By Linus Aleke:
Odo Diego Okonyodo is an advertising and Public Relation practitioner registered with the advertising practitioner council of Nigeria and he uses a lot of social media and ICT to leverage communication. In this interview with Linus Aleke he bemoans Nigeria’s economic policy in the ICT sub sector. He also spoke on other issues. His excerpt;
There has been call by parliamentarians on the need to regulate activities and input in the social media, as a social media communication expert, do you share similar sentiment?
They should not even attempt to even regulate the activities of social media, it has brought in a new generation to contribute to national discuss and debate. This country is made up of 70 percent youthful population. Now these large populations have never been allowed to contribute very much to governance for obvious reasons. In the civil service for instance, over 60 percent of the work force are close to 60 years and in political offices most of them are in their late 50s, 60s, and 70s. Now the voices of the youths, women and disabled have always been marginalized but with the advent of social media, a new generation and segment of our population have started contributing to national debate. And because of our militarized mentality, we are now asking how come these people have the temerity to talk to government the way they are doing. I know the National Assembly talked about the unverifiable reports often posted in the social media platform but there are libel laws that exist in the country to punish defaulters. Which is in existence long before now and some media outfit are even facing prosecution in court right now for publishing libelous materials. Social media is a publishing outfit and anything that relate to publishing also attract same sanction as in libel law. The fact that more people are contributing to the debate is what is getting the parliamentarian scared and agitated I think. In view of the foregoing, they want to formulate a form of restriction in the guise of legislation and regulation. If it is branded gossip, we have had gossip publication since forever; we had Vintage People, City People, and Prime people during the era of magazine revolution. They were publishing gossips and they even branded themselves gossip magazines and it became a brand in the country. Then what is this fad about regulating the activities of social media because it is now touching them in the bone. When things start touching the elite they will start talking about regulation. When okada people are been evicted from their homes or been banned from doing their businesses, nobody talks about regulating them not minding the fact that their problem is just mere regulation. But they will be banned and denied means of livelihood without bordering on the implication of such action on their socio-economic needs and survival. In the first place, the problem of Okada and Keke is lack of regulation. The Okada in itself does not kill it is when you don’t regulate and enforce speed limit and who holds commercial license and all of that, that recklessness comes in and there is killing. So when it start touching the middle class and elite they will start talking about banning or controlling or regulating and I do not support that for social media.
Isu Media LTD what is it all about?
Isu Media is a limited liability company that is set up to work with non-governmental organizations to improve their communication. So it is a communication thing, we work with NGO on their newsletters; we edit for them and we produce giggles, advertising and documentary. Because we come out of a history where most NGO do not have a full fledge communication unit and at the same time do not have the financial muscle to engage PR firm and even when they do that, those PR firm do not understand the ‘not’ of profit world because there are some certain things in the not profit world that are not exactly the way you do it with private sector which is profit driven. What Isu Media does specifically is development communication. How do you use communication to mobilize the people to change their ways of behavour, to contribute to the economy. So what we have always toiled with is essentially what is called a democracy which is a communication exercise. It is a form of government where we uses the little we have to communicate and mobilize the hidden energy of the people to contribute to their development. If government have a malaria eradication programme for instance or want to build some low cost houses, the government cannot do all of that with its own money. The little money it has will be used to work with the community and private sector in development of the area and that is exactly what Isu Media tries to do.
Let look at the employment benefits of this new technology, there is a consensus among economic pundits that if government place a ban on importation of finished cell phones the companies will be forced to set up assembling plants in Nigeria which will in turn create numerous jobs in the sector considering the fact that Nigeria is a big market for telecom hardware, do you share the same sentiment?
Yes I share the same sentiment because I am not satisfied with the way all these companies such as Samsung, LG, Nokia and Tecno are going about their businesses in the country. Why can’t they have assembling plant in Nigeria to create employment for our teeming youths? Though the political and socio-economic policy in the country is not conducive for economic activities bearing in mind the social unrest, epileptic power supply, government officials always asking for fifty per cent of every contract sum or asking for bribe to register certain things then it becomes difficult to come and set up shop here. I will commend the president for persuading NISAN to come to Nigeria to build assembling plant because I had been asking this question, why can’t NISAN or Toyota have plants in Nigeria when almost every government offices uses Prado, Camry, Corola, Avalon or Hilux yet none of it is been assembled within the country. So NISAN has taken a big step with the Nigerian auto mobile company INOSON. So I agree with you very well that it is a despicable thing for us to say that we are using over 100 million mobile phones in the country, yet these companies that benefit from this volume of sales cannot build plants in Nigeria to generate employment for our nationals and pay taxes to government.
What do you think government can do to address the above identified anomalies in the telecom and auto mobile sub sector of the nation’s economy?
What I want government to do is to compel them to build assembling plants in the country with the view to creating employment to the ever growing army of unemployed in Nigeria or alternatively leave the Nigerian market if they cannot comply with the above directive. They should stop this practice of coming to dump finished product on us. They should build plants here to employ our experts as well as the non skilled labourers. All the policies in the country are targeted at importation, most of our cement, rice, cars and other consumables are imported including toothpick. My advice is that government should initiate a policy that will discourage importation. Don’t allow these companies to bring in finished cell phones into the country. They should manufacture everything from scratch to finish within the country or at least assemble them here. Because even if it is assembling like Keke companies are doing, they bring it in knocked down parts and some people get employed in the process of assembling them. So when you make noise about the Sure-p placing or trying to employ people, that is artificial and cosmetics. It is not really creating real employment. The programme is not sustainable because as soon as the programme ends the beneficiaries will also be out of job. But if you compel the mobile phone companies to come down and build plants in the country or stop bringing in finished products, more employment will be created for Nigerians and you don’t need to make noise about it.
What is the benefit of the switch over from analogue to digital broadcasting spectrum visa vies the NBC’s 2015 deadline for the switch over?
Well digitization is something that should be of real benefit to us but just like every other thing we have not maximized it. Don’t forget that this deadline had been shifted for almost a decade already. The deadline for digitization keeps shifting and shifting yet we are still not prepared enough for the 2015 digitization deadline. How are we going to be prepared? We are moving now to digital mode of production, distribution and consumption and we are not equipped enough in these three sphere except probably production where we are using our digital cameras now to produce movies, TV content, Music and pictures. We are doing a lot of that now but in distribution of products, most of us do not use the digital method of programming. When you tune DSTV, you can get extra information about programme and you can schedule programme. But most our cars now have a digital dial, we are suppose to see the name of the FM stations and also see extra information about what is playing but we do not have all of that now. It is suppose to be a richer experience for the listeners and the advertisers who are more accurately able to schedule things. It is not true that with digitization people are going to pay to access programme, it is just what you chose to do wit it. Our newspapers are now on the web and we are not subscribing except the Economist and New York Times that have subscription platform but those are foreign publications. However I do not think that as soon as you digitize you will then go pay per view no, I think it is going to be a policy that is determined more by the plan and focus that each media organization has. Why must we insist that listeners and viewers should pay when advertisers are paying for our whole cost. The only thing I think people where arguing was that they are now going to buy new end equipment may be to replace their analogue TV and radio with digital ones. Though your normal radio will still get signals but it might not be as clear as the digital radio. The listeners have a greater advantage with digital because they can easily record programme and schedule programmes to listen to and can also play back when they want to. For us who are in between public relation and advertising, media monitoring becomes easy because I can now monitor five or six channels, I will be listening to one and be recording others. I can schedule to record even when I am not around. So I do not think that by fiat moving to digital is a more costly experience to the listeners.
What do you think is responsible for the continuous shifting of the date for digitization?
It is the country’s lack of preparation; there is new equipment to be bought. Each broadcast media organization has to change all the set of analogue broadcast equipment to digital ones. So it is going to be a big money to the companies out there supplying broadcast equipment and will be a problem to us here in terms of disposal of old equipment. What kind of arrangement are we going to reach with the suppliers of the equipment? Would there be a kind of barter arrangement that will say look we bought these equipments from you, give us digital in their place while we pay up the balance so that you can go and recycle the analogue equipments. Not many of the stations have the money to procure these equipments and they have all cried out to government and government has to keep reviewing the deadline. Some private owners had advocated for government to subsidize the procurement of the digital equipment to enable them meet the deadline but government said that they cannot subsidize the process hence any station that cannot digitize should close shop.
Doing business in Nigeria, what are the odds and benefits?
Government in Nigeria is set up to shot down businesses. It does not encourage small and medium enterprises (SMEs); it says one thing and does the opposite. In FCT for instance, we know how all manners of exorbitant rent are been extorted from business owners. Aside from the office rents that are criminal in nature, the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) brings waste disposal bill that is more than the office rent even when they do not evacuate and dispose of any waste for you. The Abuja Municipal Council is also going to come with a bill for outdoor advertising whether you have it or not. As well as the Business Premises Registration and host of others and you have no one to cry to, that is a big problem for small businesses in the country. We have to keep going because we have made that commitment to ourselves but it is very disheartening to grapple with government saying one thing and doing the opposite.