VON: Delivering On A Global Vision For Nigeria In Digital Broadcasting

20 June 2012

By Abdul-Warees Solanke

On March 13th 2012, the Commander in Chief and President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan  commissions Africa's largest broadcasting infrastructure, the Voice of Nigeria's multi-billion dollar new transmitting station in Lugbe, Abuja, a project that its incumbent director-general, Mallam Abubakar Jijiwa worked tirelessly to materialize. Such a project under normal circumstances of funding constraints in the public sector in Nigeria could have become another white elephant were it not for the tenacity of purpose and management sagacity of  Jijiwa in mobilizing both the internal and external stakeholders to ensure that the transmitting station is delivered on time in Nigeria's bid to meet the digital switch over deadline of 2012.

With doggedness and carrying along the successive ministers of information to whom he answered and the national assembly too, he ensured that the Federal Government,  provided the necessary fund, put the international contractors who handled the project on their toes, worked ahead even of the local consultants and experts and did not allow the project monitors and liaison officers to have a rest until Lugbe became a reality. The visionary in Jijiwa is the realization of Voice of Nigeria's Transmitter Complex and Staff Housing Estate so that Nigeria's Voice can be heard more positively and clearly in the shaping of our world in the digital age. 

But Lugbe is not the first transmitter Jijiwa will be delivering as a broadcast manager. Two decades ago, he consolidated the activities of the Adamawa Broadcasting Corporation into one house as he superintended the construction of a new broadcasting station and transmitter complex in Yola.  Jijiwa, who has also had the privilege of serving the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association as its President for two consecutive terms between 2006 and 2010 has also been piloting the umbrella body of all broadcasting stations in Nigeria, BON for the past eight years. The beauty in the commissioning of Lugbe on March 13, 2012 is that it presented a unique opportunity to celebrate the birthday anniversary of this humble and unassuming public manager who turns 51 years on March 15, two days after the historic unveiling the VON new transmitting station . Only two years ago, he was honoured with MFR award, for his unrelenting services to the nation on the pedestal of public service broadcasting.     

I met Mallam Abubakar Jijiwa in 1990 while I was on deployment to Gongola State as the Bureau Chief of the defunct National Concord. What I found most profound about him is his capacious intellect, cosmopolitan outlook, humility and sense of direction. He was never given to frivolity. Jijiwa at  a relatively young age of about 30 years  then and being at the driver's seat of a major public service broadcasting institution, the GBC, I considered this as very remarkable. To me then, he cut a perfect picture of a future leader in Nigeria. Youthfulness was not a barrier to make a difference in public service. But he was also not given to partisan politics. His passion was public service. For, he could as far back as 1995 have ventured into politics, having served his home state under the military regime, first as the secretary to Fufore Local Government in 1986 and twice as Commissioner for Finance, Budget and Economic Planning.  He just shielded himself from the lure of politics despite pressure and temptations from those who saw something in him to enter the race for elective offices. Therefore since 1993 that he joined Voice of Nigeria from the News Agency of Nigeria, Jijiwa has dedicated himself to providing leadership in public sector administration and management through his services and engagements, locally and internationally, in public service broadcasting.

As a student of public leadership and management, I have closely monitored the Jijiwa style of leadership. He fits into the transformational leadership style grid. Public managers in their approach to management can be scored on the parameters of effectiveness and efficiency. The concern of those who adopt the directive approach is effectiveness, brooding no-nonsense, authoritarian, dictatorial, hard pushing. Hence they often score low on efficiency, for, once out of the scene, their followers relapse; those who favour reactive approach score low in both effectiveness and efficiency as they often lack vision but are only driven by the tide; public managers who adopt the adaptive approach, the typical Weberian manager or administrator usually score high in efficiency but are low in effectiveness because they hardly think out of the box but restrict themselves to the rule. Their concern, usually, is process while managers who belong to the generative school score high in both effectiveness and efficiency. They do not think alone but inspire everybody in the team to think and learn to provide solution. They are good at team building and mentoring, motivating their team members to achieve result, rewarding their performance and investing in them.

Jijiwa is that type of manager and leader, able to achieve result in the face of odds, able to inspire ownership in his lieutenants, able to command the trust and loyalty of his followers, able to actualize a collective vision as in the delivery of the monumental national asset of the VON transmitting station at Lugbe, Abuja. There is no doubt Jijiwa is a fine example in team building and talent management. He does not look at what language you speak and how you worship your God. His concern is the stuff you can offer. He has a virtue in discerning and discovering raw talents and potentials, burnishing them and releasing them to unleash their intellectual and professional worth. He is also unobtrusive as he allows your ideas to thrive once it could benefit the system. As a leader, he gives roomfor the managers to manage, while focussing on strategic issues and giving support and encouragement. He  never discounts the input of even the cleaner in the decision making process.  

The story of the Lugbe transmitting station is also the story of how good succession planning should be in the public sector. It is the story of clear articulation of vision, of right selection of hands to actualize a vision and of mobilizing all stakeholders to share in the vision. The immediate past directors-general of Voice of Nigeria, Mallam Yaya Abubakar and Aremo Taiwo Allimi did not make a mistake in empowering Jijiwa as a worthy successor to fulfil one of their many visions to make Nigeria's voice to be heard more positively in the shaping of our world through the construction of the ultra-modern, digitally compliant transmitter complex for VON to meet the challenge of modern digital broadcasting.

In an era of austerity, envelope budgeting, budget review, non-release of allocations or capital votes, it might be convenient for many a public manager to go to bed, sleep on the vision of their predecessors or simply bore a tiny drain duct into their lean purses claiming, we cannot perform because we are not being properly funded. The delivery of this transmitter project by VON with Jijiwa as its chief superintendent is therefore a lesson in managing in financial crunch. The realization of Lugbe is a clear epitome of how VON has coped over the years with visionary leaders steering its ship since 1990 when the Corporation became autonomous and Mallam Yaya Abubakar was marshalled from the Nigerian Television Authority to lead the entity. It is also a case study of how public managers can rise above boardroom politics to key into the same vision as Aremo Taiwo Allimi in succeeding Yaya in 1999 embarked on a revitalizing mission for VON to bring verve to the efforts of his predecessor who, understandably, was constrained in the last few years of his tenure by the military regime's lack of attention to the demands of VON as an international broadcaster. Lugbe, therefore, is a reflection of how successors in public officers, should commit themselves to the realization or actualization of the promises of their predecessors. In executing Lugbe, Jijiwa  did not discount the contributions and expertise of all his predecessors and colleagues in management. For their efforts, the jijiwa led VON management has etched the names of these men in history, naming major landmarks of his administration after them. Today in VON, there is Yaya Abubakar Penthouse and Yaya Abubakar Rotatable Transmitter, Aremo Taiwo Allimi Recording Studio and Aremo Taiwo Allimi Antenna Farm, Stella Bassey Studio, Eno Irukwu Studio and Engr. G C Ugwu Transmitter Hall.

While providing the inspiration and leadership to complete the project, he also ensured the project implementation followed the due process by submitting regular progress reports to the Ministry and the Presidency, getting the relevant House Committees to see the necessity of committing themselves to ensure the VON transmitting station is not a white elephant, abandoned at some stage because of lack of fund.  Lugbe is today an asset for Nigeria, a pride of Africa and a broadcasting infrastructure of global significance. It is an explicit translation of the transformation agenda canvassed by the president. It is the realization of vision of Nigeria as a global leader in broadcasting. Mallam jijiwa had demonstrated that leadership at the level of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association where he served two terms as the president between 2006 and 2010 as he has also been piloting Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria, BON since 2004 to the satisfaction of all public and private broadcasters in the country.

Today, the Federal Government is proud of its investment in Lugbe achieved with the drive and tenacity of Jijiwa. The Federal Ministry of information and its officials are happy that one of its agencies and departments is delivering on the president's transformation agenda. The past directors general of VON are satisfied that one of their visions has been accomplished. The Management and staff of the Corporation are also in celebration that their team spirit produced a world class facility that will take broadcasting to the next level in Nigeria. It is all in the managerial acumen provided by Mallam Jijiwa, the vision he has, the energy and the sleepless nights he sacrificed to ensure that Lugbe becomes a reality for Nigeria, for Africa and for the world of digital broadcasting.

However, Jijiwa will not be in VON forever. But under him as VON DG, an infrastructure of everlasting legacy has been delivered for Nigeria and Africa. How this asset is utilized and maintained by his successors will be another lesson in public management. However with the monumental transmitting facility of VON in Lugbe, Nigeria is ready, meeting the deadline for the digital switch over. 


Abdul-Warees Solanke, Head, Voice of Nigeria Training Centre, Broadcasting House, Ikoyi Lagos studied Mass Communication and Public Policy and  writes via korewarith@yahoo.com



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