It is a statement of fact to say Usman .M. Magawata, the Director General of Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) is a man endowed with ideas and innovation. This is due to his ability to set up Star Times, a cable television in partnership with a Chinese firm, Chinese Firm Communication Technology, Not only that, he was able to do this without requesting for funds from government. Magawata has also upgraded the broadcast equipment in NTA. Last Monday, at his Area 11, Abuja office, the highly resourceful DG opened up on how he has been able to achieve this unprecedented feat when National WAVES publisher, JIMMY ENYEH prodded himto know how he runs the NTA.
Let’s have an overview of the projects you have executed since you emerged the Director General of the Nigeria Television Authority?
Thank you very much for this question. I said this because it is a question that will put certain things in perspective. When I became the Director- General of the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), I was faced with certain challenges, not because my predecessors did not do their best. As you and I know, it is because of the change in technology which is key to broadcast approach of modern times. For instance, before now, we had a single network channel. We had so many requests, so many programmes and we had no opportunity to transmit them. What we did first and foremost was to come up with additional channels. We were able to stumble on some revolutions in technology; we set up agenda for StarTimes, got approval from the Ministry of Information. We used that technology to establish additional channels. It has the capacity for six channels, but now, we are only using three. They are NTA Sports, NTA Entertainment and NTA Knowledge.
One of the additional channels we have that is already having its own frequency is NTA News 24 which transmits differently from the regular news channels that we are used to. These channels that were created could only be viewed then in Abuja. Except NTA News 24, if you are on satellite devices of the NTA. Unknown to us, that will be the backbone of the digital switch- over of analogue to digital television as mandated by ITV before the end of 2015. We went into the venture with Chinese Star Communication Technology; we came out with DDT platform Direct to Home Transmission using digital devices not analogue. It is a joint venture. We went through all the processes and approval was given on the 29th of July 2010 by the president.
At a particular time, the project was only in Lagos and Abuja. As at today, we are in Port-Harcourt, Ibadan, Asaba, Benin, Kaduna, and Kano. In the next few months, we shall be in Sokoto, Borno, Zaria, Enugu and Uyo. Before the end of next year, all the states capitals will be covered. The beauty of this is that it is another DSTV in place. What do you need? You need to buy the decoder which is only N7,000. When you install the decoder, you will be able to watch not less than 38 channels which have been upgraded. The monthly subscription is only N1,000 wherever this is installed, all these NTA channels are available in addition to foreign channels such as Al-Jezeera and BBC. We also became conscious of the fact that the High Definition Television Technology should also come on board and seized the opportunity of the Under 17 football championship to test run our equipment. FIFA insisted that unless you have High Definition Facilities, you will not be given the right. We had to abide by this.
The certificate of no objection was given by BPP for the contract to upgrade six out of the eight Standard Definition, OB Vans that we have, though they arrived late. By the time they came , the games were over but we have them in the country and I think in the whole of Africa except South Africa that hosted the world cup, we are the only one that have OB Vans. They are being put to use and right now, we are being approached for lease by some African Countries especially for the African Cup of Nations tournament and all other continental football engagements in Africa. Before the under 17 World Cup was to place, one of the things upgraded was the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) in the stadium. It was fully used for the Under 17 tournament, even though FIFA did not give us the right to cover the matches played. I am happy to say it our efforts that made the tournament to be successful. All these things that I am saying are on ground for everybody to see and it may interest you to note that we spent nothing or very little money to achieve these things. We did not request a single kobo from government. The money we spent was from the internally generated revenue. In terms of staff welfare, we are not doing badly. By the time I took over our pensioners were being owed three months arrears but today, they get their money before the end of the month. I also discovered that NTA staff are not enjoying what others are enjoying in other agencies, even though, government does not provide loans to buy cars, we guaranteed staff who have put in long years of service to banks for car loans. They pay from their salaries on a monthly basis. We also go into barter with other companies. Another aspect of staff welfare was in the area of housing. We came up with a stipulated housing policy in conjunction with our subsidiary, NTA Properties and Investment Company Limited.
One of the things I installed was VSAT. These and so many things we have been able to achieve. We pay salaries as at when due. The records are there for everybody to see.
In 2009, the ICPC invited me for a get together, by the time I got there, the hall was filled to capacity with the agency members. I never knew it was an award that was about to be bestowed on me. I am not a saint. I might have my shortcomings but to the best of knowledge, I have done my best to take Nigeria Television Authority to the next level. As someone heading a public institution I will continue to uphold the unity and security of our great country. I think these are all I can say for now but by the time you go round, you will see things for yourself because they say seeing is believing.
There is this general assumption that censorship is quite common with news and programmes aired on NTA. What are you doing to eradicate this issue of censorship?
I always disagree when people say censorship. They need to know what they are talking about. As I am talking to you now, no one gives me instructions on what to do but requests do come, they could be self censorship but that does not mean that we do not carry everybody along. For instance, during the last general elections, all members of all the political parties were given a level playing ground to operate. Their views were aired. So for the issue of censorship, I think it is over emphasized.
From what you have said so far, it appears you are revolutionizing NTA, by the time you complete your tenure, how would you want to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as somebody who came to do his very best to transform NTA. I also want to be remembered as someone who was fair to everybody even in the recruitment exercise, I have been fair. Those who hitherto did not have a strong presence in the NTA are given more opportunity but that does not mean that we excluded other persons. For instance, Ebonyi was the least represented in the NTA but I gave the state the opportunity to be represented. Before I became the DG, there was no General Manager from Bayelsa and Ebonyi States, I looked at the staff list; we did one or two promotion exercise and balanced the equation. We are in the age of digital technology and like I made clear to you, the issue of Direct to Home Transmission (DTT), that we are doing now is going to be a platform to move from analogue which is mandatory by 2015 and it is NTA that has pioneered it. Two weeks ago, I had an interaction with my colleagues in Nairobi, Kenya. We discovered that we are ahead of all other countries; we are even ahead of South Africa. They are surprised how we did it. And we have gone into partnership. My attention is being drawn to our presence internationally. Yes before I took over the NTA, NTA International was on board but I expanded it, to the extent that wherever you are, you get NTA International. One of the things that came to mind was, let us not only hearing from them but they should also hear from us. Communication is important. If we transmit from here, we give information. Let us get correspondents here. I propose and got approval to create news bureaus which were not in existence before. We have bureaus in most places like UK, Washington DC and other African countries.