From Telecommunications to Broadcasting, Desperate Times Indeed – By Okoh Aihe

AAlthough this government gives the impression that things are going quite well in the country, there are certain activities that really amplify the desperation with which the authorities try to mask the wickedness of the times.

Two of them have played recently. At a stakeholder meeting in Abuja, the government announced that it was ready to introduce excise duties on telecommunications services in the country. The tax was set at 5% for every thousand naira of recharge cards purchased, for example. You will still be charged even if you purchased for only N100.

In the broadcasting sector, the government is preparing for a fight with the BBC and Trust TV over their coverage of terrorist activities in the north of the country, which the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, called glorification of bandits. who hurt the country. He informed the nation that the government had indeed ordered the broadcasting regulator, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), to sanction the organizations.

Very desperate times indeed. The Abuja meeting is obviously a response to the failing fortunes of the economy which is in free fall. Airlines are closing and airfares within the country have soared beyond reason, international flights have been almost chained in cost, Emirates is cutting flights to Nigeria as it cannot transfer d country’s money due to dollar scarcity, and you need more than N700 to buy just one dollar; everything goes up, and in fact life has become so expensive and meaningless, that the only tangible commodity across the country is despair.

The Abuja meeting was more of an announcement than a gathering of stakeholders, although it did in fact allow the service provider to lodge its protests.

The Executive Vice-Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, in his opening remarks, highlighted the Finance Act 2020, which clearly states that “telecommunications services provided in Nigeria will be subject to excise duty at the rates specified in the duties column of the schedule as the president may prescribe by order under section 13 of the act”. The regulator was only fulfilling its responsibility to facilitate understanding among stakeholders so that they could maintain full compliance with government policy.

The Nigeria Customs Service attended the meeting armed with the 5% excise value and payment schedule for the 21st day of each month. While the Ministry of Finance has presented a draft order awaiting the signature of the President. This Order may be cited as Customs and Excise Tariff, Etc. (Consolidation) Act Excise (Telecommunications Services) Order, 2022.

From all indications, it was a done deal that Telcos have to pay this money. But is it really the telcos?

You see, all over the world, the telecommunications industry suffers from an industry curse, in that the wealth and success of the industry easily exposes it to various governments like low hanging fruit. hand that must easily be harvested to fill the income gap or gap. Nigeria is no exception except that the tax cocktail is overwhelming the industry to inertia. The operators are almost drunk on tax exactions and they complained very bitterly about it in the forum.

Industry bodies, the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria ATCON) and the Association of Licensed Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ALTON) bitterly retorted that: “We currently pay a lot of taxes, 39 of which we cannot therefore not adding more to the existing load.We will not be able to absorb this on behalf of subscribers.

The tax is to be passed on to subscribers, some of whom are still earning the 30,000 naira minimum wage, which is not paid regularly, as the monies coming into the federation’s account have dwindled dramatically.

The industry has received massive support from a rare corner. Speaking in Lagos at the first edition of the Nigerian Telecommunications Indeginous Content Expo, a furious Minister of Communications and Digital Economy Dr. Isa Pantami observed that the 5% excise duty was a tax of too, while declaring that the industry could not be taxed to death, having been very favorable to the national economy. He urged the government, of which he is a part, to breathe more life into other sectors of the economy. It’s a principled position that can still declare the good part of Pantami in the face of a government whose debt burden is greater than the revenue it generates.

While Pantami received a well-deserved standing ovation in Lagos, the same cannot be said for Alhaji Lai Mohammed who appears to have been angered by the BBC and Trust TV for giving bandits generous television time. The government spokesman pledged to order NBC to deal with the two stations in accordance with the laws of the land. His position did not enjoy a healthy acceptance by some other stakeholders in the broadcasting industry.

I had to spend some time watching the two documentaries – BBC’s The Bandit Warlords of Zamfara and Trust TV’s Nigerian Banditory ‘The Inside Story’. From one journalist to another, I greatly appreciated the audacity and creativity of the teams involved in the projects. What was suspected for a long time has been confirmed with accuracy and visual reality. Bandits are not apparitions and they do not live in space. They have their locations, they have neighbors and friends and even their victims know where they live and their migration pattern.

I know that sometimes the truth told at a time when a government is in trouble can be very unnerving and particularly irritating. But looking at these images, as discouraging as they are, I see positives. For example, they tell stories with lavish images. What benefit can the government derive from this work? What engagements need to take place for security efforts to have some traction, and even in terms of seeking a negotiated resolution? How can the government reap some positive benefits from documentaries instead of covering them with staged floggings. You can see I’m not interested in saying that if those who made the documentaries could access bandits in their homes, what makes it so difficult for the Nigerian security forces to do the same?

But can NBC sue the BBC and Trust TV because the government ordered it? I tried talking to some broadcasters and they couldn’t provide me with a comforting answer. For example, I watched the BBC documentary on YouTube. Some are of the view that NBC cannot punish YouTube for hosting a program.

That’s what I think. Faced with a multiplicity of problems across the country, the government is becoming too desperate to find solutions in a maze of challenges. So, is this government going to impose a 5 percent excise duty on telecommunications services? I believe he will, no matter how much we cry, because a zero-emission government really doesn’t care. But subscribers will have to cough.

Will this government punish the BBC and Trust TV for leaking the inconvenient truth? I believe it will be for the simple reason that a government in this kind of position, of near-epidemic hatred on the part of the people, will always see acceptance of hurtful truth and reality as a manifest weakness. Unfortunately, a number of people who watch TV today do so on their phones, iPads, tablets, or even computers. With a small network coverage and a data subscription, the subscriber will have express permission to access as many television channels as possible.

This is where the control is difficult and the punishment nebulous little carnal. Instead, stakeholders should always look for ways to derive opportunities from growing challenges. Indeed, development in the technology sector – telecommunications, broadcasting and other emerging technologies – goes far beyond human cognition, cogitation and comfort. Control, I say, is difficult, especially if such a package carries a truth.