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Ola Balogun: Ben Bruce as FRCN chairman – Another disastrous idea

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Ola Balogun: Ben Bruce as FRCN chairman – Another disastrous idea

by Ola Balogun

Not only does the conflict of interest situation still exist (Ben Murray-Bruce and his family own and operate Silverbird radio, which is in competition with FRCN), but Ben Bruce clearly did not show himself to be a worthy administrator during his stint of office as Director-General of the Nigerian Television Authority.

I hereby wish to place myself on public record as stating openly that the recent appointment of Mr. Ben Bruce as Chairman of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) is an absolutely disastrous idea. The fact that this appointment was ever even considered is further evidence of the Goodluck Jonathan administration’s manner of sleepwalking its way through important issues and making key decisions on a haphazard basis, without due consideration of true national interest. In his own interest, I would strongly advise Mr. Ben Murray-Bruce to turn down this clearly undeserved appointment. What are my reasons for postulating that it is a totally disastrous and unwelcome idea to ask Ben Bruce to serve as chairman of FRCN?

First my credentials: I happen to have had a long and possibly distinguished career in Nigeria and various parts of the world in mass media affairs (specialising in film and music production) for over four decades now. I believe I am in an excellent position to formulate some useful ideas about how the federally-owned radio and television outfits should best be organised and run. Unfortunately, however, no one in governmental circles in Nigeria ever listens to the views of folks like me! In addition to having served meritoriously on the Governing Council of Ilorin University for some years under the distinguished leadership of late Justice Allagoa (Professor Adesola was the remarkably competent and outstandingly honest Vice Chancellor of Ilorin University at the time), I have also had the honour of serving for some years as a member of the board of the Federal Radio Corporation itself, so it is an organisation that I know well.

I think it should be conceded that I also have some ideas about how our national interests can best be served in public bodies, the more so as I served the nation diligently as Information Officer in the Nigerian Embassy in Paris during the civil war years. Also, following a stint in academia (at the University of Ife, where I benefited immensely from observing the example and leadership skills of the late Professor Hezekiah Oluwasanmi, who happens to be one of the most extraordinary Nigerians that I have ever been opportuned to come close to), I was recruited by the Federal Government to set up an Audio-Visual Department in the Nigerian Museum (Federal Department of Antiquities) in the early seventies.

At the time I voluntarily resigned from the Federal Civil Service sometime in 1974, I had reached the equivalent of Deputy Permanent Secretary grade in terms of emolument and rank. So I do have extensive experience of government structure and government procedures, and I have some ideas of what is right and proper in terms of service to government.

Last but not the least, I happen to be reasonably well acquainted with Mr. Ben Bruce as a person (we are not friends though!) and I know that Ben Murray-Bruce is essentially a business man and a fast talking proponent of capitalist ideas and methodology, rather than someone with any sound knowledge of radio or television broadcasting in the professional sense. I say this with all due sense of responsibility. Ben Murray-Bruce knows very little about radio or television broadcasting from a professional angle, even though he has been exposed to television and radio for some time now purely as a businessman. I hope the distinction is clear! Given this fact, his initial appointment to the position of Director General of the Nigerian Television Authority after General Olusegun Obasanjo was elected to the Presidency of Nigeria was clearly not based on merit. At the time, this controversial appointment was widely perceived to be an act of nepotism.

Most unacceptably, Mr. Ben Bruce’s appointment as NTA Director-General by General Obasanjo failed to take into consideration the conflict of interest situation that was inherent in the fact that at the time in question, Ben Bruce was the major proprietor and Chief Executive Officer of Silverbird radio, a private company that was deep in the process of setting up a television arm to compete with NTA… Given all this background, it is obviously injudicious for Mr. Ben Bruce to be appointed chairman of the FRCN board! Not only does the conflict of interest situation still exist (Ben Murray-Bruce and his family own and operate Silverbird radio, which is in competition with FRCN), but Ben Bruce clearly did not show himself to be a worthy administrator during his stint of office as Director-General of the Nigerian Television Authority, which is a sister body to the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria. Some people may of course be inclined to argue that since the chairman of a federal parastatal does not actually occupy an executive position, membership of the boards of parastatals is merely a decorative affair….

On the contrary, however, nothing could be further from the truth! I happen to know from the period when I was serving on the FRCN board that the board has a major role to play in defining the orientation of the corporation, as well as in supervising the work of the director general and his team. It is precisely because this sound principle stopped being adhered to as from the Ibrahim Babaginda and Obasanjo eras that a lot has gone wrong.

Two examples of the extent of the rot that has set in will prove my point:

The first is the case of the Nigerian Film Corporation, a body that was fraudulently established in Jos several years ago under the pretext that the chemical characteristics of the water supply in Jos was more suitable for the work of a film laboratory than the water in Lagos…  Interestingly enough, no scientific studies or data were ever produced to justify its veracity. Somebody merely wrote a memo in a file, and the memo made its way to the Federal Minister of Information who then approved the transfer of the Nigerian Film Corporation to its present location in Jos…

This initial premise might be dismissed as a merely hilarious illustration of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo, except for the fact that the supposed laboratory that was set up in Jos as part of the Film Corporation has since gulped millions of dollars in public funds with nothing tangible to show for all that expenditure. The only film ever processed by the supposed laboratory was a mediocre semi-amateur production. By accident, the current Chairman of the NFC board is my very dear friend, Mr. Bongos Ikwue, who is an extraordinarily talented musician and very successful businessman. The upshot is that under incompetent leadership, the Nigerian Film Corporation has received several hundred million naira as capital and recurrent budget for several consecutive years, which has all been expended with nothing to show for it.

In fact, it is scandalous public knowledge that in all these years, the Nigerian film corporation has neither produced or funded one single film, nor contributed any appreciable funds to the production of any Nigerian film. From the two examples of the Nigerian Film Corporation and the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, where directors general with cloudy agenda have been allowed to operate without proper supervision by boards headed by competent chairmen, it is evident that it would be sheer folly to throw the venerable and crucial national institution known as the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria into the same chasm. Both for the sake of present-day Nigerians and in the interest of future generations of Nigerians yet unborn, the decision to appoint Mr. Ben Murray-Bruce Chairman of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria should be rescinded with immediate effect. The people of Nigeria deserve a better fate!

– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Ola Balogun

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