Six months after the Senate President, Dr. Ahmed Lawan, constituted an ad-hoc committee of the upper legislative chamber to investigate the hikes in pay television rates and the demand for the adoption of Pay Per View subscription model by operators, the committee held a public hearing into both matters on September 22, 2022.
Based on media reports of the hearing, the most evident outcome is of the committee’s foggy grasp of the issues it sat to probe.
This piece does not aim to diss the Senate, but to illuminate the issues and ensure a better understanding by the ad-hoc committee and subscribers. A bold hint of the committee’s meagre grasp of the issues was provided by the committee Chairman, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, who blamed the National Broadcasting Commission for the frequent pay television tariff increases.
“We need to have price regulation. Price increases need to be regulated. NBC, from all intent and purposes, are the problem of the country when it comes to pay TV,” Abdullahi said.
Only one inference is drawable from this: That the NBC has the power to regulate prices and has failed to exercise the power, the reason tariffs have kept climbing. But the NBC Act CAP N11 gives the commission no such powers, as stated at the hearing by Anete Onyebuchi, who represented the commission’s Director-General.
“The NBC Act only gives it power to receive, consider and investigate complaints regarding broadcast content. Nowhere in the Act is the NBC given powers to regulate the prices being charged on their services,” Onyebuchi, NBC’s Deputy Director, Research and Policy, said in his presentation.
Given that the issues being investigated are consumer-centric, it was curious that the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) was invited to the session. This is because the FCCPC has the responsibility for the protection of the consumer against exploitation. Its Executive Vice Chairman, Dr. Babatunde Irukera, is also on record as having explained that the commission is not empowered to regulate prices.
In an interview published by Premium Times on April 18, 2022, Irukera dispelled the view that his agency is a price regulator. He said the law establishing the commission has a limited provision on price regulation which, if even it allows the government to fix prices, requires the FCCPC to make a recommendation to the President for a limited time of price regulation in a specific sector.
The committee, surprisingly, also seemed indifferent to/unaware of local and global economic conditions responsible for the cost-of-living crisis everywhere. In six years, said Abdullahi, MultiChoice, on which the committee’s guns was trained, has increased its tariff by 55 per cent.