Proper regulatory activities in the broadcasting sector took off after the establishment of the NBC in 1992.
In 1994, the NBC issued the first radio licence. Prior to that, in 1993, it published a National Broadcasting Code which it called “ a rural map on our collective journey to free and responsible broadcasting” in Nigeria. The document has been twice reviewed, the last being in 2003.
It also established seven zonal offices which later increased to 10 and to which were recently added 12 state offices and a number of independent Broadcast Assessors
To date, the NBC has licenced 30 private/commercial radio, and continues to renew licences for both state – owned and commercial stations as provided in Act 55 of 1999. It has yet to licence any Community Radio Station.
However, the NBC has taken steps in relation to community broadcasting, a development which now puts the regulatory process ahead of policy and legislation.
Its revised code (the 2003 edition) recognizes community broadcasting and makes provisions for its licencing and operation. It provides for two types of community broadcasting: campus broadcasting and rural broadcasting.
The code says a community broadcast station shall be licenced subject to the following conditions:
a. operation shall be community based
b. programme content shall cater to communal needs
c. key operations of the station shall as much as possible, be members of the community
The code has specific conditions for the licencing of campus broadcast stations: According to its section 2.5.1 the conditions shall include:
(a) transmission within the confines of the campus area only
(b) campus broadcast shall conform to all the provisions of the code
(c) it shall be used basically to promote learning
(d) shall avoid as much as possible, foreign contents except for instructional purposes
(e) there shall be no campus transmission, installation of equipment or any form of broadcasting activity without the consent of the commission
(f) campus broadcast shall not be more than six hours daily
(g) the head of Broadcast related departments shall be the operational head of the station
(h) the authority to run the station shall be a corporate body registered under the companies and wholly owned by the University.
(i) The university council must give an undertaking to use the station to promote learning, peace, unity, cohesion and not to incite, immediate, threaten or disrupt peaceful co-existence on campus.
One licence has been granted, apparently within this framework, to the University of Lagos, and it appears that the NBC accords priority to this type of community radio. In a November 15, 2004 media interview, the Director General of the NBC said: “ we are now thinking out a policy whereby for any tertiary institution that is offering Mass Communication related subject, we give you a campus radio licence. It is compulsory for us to have a campus radio where students can practice”.*2 And in a speech at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, he said the NBC had received, and forwarded to the Presidency for approval, more than 15 applications which come mainly from universities.
Despite the advances made by the NBC in its 12-year history, a number of its regulatory practices have the effect of constricting the development of the broadcast industry, including the community radio sector.
A prospective applicant for a radio broadcasting licence is expected to pay the sum of N50,000 Naira (about $400) for the application form. If the application is finally approved by the President, the successful applicant must pay one of the three categories of licence fees before he is issued a licence and allocated an appropriate frequency.
The three licence categories and attached fees are:
• Category A: key urban locations: N20 million (Naira) (about $150,000)
• Category B: semi-urban locations: N15 million (Naira) (about $112,000), and
( See NBC National Broadcasting Code, 20903, pp 26-29)
(See The Guardian (of Lagos), November 15, 2004, p …… )
(See The Punch, June …., 2005, p …..)
• Category C: rural locations: N10 million Naira (about $75,000).*1
When added to the costs of setting up and operating the station, the amount required to set up and maintain viable, particularly community radio stations, is still prohibitive.
The NBC has not announced the schedule of licence fees for community radio, although the University of Lagos station, UnilagFM, paid N1 million Naira (about $8,000).
This amount is still too high especially for rural community stations. But NBC officials keep insisting that the commission requires the revenue from licence fees to enable it meet administrative expenses including those for verifying/processing applications and monitoring the operations of licenced stations.
The conditions for renewal of licences are also unduly difficult. Among them are that:
a. a station must clear all its outstanding financial and administrative obligations to the NBC, which includes 2.5 per cent of their gross turnover as annual charges
b. demonstration of compliance with the provisions of the National Broadcasting Code, which contains strict rules on what may be broadcast
c. a station seeking licence renewal must submit to the NBC its Statement of Account for the period covered by the previous licence, accompanied by 15 copier of the licence renewal application form and a fresh feasibly report for the period for which renewal is being sought.
d. Submission of a detailed report on the station’s compliance with its statement of intent in the original application for licence
e. Submission of a report on its compliance with relevant provisions of the third schedule to NBC Act No 38. This schedule requires stations to submit to the NBC in advance quarterly programme schedules along with a synopsis of the listed programmes.
These conditions, already considered generally harsh by existing private/commercial radio operations, are likely to worsen the environment and prevent the emergence of viable community stations.
Licencing is still sometimes subject of arbitrariness and executive discretion. During the twilight years of military rule, it was reported that some licences got approval letters from the Presidency prior to processing at the NBC. In recent years, the government approved a huge expansion programme for the state-owned Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria to establish and run additional FM stations in all states of the Federation without reference to the regulatory authority.