19 marzo 2008

FRCNA confida nel rilancio delle onde corte

In questa lunga intervista al direttore generale di FRCN Kaduna, Alhaji Ladan Salihu, il giornalista del quotidiano Daily Trust, il giornalista Sani Babadoko conferma l'interesse nei confronti delle onde medie e corte da parte di questa importante stazione regionale dell'ente radiofonico pubblico norvegese. Dopo l'arrivo, una decina di giorni fa, di un nuovo trasmettitore FM, Salihu ribadisce l'impegno da parte del governo federale nel rinnovo degli impianti AM. Il direttore parla delle difficoltà nel tenere ancora in piedi trasmettitori che secondo lui sarebbero più degni di un museo (FRCN Kaduna utilizzava in passato i 6090 kHz e l'anno scorso era ritornata on air, ora non saprei se è ancora attiva) e riconosce che i suoi tecnici, spesso richiesti per le riparazioni delle postazioni di Lagos e Ibadan (altra sede FRCN regionale), sono bravissimi.

Radio Nigeria is no political pawn

Written by Sani Babadoko
Monday, 17 March 2008

Two weeks ago the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) Kaduna added a new 10 kilowatts Frequency Modulated (FM) transmitter for its Hausa listeners. This is coming 46 years after the station’s establishment by the then government of the defunct Northern region. It is also the forerunner to the planned replacement of its obsolete Short Wave (SW) and medium Wave (MW) transmitters. Despite the politically inspired controversy that trailed the location of some of its new FM stations in states controlled by opposition parties, the Executive Director FRCN Kaduna, Alhaji Ladan Salihu in this interview with our Kaduna Bureau Chief, Sani Babadoko, insists they are not political pawns.He says the replacement of the SW and MW transmitters will restore Radio Kaduna’s lost glory. Excerpts:

You have been broadcasting to your audience for the past 46 years. Why FM and why for Hausa listeners now?

When you look at the city of Kaduna, it is cosmopolitan in nature, and it represents every index and indices in the land. It has a congregation of virtually every available tribe representing various sections of the country, Kaduna has grown more sophisticated and it is still doing so by the day, and that means the colouration of the audience is also being enhanced. So we decided to come up with the Hausa FM for two main reasons. One is to use it as a vehicle of imparting the Hausa traditions, culture, folklore, knowledge and more. Secondly, it is to create a station of variety where Hausa speakers; be they Igbos, Yoruba, Fulani and so on, will have a common meeting point, and to agree to disagree, to debate and to share ideas on issues of the day. It will be a station that will bond the city dwellers. It is Hausa biased ,but it is not Hausa ethnic in nature.

We did it because we saw a void that needs to be filled. We are in an era of privatization and competition, although I do not believe so much in competition ,I see it as collaboration between and among all the professionals that are playing out there in the field.

But the big picture really is not the FM. The big picture to me, and the management of FRCN Kaduna, is actually the Short Wave (SW) and the Medium Wave (MW) transmission platforms, which is what we are known for. The Hausa FM basically caters for Kaduna state and its environs, but the SW and MW transmission takes you to every nook and cranny of the country, and that is what we are emphasizing on to ensure that our people, wherever they are in the country, can tune to FRCN Kaduna. A Hausaman, for instance, living in Port Harcourt, Lagos, Enugu, Konduga, Ganborun-Ngala, Maiduguri or in Mambilla plateau for that matter, can be reached by Radio Nigeria Kaduna. We also provide information and entertainment to Nigerians whether they are from the East, West, North and South where they can know the happenings up North and hear news about their own kinsmen for the country’s unity.

Basically, the SW and the MW transmission platforms are the cherished arms of Radio Nigeria, Kaduna and that is what we are concentrating on. The Hausa Fm as I said is a matter of variety.

You are introducing a new FM at a time when the rest of the world is incorporating the latest in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and listeners can now actually log on to broadcasts on the internet. Is FRNC Kaduna going along with the latest in technology?

Indeed we are part of the technological development mainly because we are streaming Supreme FM, one of the stations on the FRCN bouquet, on the internet, but the Short Wave (SW) and the Medium Wave (MW) transmissions will also eventually be on the internet when our transmitters are replaced. Now beyond that I want to tell you that streaming on the Internet, as far as our core operations are concerned, is something we will do inevitably. But mark you, more than 70 percent of our audience do not have access to computers, and do not have access to Internet cafes. Our audience are mostly the everyday people living in towns, villages, hamlets dotted all over the country, and day in day out they tune to Radio Nigeria, Kaduna for news about events happening in the country and beyond. So we are, taking the ICT pari pasu with our own developmental objectives, and they have to go with our own dreams and aspirations as we try to reposition FRNC Kaduna.

Now you have started test transmission on the new FM. Have you encountered any problem along the way?

We have a minor engineering set back, not from our side but from the side of the neighboring Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). We set out our transmitter, which is working satisfactorily, but then we discovered that when we go full blast on the 10 Kilowatt transmitters, we almost immediately scrambled the NTA, Kaduna transmission, and that has to do with some engineering problem, which engineers from the two organizations are now trying to sort out. As soon as that is done, which will be very soon. InshaAllah we will go on full-blown transmission. It is in the spirit of historical cohabitation and togetherness, that we share the same facilities. Our test transmission, in all honesty, should not be seen to disrupt the services of NTA and we are amicably resolving the problem.

Are the emerging private and state government owned radio stations not capturing your traditional audiences? And is this not a threat to Radio Nigeria Kaduna?

Everybody likes something new. If you establish a radio station today in Kaduna, Kano or anywhere for that matter, the tendency for the public is to be curious and ask, ‘what is it that is new about this station?’ because the public wants variety. But then after some time they realize that our own quality of service, the skills and reach of our broadcasts almost immediately forbids any competition with us. This is mainly because we have a far, wider and deeper reach than any of them can have. So, I would rather we collaborate with them than compete. We are a lot bigger and have a superior professional pedigree in the system.

Let me give you an example, if you have an FM station in Kaduna it transmits only within Kaduna state, and even if it moves outside Kaduna state, it cannot cover beyond this zone and if it goes beyond the zone it is going out of its area of coverage, which is not allowed. We have 27 correspondents throughout the country and they cover the country. I can assure you that there are very few FM stations that will dare to match that feat. That is why we are credible, believable and dependable, and we will continue to uphold those principles to justify the confidence that the listener has in us.

You said the bigger picture is the SW and MW transmission platforms. How soon would these 46 year old transmitters be replaced?

The two transmitters beyond any iota of doubt are old, obsolete, and at best should now be consigned to the museum of broadcast history. But then that tells volumes about the quality of engineers we have in the system. Nobody is pushing the kind of transmitters that we are using anywhere in the world. To the best of my knowledge nobody transmits with the SW and MW transmitters that we have, mainly because they are too old, but our engineers have been able to sustain them over the years. Some of these engineers go to Lagos, Ibadan and so on to repair transmitters for sister stations. But then these transmitters are tired.

I am however extremely happy and gladdened by the fact that help is on the way. Only last week the Presidential Committee on FRCN headed by a former Director General of FRCN and NTA, Alhaji Mohamed Ibrahim came to assess our facilities and we visited all our facilities and provided it with every detail. We were in Jaji, Katabu and Gonin-Gora, and they saw how obsolete these facilities are. So, to us, keeping the SW and MW transmission going however we can, is a task that we must do. But Alhamdulillah the Presidential Committee has done its work, and we have been assured by the Honorable Minister of State for Information and Communication, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki Nakande, when he came here for the commissioning and our awards to long serving staff, that the federal government is determined to replace these transmitters. I can tell you without fear of contradiction that we have heard from the Minister of Information and Communication, Mr. John Odey and the General, Mr. Ben Egbunam, that government is concerned over the state of affairs in Kaduna ,and indeed all other national stations, and that necessitated the setting up of this committee to determine our needs and begin to address them.

I would like to take this opportunity to ask Nigerians, especially all those who love FRCN kaduna to be prayerful and commend President Yar’Adua for this initiative. I believe, and I can feel that help is around the corner, and that the speed with which Mr. President and the Minister moved to ensure that this committee is set up, tells you the urgency with which the federal government intends to act on this issue. Everyday I wake up I feel extremely hopeful and delighted that the question of replacing our FM and MW transmitters in Kaduna is a matter of when, but not, if it will happen.

There has been a lot of renovation and rehabilitation work at the old studios, offices and newsroom etc. How has that impacted on the services to your listeners?

Well, as you can see we have refurbished and refitted all our operational studios. Right now, we have refurbished all our Hausa and English service production studios. In the past 46 years some of these studios have not received any attention. Many of the hinges to the doors and windows have gone through several repairs, that they can no longer hold. Insects and termites have found their way into the studios. So we have had to remove virtually all of the fittings and furniture to replace the unserviceable ones, and we deployed computers and new consoles.

The Idea is to give the staff a conducive environment for work. An environment that can motivate and give him pride. But beyond that it will make the house hold its own among any broadcast outfit throughout the world. I can tell you, and I am not boasting that our studios today can rank with any other studio obtaining anywhere for standard broadcasting.

We have refurbished the two blocks, especially the receptions where everybody coming into the complex will give the house its deserved respect. So it is an enormous task, which we have been doing piecemeal, but we will not relent. We will continue to do our bit so that when we bring our new transmitters they will just blend. We have just constructed two new servers of 500 and 1,000-gigabyte capacity where we will warehouse all our library materials and evacuate the tapes into other areas. The idea is that a reporter, announcer, producer or presenter, can lift any of these materials in these servers for their programs with the click of the mouse. We have computers in all our operational areas that are networked. So you can see we give ICT high priority in our considerations.

You will agree that capacity building and staff welfare are important to the effective and efficient functioning of all the other inputs. How far have you gone in that direction?

Well, in the past nine months or so that I have been here,I ensured that I have sent over 60 people on training in our training school from various departments: presenters, producers, ICT personnel and so on. The idea is you keep updating the challenges that we face day in day out, and we will continue to extend this training program.

When we finish these repair works that we are doing, we will also go into intellectual and professional repair works. That is to begin to address the core issues of programming that will inevitably touch on the core things we do which is news, program productions and what have you. We will intensify training and also engage professionals from outside to come and do hands-on training for our staff, so that they can benefit from the intellectual input that will enhance our professional output.

In the face of scarce revenues, how do you react to the suggestion by some professionals that you need to go into full-scale commercial ventures such as recording and waxing (or burning CDs) records?

Absolutely, we cannot escape from the reality of helping to build talents, which are abounded. We cannot also escape from the reality commercial competition and its lucrative ness once you have a very sound professional commercial set up.

So what are you doing in this respect?

We are trying to ensure that we prioritize. Right now we are doing the face-lift and renovation for the complex. It was not the best of environments for broadcasting when I came in. We will do capacity building for our staff. Our staff are professionals, and their skills must be brought up to date so that we can improve on our news and programming for the public. When we are done with that then we will take a look at our ICT programs. When we would have finished with our ICT programs in the entire department then we will go into the areas of producing talents and establishing a studio complex that will be for raw talents where they will be trained, produced and eventually they will be marketed but that is a long term plan. Right now there are huge repair works that needs to be done structurally and intellectually.

In its 46 years FRCN Kaduna has gone through a lot of controversies, the recent one being the siting of its FM stations where opposing parties to the federal government have expressed a lot of apprehension, and in some cases did not allow them to be located within their state capitals. Have you overcome this problem?

Fortunately, whatever doubt existed about the citing of these FM stations during the Obasanjo administration, there is no doubt today that the FM stations are serving the public in a most responsible and responsive manner. The FM stations have not been pawns in a political game by the powers that be. They have remained broadcast service outlets for the various states and the various communities that they serve.

The problem is the initial misgivings people had that scared some governors into almost ostracizing or banishing the stations from the state capitals, to areas where they believe they will be far away from the trappings of politics. There was a case in Sokoto state, unfortunately, where the siting of the FM station became so hot an affair during the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) led Attahiru Bafarawa administration, that it had to be cited on a federal government owned facility, and even at that the governor ordered for all demolition of the structure when it was completed. Ironically, when there was an election, even without the FM station in that state, there was a change of the party in power.

Next door, in Zamfara, the FM station was functioning and there was no change in the ruling party. So that has taught, and I also hope, it will serve as a lesson to those who go about saying that the FM stations are set up for political reasons. If they were, there was none in Sokoto but the party in power lost but in Zamfara where the FM was operating the party in power retained its position. So if the FM station in Zamfara were deployed for political reasons, of course there would have been a change in the ruling party. The FM stations were set up to serve as professional broadcast outfits to add value to broadcasting, to engage young men and women and give them a chance to explore their creativity in broadcasting and begin to build a career. Under the Kaduna national station we have at least 200 employed and that is a number that has crossed the unemployment into the employment line.

Today, even those FM stations that were banished from state capitals have been coming back to prominence. In Gombe state, for instance, the Governor, Alhaji Mohammed Danjuma Goje was so shocked by the deplorable situation of the site provided by the former Hashidu administration in Gombe, that he not only offered to it a parcel of land meant for the NTA, for which he had to pay compensation for its original owners, but offered to build the complex at no cost to FRCN. That is why we are grateful for this exemplary gesture for the love of freedom of speech and information delivery.

Talking about freedom of speech you came from a regulatory background having served at the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and you are not unaware of allegations by some opposition politicians that FRCN Kaduna has been biased against them. That it, in the past, refused to collect their paid adverts for fear that it would offend Obasanjo’s ambitions. How have you confronted this situation?

At least from the point I resumed to this point I am talking with you, we have never received complaints from politicians that question our judgments on the way we treat political reports, and you know we have just done the local government elections. This is mainly because we have tried in our own way to create a level playing field for all politicians, irrespective of their party affiliations. That is the known tradition of Radio Nigeria Kaduna. We give a level playing ground to all politicians irrespective of their political, ethnic, religious or geographical disposition. That is why we are respected and dependable to all our listeners. Most people who listen to BBC, VOA and DW Radio also come back to listen to Radio Nigeria, Kaduna, because we have become to them a reference point. This is a record that will remain unassailable.

You have said that you will restore Radio Nigeria Kaduna’s lost glory. What encouragement have you been getting from your listeners and your headquarters?

I can assure you that our listeners have been most supportive. For the little things we have done we received mails, text messages as well as verbal commendations, and some people who stop by for programming have been asking us whether it is the same place they used to visit. The other day the Governor of Kano State, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau came in for a program and when he got into the studio he asked if it was the same studio he had been visiting not long ago. So we have moral support from the public. We still enjoy their support and patronage for which we are eternally grateful.

On the side of our parent organization the FRCN headquarters, I cannot thank our Director General, Mr. Ben Egbunam enough for his support. An example is the new 10 Kilowatt FM transmitters we just commissioned, he provided the transmitter and every time there is a problem and we go to him with a memo, he will encourage us by giving us the needed approval. When I was posted here he said, look you must do whatever you can to give that place a new look and from that day whatever bill of quantity I take to him, with respect to the repairs, he will go through it, consult with the engineers at the headquarters and give us approval. He has done so much for FRCN Kaduna and we cannot thank him enough.

In terms of capacity building, the training I told you we have been doing, when we spend our internally generated revenue, such funds are refunded, because in the last few years we have not been receiving monies for overhead costs.

Would you say this is a change in attitude because in the closing days of the Obasanjo administration there were plans to clip the wings of Radio Nigeria Kaduna by reducing its reach……

Again, it is a sentimental outpouring for the concern people have for the station, but it has no basis. I can tell you with every degree of sincerity that rather than clipping the wings of Radio Nigeria Kaduna, the authorities are helping it. My Director General Ben Egbunam inherited the whole issues being raised in the media with respect to FRCN Kaduna and other FRCN stations. He was not the architect of such issues, and therefore when I read some of the comments I felt very bad, because I know that he has done well for the system.

I want to assure all our listeners that they should have no fears about the future of FRCN Kaduna. FRCN Kaduna can only be better. My vision for FRCN Kaduna in ten years is that it would be the first, and InshaAllah the best radio station in Africa south of the Sahara. We have the commitment, we have the management that is steadfast and focused, and we have a staff that is creative and have got the drive to push on either in times of peace or a tempest.

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