converter boxes in this case, and of course the transmission infrastructure, those are the two big, big expenditure areas for the digital switchover. So… we looked at the Spectrum that the NBC controlled which if we fully switched over…we will have had to give up to telecommunications and we had some international consultant value it. He said this was going to be valued at one point something billion dollars and we said “whoa.” And the cost of the switchover for us, total cost was 350 million dollars. If you do the math, you require 350, what you were going to get if you did the switchover from the auctioning of the spectrum was way above 1billion so the government will still make profit.
So we got approval from the former president that maybe we didn’t need to auction everything. [T]hat is where we got a bit creative in terms of how do we use what we have to create the revenue that we needed to drive this process; because the government said, “fighting Boko Haram, education, you know this, and this, and this, Mr. DG we can’t fund this thing. Go find a creative way.”
We talked about getting an international loan from the Chinese… different entities. So we looked at different options. The final option we sat with our ministers, we said look… “yeah we can raise some money; we can find somebody who will be willing to pay for what we have.” It’s like an asset that we have and that is how we got to licensing MTN but still limited them to do broadcasting with it; which was one of the most creative things we did. So that, it wasn’t telecommunications that they will use it for… but for converged broadcasting…”
On what happened to the alleged missing N15 billion
Part of the money, which is the issue around the 15 billion, was we had the setup boxes that needed to be produced in Nigeria, which was required for this switchover. The interesting thing was that government had a policy that said setup boxes had to be manufactured in Nigeria. But, the companies that were licensed to manufacture these boxes in Nigeria were saying look, it was a classic chicken and egg thing, “why would we go and manufacture when the product that is going to sit on our boxes doesn’t exist? So you need to give us a guarantee.”
So two things had to happen. Beyond the financial guarantee, which we had to give them, we had to guarantee the content that the platform would be launched. We then said to the manufacturer, “fine. We will guarantee you guys up to a certain amount…” so that 15billion that you heard, the so called fraud, was actually money set aside as an off-taker guarantee for each of the manufacturers. Here is the money, if you produced these boxes, here is the money set aside; it was in a bank. Everybody signed (the government, ministry).
Here is the money guaranteed, sitting in the bank, no one is going to touch it but we need to be sure that if you produce your boxes, this money will be used to pay you. That was what was done. So, the talk about fraud, to me, is amazing really, that is the best way I can put it. There was no fraud… This was the process that was reached…there were 13 companies, there were different stakeholders involved in the meeting. This meeting was held in a public place… we had minutes from meetings from 2014 to all the way to when we finally agreed somewhere around March for the off-taker guarantee; and then the payment went to the bank. So there was no fraud at all. And I think when I got detained, the manufacturers, the bank, everybody said, “no money is missing”.
On experience with EFCC detaining him
I went in with the copies of the agreement, even samples of the set up boxes, all of the agreements and a bag of files. But I didn’t get out that day. I spent another eight days.
On receiving the call from EFCC to come to their office
I came back on the 4th of January from vacation. 4th of January they were already in my office, they said they received a petition from somebody which till today no one knows who the person is. They said I hid N15 billion away from the Federal government and I paid into some five accounts. I mean when you read it on paper, it sounds alarming in these days of corruption…. I mean everybody now in Nigeria, if you work in government, you are suspect until you prove your innocence….
On the impact of the false accusation and his name being associated with fraud
“…it’s a sad life experience…I will continue to work, do my best and hope that the people who know me, what I do, who I am (t)hat (it) will reflect. [T]he other thing that made me happy was that when this was going down, a lot of people got up to speak, wrote articles, I was quite amazed. A lot of people spoke on my behalf. So that also was a bit comforting and I think that the future, God willing, God giving us life, will help to dispel some of these things. [T]he way I see it, it has happened. I am confident. I know I didn’t do anything wrong….”
Watch the full interview here: