Uncertainty has enveloped the Nigerian media space following the expiration of the deadline issued by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to revoke and shut down 53 broadcast stations in the country for failing to renew their licences.
According to director-general of the NBC, Malam Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, the debt for which their lincenses were revoked was between 2015 to 2021.
And 24 hours after issuing the deadline, NBC in a statement said the commission had extended the deadline to today, Wednesday, August 24, at 12:00 am following appeals from affected stations.
The licence renewal fee is paid by stations every five years, but some stations have an understanding with NBC to pay theirs annually.
Every five years, category A stations are expected to pay N15 million licence renewal fees, while category B stations are expected to pay N11,450,000.
To beat the Wednesday August 24 deadline, a top source in NBC told LEADERSHIP that stations have commenced payment of their renewal license fee.
It was however gathered that anxiety has pervaded the media circle, especially among journalists working in the affected broadcast stations, even as stakeholders are running from pillar to post to convince the NBC to extend another cloak of grace.
Though the matter has become a subject of litigation before the court, bursts of reactions have continued to trail the decision by NBC to revoke the licenses of the broadcast stations across the country over the N2.6billion debts, with many Nigerians wondering why the decision was coming at the peak of the electioneering season.
The umbrella body of editors, Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE) and the SERAP have instituted a suit against President Muhammadu Buhari and the NBC over the arbitrary use of the NBC Act and broadcasting code to threaten, revoke and shut down 53 broadcast stations in the country for failing to renew their licences.
Basically, a National Licence Fee for category A stations, including Lagos, Kano, Abuja, and Port Harcourt, is N15 million per station, while category B stations, which are low-income states, pay N11,450,000.
But professional media bodies sought understanding from NBC, asking it to rescind its decision on the 53 stations listed for shutdown and license revocation.
The stakeholders urged NBC to rescind its decision, noting that its enforcement would lead to the proliferation of fake news and the loss of thousands of jobs in a country where jobs are scarce.
They said it is a known fact that media income has seriously nosedived as a result of the global impact of COVID-19 on the general economy which had negative consequences on the income of television and radio stations.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) yesterday called for a downward review of the media operating licence in the country.
The call, according to the congress’ leadership, is in defence of the media, democratic and economic rights of Nigerians as it also urged the commission to rescind its decision.
NLC national president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, in a statement, described the decision as a slippery road to press emasculation.
He said the most palpable reason for the failure of many of the media houses to renew their operating licenses could be easily found in the deteriorating economic conditions in Nigeria.
This, he added, was understandable given the severe stress and strain that businesses in Nigeria have been subjected to due to fallout of the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, the ongoing disruption in global and domestic energy supply, the foreign exchange volatilities and the associated hyper-inflation.
Comrade Wabba noted that amidst these operational suffocations, Nigeria’s media houses should rather be eulogised for resilience and tenacity in the face of prevailing economic blizzards, instead the NBC’s action which he described as smacks of insensitivity to the welfare of the staff of the media houses in the middle of very traumatic economic realities.
He said, “Many media houses just like most businesses in Nigeria suffer the double jeopardy of escalating business costs and plummeting revenues, largely to blame for this sad state of affairs is government which mismanagement of the economy has ensured that a litre of diesel is now knocking at the borderline of N1000, to compound the situation is the epileptic supply of electricity with the national grid collapsing intermittently for the umpteenth time in recent months.
“In addition to the soaring and scary rising energy costs which hit electronic media houses hardest given that they must always be on air whether it makes economic sense or not, there are salaries to pay. maintenance services, and sundry basic operating costs to keep the media houses running and serving their listening and viewing public. Amidst these operational suffocations, how does the NBC expect the media houses to generate the money to renew their operating licenses? “.
“In defence of the media, democratic and economic rights of Nigerians, we call on the NBC to rescind this decision to withdraw the operating licenses of the affected 53 media houses. In light of our foregoing concerns, we urge that the media operating licence be reviewed downwards as information dissemination is a social service,” Wabba added.
Meanwhile, wary of the deadline given to media organisations yet to settle their licences up to date and threat to revoke such licences, the managing director and chief executive officer (MD/CEO) of Kaduna State Media Corporation (KSMC), Ibrahim Ismaila Ahmed, has said the corporation has settled her bills of N14 million for the year 2021 and 2022, being payment for five radio stations and two Television stations.
He said it was unfair for the NBC to have included KSMC among the debtors penciled down for licence revocation.
Speaking to our correspondent on telephone, the MD said, “Well, we have paid. It’s just for two years that we are owing – for 2021 and 2022, which I feel it was uncharitable for NBC to have even included KSMC as part of the debtors because as I speak, I don’t think NBC has settled its electricity bills with power holding company.
“So, Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s government is responsible and when the rebate was given by the federal government, we took advantage of it and paid from 2013 to 2020. We settled all our bills and at some point, the NBC was using KSMC as an example of what others should have done.
“So, that was why we were angry over claims that we have not paid. It is only last year and this year that we are yet to pay and the process of doing so was already ongoing and NBC is still putting us on the debtors list and went ahead to announce the name of KSMC. So, I feel it was irresponsible of NBC.
“It was disingenuous and wrong of any person to refuse to settle their licences because the state government urges people to pay their taxes, land grant rents, vehicle licenses to generate revenue. We understand it’s an obligation that we have to oblige and we have demonstrated our willingness to do that.
“Fortunately, we follow due process and we have commenced the process of raising the money to pay since June 2022 because it is in the budget of KSMC for the two years. So, what we just did is to accelerate and conclude the process because it was already approved but waiting for cash backing. The government graciously prioritised and paid and we have settled the bills for the two years for the five radio stations and two television stations accordingly.”