MULTICHOICE: Rise of The Rest as a Panacea to curb recalcitrance of a monopolist.
The announcement of the latest price increase for the various packages of Africa’s Satellite Pay Tv service on same day the world media focused attention on Nigeria as her citizens celebrated the commissioning of a world class ultra-modern fertilizer plant; the brain child of one of their own who is also one of the planet’s most successful entrepreneurs, is not a coincidence.
The two events are related. Whilst one celebrated the world-acknowledged entrepreneurial talent of the Nigerian, the other was a strategic assault on Nigerian sovereignty intended to cause in Nigeria, the same effect an announcement of a sudden price increase in staple foods will create in a country experiencing political tension amidst a myriad of socio-economic challenges including electricity power rationing.
Nigerians inadvertently made MultiChoice service a staple food in Nigeria when they accepted monopoly in a very sensitive but lucrative sector with implications on other critical sectors including national security. The Monopoly has lasted for so long that many Nigerians now assume that satellite Pay Tv service is a rocket science that only the domineering South African franchise has the capacity and financial wherewithal to provide.
MultiChoice has become the most powerful corporate in Nigeria; it is the only private sector business in Nigeria that is a monopoly. Just as the news of their strategically timed price increase took the shine off the happy news of the fertilizer plant commissioning, the South African franchise will continue to dictate the mood of our nation at critical moments and even, in the near future, be in a position to determine which party wins elections in Nigeria. Nations take time to create and run structures that take out the possibility of creating corporate monsters within their space. Monopoly is built, fed and sustained on corruption of a system. An inquiry into how we got ourselves where we are today with MultiChoice will uncover the monster that has held back our country from reaching its potential despite abundance of talents.
The “Rise of The Rest” happens in a nation when every talent is facilitated to contribute according to their talents to develop their nation space and empower their citizens. Indeed the difference between a developed country and underdeveloped one is the extent to which the least of the talents within a nation space is facilitated. Make no mistake about it, Nigeria will not make any meaningful progress in her economic journey so long as a level playing field is denied the majority of her talents to thrive and contribute according to their talents. Monopoly is antithetical to the “Rise of The Rest”. No serious nation creates a corporate Frankenstein within its boarders.
Capitalizing on the ignorance and greed of a few unpatriotic citizens to corrupt, undermine and weaken structures and institutions of governance of their nation may, on the surface, seem like the pursuit of a corporate economic interest of a monopolist but it could be much more sinister than that. The way and manner MultiChoice prosecutes its monopoly war against Nigerians raises a strong suspicion of an ulterior motive. A quick look at some antecedents of MultiChoice over their many years of operation in Nigeria reveals a very disturbing pattern;
- The last time MultiChoice announced price increase in Nigeria was in June 2020 amidst a heartless COVID 19 pandemic ravaging the world. forcing governments and corporates to deliver bailout packages to ameliorate difficulties faced by families and calm down “ tensed nerves.
- In 2019, shortly after a general election that set up tension in Nigeria especially in the Niger Delta, MultiChoice caused operatives of Nigerian law enforcement agency to invade and shutdown the operations of the indigenous pay Tv operators, curiously in the Niger Delta states only. The assault happened not minding that indigenous Pay Tv operators were already in a Federal High court over the same trade dispute that MultiChoice surreptitiously took to the Federal law enforcement officers in the middle of the night. In some countries, giving false information to a law enforcement officer carries a huge consequence. The indigenous pay Tv operators have wept until they could weep no more so they shut up. Only God knows what has become of their former employees, service distributors and small-scale businesses that depended on their service to survive in a country where unemployment at the current rate of over 30% is already a major National crisis.
- MultiChoice’s penchant for lying to the world that Nigerian indigenous Pay Tv companies operate without rebroadcast license is a calculated assault on the sovereignty of the Nigerian nation meant to portray her, in the eyes of the world, as a country of lawlessness. No real nation, even a banana republic, can allow a rebroadcast station to operate without a license. MultiChoice does not peddle such lies against South African rebroadcasters.
- The Nigerian Government’s aim for licensing local companies to invest in the local assembly/manufacturing of set-top boxes for the pay Tv industry and build local skills and capacity in the sector has consistently been frustrated by MultiChoice still importing fully built Set-Top boxes and accessories.
The Nigerian government ought to investigate the above incidences thoroughly to be sure they are all in pursuit of a commercial interest only. In some ways, Nations are in contention with each other. It is always an act of patriotism for multinationals to prioritize the interests of their home countries over those of the others. The action of American corporates in the ongoing war in Ukraine is a clear demonstration of a patriotic support by a Nation’s corporates to the cause of their home country. Think of whose home country becomes the biggest beneficiary in the unlikely event of Nigeria sliding to a number two economic power in Africa.
MultiChoice Nigeria Ltd is without doubt a Nigerian company but it is a franchise of a South African behemoth that dictates how things proceed. Their Nigerian partners, franchisees and collaborators are not in any position to understand the game of their South African pay masters who sit comfortably in their Ferndale, Randburg South Africa head office to control and monitor things.
Now think about these…
A. How come that the entire sub-Saharan Africa of over a billion people has only Multi Choice as the satellite Pay Tv provider while Dubai alone of about ten million residents has three active players struggling for market share, driving down prices and delivering world class customer service to the benefit of consumers and overall economic benefit of Dubai?
B. Why are Nigerians known globally for their entrepreneurship and have demonstrated capacity to excel in complicated businesses like petrochemical and refining, Aviation, shipping, banking, Telecoms etc. do not have the financial wherewithal and intellectual capacity to play in the lucrative Satellite Pay Tv service sector?
C. Has big brother Nigeria so far not failed rest of African Nations that look up to big brother Nigeria to get it right in their country and then lead rest of Africa and Africans out of servitude and modern-day neocolonialism sustained through corruption of their public institutions and structures of governance over the years?
D. Considering that Tv business in Africa started in the Nigeria city of Ibadan long before it reached South Africa, how would the founding fathers of this great country feel towards this generation of Nigerians that has so easily succumbed to subterfuge and intimidation of a condescending monopolist to abandon a lucrative and high-profile business sector in the hands of a few south African Caucasian manipulators
Truth of the matter is that MultiChoice’s recalcitrance in sub-Saharan African satellite Pay Tv space is sustained at the expense of us all – the over one billion sub–Saharan Africans. The next time MultiChoice approaches you to compromise, think about the image of your country, your race, and your future generations.
On Wednesday 30th March 2022, the senate announced that it had set up a committee to investigate the current price increase in Pay Tv service. The last we heard about a legislative probe of price increase in Pay Tv service was when the House of Representatives in June 2020 following the COVID era price hike, set up a similar probe panel. Later, we heard that the MultiChoice team summoned to appear before the probe panel caught COVID on their way and so could not show up. Nothing more was heard about that Panel and their report.
Truth is that there is very little a legislative house on their own can achieve probing a well-entrenched system that has been permitted to fester for so long. The Nigeria constitution and the enabling Acts setting up her public institutions have adequate provisions to make our country a place that works for all; both for the large multinationals with cash and their indigenous counterparts but the problem is with a few bad eggs amongst the ranks of public servants charged with their implementation.
Fact remains that most Nigerian public servants, I would say up to 99%, are honest and patriotic. Problem is with the 1% bad eggs whose avarice, ignorance and shortsightedness ridicule our country and hold it down to the detriment of us all. The responsibility of fishing out and punishing the bad eggs rests squarely on the shoulders of the honest 99%. What will be most effective is for each of the three arms of government to quietly do an in house search to identify and punish their bad eggs.
You cannot have a healthy Nation without her supportive healthy corporations. Nigeria can only reap the full democratic dividends of her youthful population and harness her abundant entrepreneurial talents when it jettisons current prevailing amorphous situations in the public service system that empower bad eggs in the system use their positions to suppress “The Rise of The Rest”.
Therefore, instead of embarking on a fresh legislative probe of price increase, let the legislature, as the true representatives of the people, coordinate and champion the setting up and empowering of a mission critical task force comprising relevant officers drawn from the three arms of government to investigate not MultiChoice price increase but the circumstances in our public service system that created the corporate monster that has colonized our Pay Tv space as a birthright, becoming so powerful that it can now get away with anything including over invoicing and round tripping.
Main goal of the task force will be to clean up Nigeria’s competitive landscape keeping in mind that a competitive landscape that works for everyone is the number one item on the ease of doing business activity chart. The task force will dialogue with critical stakeholders in different sectors of the economy including members of the indigenous Association of Cable operators of Nigeria ACON.
The cogent question now is whether the Buhari administration that has made Nigerians aware that a corporate can perpetuate N1.8 trillion in tax fraud, can also act to address one of the main reasons
Nigeria is underperforming despite abundance of talents?
Only time will tell.
Usman Abdullahi, a media analyst writes from Maiduguri.
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