Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Akunyili at the Information Ministry

PROFESSOR Dora Akunyili is quite welcome as the new Minister of Information and Communications. There is so much for her to do there beyond dissemination of information and - contrary to critics' opinions - image laundering!.

Apparently many do not know that the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications controls some important aspects of our lives and if only for this reason deserves an established hard-working leader, with global reputation for getting things done. Besides National Communications Commission, (NCC) which controls our telecommunications services, especially our erratic and rampaging GSM companies, there is the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC which superintends our Broadcasting Stations. Importantly, it is directly in charge of the two parastatals; one to regulate and the other to develop our Creative Industry. These two are The National Film & Video Censors Board, NFVCB, and The Nigerian Film Corporation, NFC. Globally rated as next only to Hollywood and Bollywood, the Nigerian Film industry is today the second largest employer of labour in the country, directly after agriculture. For years now, a series of efforts geared towards arresting its drift are only just showing signs of success. Now with a determined and reputable leader like the erstwhile Commander of NAFDAC in charge, those of us genuine practitioners, long condemned to a life of inactivity and penury can look forward to an early redemption.

Back in August, the Director-General of the National Censors Board, Mr. Emeka Mba in his search for a worthy model to follow in the final implementation of the new distribution framework for the industry had invited Professor Akunyili, as the successful Director-General of NAFDAC to benefit the three-day retreat he organized for his management staff and some major stakeholders in Obudu, with her keynote address. Then, neither he, nor any other person knew that the professor would soon become his boss. In her address, the accomplished Professor had shared her troubles, woes and success stories with the participants, advising the Board, and especially its Director-General to have a firm determination and political will to follow through in the onerous task they have assigned themselves to sanitize the industry and positively reposition it with their new distribution initiatives.

Happily, fate has now brought the professor together with the Board and with the official presentation in Planet One, Maryland Lagos on Friday, December 5, licenses to its first set of national distributors; the Board seems set to fully enforce its new distribution initiatives. The timing could therefore not have been more auspicious for Akunyili to once again lead the final onslaught against all the entrenched inhibitors that have been stunting the growth of our movie industry.

Close by is the Nigerian Film Corporation, NFC, which as its key focus has been trying to have a regulating Council for all the practitioners to protect the real professionals from charlatans and mediocres. This is in form of a practice registration, monitoring and enforcement council called MOPPICON, akin to other known professional councils in the country. We cannot afford the continuation of a situation where just about anyone, particularly desperadoes and the idlers, or those with the usual get-rich-syndrone regularly make mockery of our honourable profession.

It is unfortunate that our leaders, mostly phillistine by nature have not been able to see that it is within a regulating atmosphere as exemplified by what obtains in other areas of our endeavours that a structured platform could be created to access and develop our creative economy. But now that the government laissez-faire attitudes to the arts have become a major contributor to the external unflattering image of the country and citizens, there hopefully would be a change of hearts. MOPPICON is not about shutting out talents, or restricting the practice to only certain groups as being mischievouly peddled. Rather it is all about a platform of enforcement to achieve a sustainable standard through set criteria for registration, continuous practitioners training, and compliance with code of ethics as drawn and regularly updated by the practitioners themselves.

It may be a moot point, but Nigerian Broadcasting Stations as of today are more committed to programmes of anything goes, but this is not intended as mockery. Rather it is only to underline their present surmountable shortcomings. I represent a generation of Nigerians reared on quality broadcasting programmes. Regretfully, what we now have as programmes are largely what even a trainee producer would not have consented to tag his or her name to in the recent glorious past. The key challenge is not so much budgetary constraints, but ability of the regulating commission to creatively regulate and the political will to enforce such regulations with the broadcasting stations so that we could once more have programmes that fulfill all the broadcasting minimum crucibles; entertainment, enlightenment, information and education. Most of today's broadcasting programmes not only offend the sensibility of the audience, they constitute grounds which in other climes could subject them to be justly sued for unwarranted assaults of the eyes and eardrums.

Like the patronage of the banks, I only tolerate the GSM companies because I have to, but I never for once lose hope for an opportunity one day to let them know of everything that is wrong with them, and perhaps a lesson or two, on how not to take a people, or their market for granted! To say that the GSM companies like banks rip off Nigerians is to make an unequalled understatement; to accuse them of service in-efficiency is to repeat the obvious and that they are arrogant and discourteous is not anything new.

Esconsed in their comfortable offices and luxurious cars, both the staff and management, Nigerian staff particularly, treat other Nigerians like dirt - perhaps we are, given the impunity with which they continue to operate! The standard supercilious attitude whatever the network is that a loss of a customer is no disaster, in their erroneous conceited belief that there are still many other suckers waiting to be fleeced.

How come their revenue-monitoring computers; those they use to monitor credit usage never for once fail? But there is every minute complaint about aborted calls; of inability to load credits, unjustified suspension of services! To reach their supposed service line in lodging a simple complaint if ever one gets through, is to undergo unwanted bombardment of bogus promotions and meaningless products; all designed to enrich them to their customers detriment.

Their customer service personnel speak always through their noses, haughty and condescending. They complain of higher costs of operation in Nigeria, but the Honourable Minister may wish to have a summary of their expenditure items just to see how much of the costs concern services to the subscribers. Rather than spend good money to improve their services, they regularly opt for extensive empty promotions that promise so much but end up practically giving nothing away. How many ordinary Nigerians businesses or qualified individuals not connected to a powerful person are there doing business with them? How will the business or the individual make the connection? One cannot see them without appointment, and one cannot make the appointment on phone, or be allowed in to visit, so how does one see them?

All their glitz and glamorous broadcasting programmes are either in favour of businesses of their home origin, or their Nigerian fronts. The humiliation we complain of in the hands of embassy personnel is nothing compared with what we suffer with the GSM companies. Akunyili therefore has so much to do at her new posting. Welcome Madam.