NTA’S PROBLEM NOT STRUCTURE, BUT GOVT CONTROL

igerian veteran broadcasters must have been amused by reports in the media last week that Government was making efforts to restructure the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and other publicly-funded media establishments to enhance their performance.

According to the reports, the nation’s Information Minister, Lai Mohammed made a request to the Doha based Al Jazeera Television to collaborate with his ministry in the area of capacity building for journalists in public-owned media organizations, especially the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).

It is not a new attempt. During the Obasanjo administration the BBC was similarly mobilized.  But are ‘Structure’ and ‘Training’ the problems of the NTA?

The organization runs the ‘staff and line’ structure in which departments headed by executives are directly responsible to a superior officer.  This enhances departmental autonomy and interdepartmental collaboration.  As for training, Al Jazeera does not possess any skills that are unknown to the NTA.  Indeed, NTA has a full Directorate of Training and Capacity Building. It also has a Television College which by design runs university degree programmes in the relevant fields of media and communication. Thus, what NTA is in dire need of is neither structure nor training.

Rather, the organization is bogged down by a number of issues among which is inadequate resources, both human and material. As Director-General of that service, this writer received a zero capital allocation every year from 2003-8. The situation is yet to change till today as vehicles, cameras, computers, editing facilities and other modern technologies which can facilitate the work of the organization are in short supply.

If NTA can be funded to acquire such basic working tools, it will function like Al Jazeera whose operatives donot possess superior academic and professional backgrounds making it unnecessary to invite Al Jazeera to help NTA. In terms of human resources NTA is hardly allowed to recruit the best applicants into its fold. About 70% of those who pass recruitment tests organized by the station are usually not recruited; instead, they are replaced by nominees of the Executive and Legislative arms of government.

Hence, the October 18, 2009 editorial of the Guardian, asserted that “the Nigeria Television Authority, (NTA) is arguably the largest of its type in Africa, but it is yet to have the operational freedom required to maximise its potentials.” Indeed, far back in 2003, i inherited a large number of architects, builders, town planners, nurses and other operatives that were not the system’s priority but that were imposed on the station by people in the corridors of political power. Such well connected workers were also forcibly deployed to the ‘juicy’ cities of Abuja and Lagos. At a point, the number of drivers doubled the number of vehicles in the Lagos station. This trend of ‘tele-guiding’ is probably the NTA’s most intractable problem

The NTA is never able to meet its mandate of impartiality due mainly to ownership control. For the 1979 elections, its pioneer Director General, Vincent Maduka said so. Musa Mayaki who served as Acting Director General of the station during the Jonathan administration lamented government’s unending meddlesomeness. Even during the military era, NTA was coerced into transmitting infamous materials like “the key that opens all doors”, “the Cap that fits” and “the 2 million man march.”

Painfully, many Nigerians are fond of chastising NTA for such irrational transmission but no one holds the Bull by the horn to deprecate government’s misuse of the peoples’ channel. Not many are aware that the Information Minister is empowered by law to give directives to the NTA to which it must comply. As a result, some ministers give directives that suit their political parties not withstanding that the directives are not in the interest of the public. If NTA executives are cowards, what about judges, traditional rulers and even the military that were coerced or compromised to favour the ruling party during the 2015 elections?

How NTA’s Chief Executive is hired and fired is similarly intriguing. Political considerations rather than merit often play vital roles in the appointment.  This has a major implication for the stability of the organisation as many departmental heads and indeed non-staff while lobbying for the Chief Executive’s position make it hard for the medium to attain a unity of direction.

There are also cases where politicians elevate their kith and kin in the system over and above their previous professional superiors – an unwholesome politicisation of technocracy. Even the federal character principle which is often used to validate such supersession is only manipulated to negate national integration.

Recently, Chief Executives of NTA and some other Parastatals were relieved of their jobs without any reasons given as if their fortunes were tied to those of the political party in power. Though some had not completed their tenures they were dismissed when government had not penciled down those it has faith in to take over the organizations. If the plan was to put malleable people in office, Al Jazeera does not do that meaning that it is our government that needs to learn how Al Jazeera is treated by its own government. Bearing in mind that Minister Lai’s request was made to Al Jazeera’s Chief Executive, Dr Mostafa Souag, it is easy to deduce that whereas Al Jazeera is in charge of its operations, it is our minister that controls NTA.

 The All Progressives Congress (APC) was a victim of government control of the media when as the opposition party it was denied political coverage in 2015. Minister Lai who was the APC publicity secretary that personally suffered the discrimination should take advantage of his experience to halt it. To do so, he needs to use the best NTA career staff on ground and not party loyalists to build a viable station thereby actualizing President Buhari’s desire for strong societal institutions that can keep society going. Many Nigerians love the exogenous but a local station that is well managed can do well.  In any case, Al Jazeera can hardly help NTA because to run a full TV station like the NTA is not same as to run a purely news outfit which Al Jazeera is.

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