With a limping 40-year-old transmitter breathing life into Radio Nigeria Kaduna, listeners and staff believe the station is heading for a permanent shut down…, unless urgent rescue comes.
For almost 60 years, Radio Nigeria Kaduna, also called Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) Kaduna mobilised, galvanised and conscientised northern Nigeria. With its shortwave channels broadcasting in English, Hausa and other languages including Nupe, Fulfulde and Kanuri, the station’s signals reached beyond northern Nigeria, cultivating the largest radio listenership in sub-Saharan Africa. Though originally established as Radio Kaduna Television (RKT) in 1962 by the Broadcasting Company of Northern Nigeria (BCNN), the radio arm quickly captured and captivated the attention of northern Nigeria’s vast radio-listening population. Through its news and current affairs as well as programme content on shortwave, Radio Nigeria Kaduna became a constant companion of millions of people in rural and urban cities across the region’s vast landscape.
Fifty-eight years later, many things seem to have changed for northern Nigeria’s premier radio station including the collapse of the shortwave band and gone with it, millions of listeners. With the station now on medium wave band, our correspondent gathered that its signal is now poor and barely received outside Kaduna State.
“This is because our generating power has reduced from 100 kilowatts to about 50 and sometimes even 30 kilowatts,” said an engineer with the transmission station in Kaduna.
Ardent listeners who have remained faithful to the station say they are disappointed in its poor reach and the fact that the station often goes off air for days. Malam Bello Abubakar Talata Mafara is a blind septuagenarian who said the station is now derelict, living in past glory even though he remained faithful to its programmes for 41 years.
“The signal, years ago was far better than what it is now. I no longer enjoy the quality of the signal and many times, the station is off air,” he said. His observation was re-echoed by Suleiman Dahiru who told our correspondent that the station’s epileptic air presence had become embarrassing and wondered why leaders in northern Nigeria have been reluctant to salvage it.
Daily Trust Sunday gathered that Radio Nigeria Kaduna’s woes are multifarious and followed decades of neglect that have forced engineers and staff to make do with obsolete equipment that frequently break down. At the transmission station located in Jaji, Igabi Local Government Area of the state, our correspondent gathered that the station not only battles to stay alive but has its fate in the hands of creative engineers who may soon run out of ideas to sustain transmission.
40 year-old transmitter gives life-support to station
In 1981, the then president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, saw to the installation of two transmitters by Nippon Electric Company (NEC) of Tokyo-Japan at Radio Nigeria Kaduna’s transmission station in Jaji. Similar transmitters were mounted in other legacy stations such as Enugu, Ibadan and Lagos. According to Eng. Rabiu Tanko, a retired transmitter expert with the station, the average life span of the NEC transmitter is 10 years but could be managed for 15 years. However, the transmitter presently functioning in Jaji has remained active for almost 40 years, Daily Trust gathered.
Eng. Tanko who retired from FRCN Kaduna over eight years ago having worked for 37 years said: “Presently, there is no radio station that uses that transmitter in Nigeria or anywhere in the world. It is obsolete.”
Because the transmitters were installed in pairs in 1981, the second NEC transmitter which could have been used as back-up was completely turned off and used to cannibalize spear parts for the one functioning. Though our correspondent gathered that the station has a 200 kilowatts back-up transmitter installed by the Japanese government in 2009, it is only a prototype and therefore makes spear parts an almost impossible task.
“The prototype was built on three horsepower ACs, about six of them and it consumes a lot of power because you need to put on the ACs before it can function. So we have been alternating between the Japanese prototype and the NEC equipment,” said a member of staff of the transmission station.
The engineer who spoke with Daily Trust on condition of anonymity said the transmitter in Jaji is the last of the 1981 NEC transmitters as those installed in other legacy stations have since packed up.
“Presently, when the transmitter develops problems, we sometimes go as far as Lagos, Enugu or Ibadan where similar transmitters have since packed up to source for spare parts,” he said.
Decades of calls to replace Radio Nigeria’s 40 year-old transmitter have fallen on deaf ears, even though it has operated at half capacity for over two decades. In 2018, staff of the station protested what they described as poor service delivery as a result of obsolete equipment, particularly transmitters and generators as well as poor working conditions. The situation has not changed till today.
Northern leaders, according to Malam Bello Talata Mafara, should be blamed for the neglect even though it has been a federal government establishment since 1978 when the then Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation fused with the Broadcasting Corporation of Northern Nigeria to form the FRCN. The septuagenarian insists that political leaders from the North could still salvage it if they want.
“In those years, we had patriotic northern leaders that stood their ground and protected the interest of the radio station from those who tried to limit its signal.
“The truth remains that it is no longer what it used to be and I want to appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed and other northern leaders to come together and save Sardauna’s legacy,” he said.
Dilapidated structures, leaking roofs and other challenges
The foundation stone of Radio Nigeria Kaduna was laid by the first Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, in 1962 and is regarded as one of the premier’s most significant legacies in broadcasting. The architectural structure at the zonal office at Independence Way, Kaduna and the transmission station in Jaji depict ancient edifices that give as much prestige as they beg for comprehensive repair and rehabilitation.
In Jaji, the interior of the buildings is a sordid sight. Built ahead of the commencement of broadcasting in northern Nigeria, leaky roofing and decking have taken over the interior of the building. Inside the building housing the single NEC transmitter, engineers say they use buckets and metal boards to protect the transmitter from rain.
“There are times we have to put off the transmitter when it’s about to rain to ensure it doesn’t get wet, we also use buckets to trap water and an iron board to cover part of the transmitter,” they said.
The building which once housed the transmitters for the languages service stands solid from the outside, but its interior remains a dark shadow of its past. The languages section under the shortwave band has collapsed and the programmes which were temporarily suspended around 2017 are now back on air for 30 minutes but routed through the Hausa service. The building where the languages transmitters were once mounted now stands dilapidated and deserted.
Between the two transmitter buildings is the power generator house where the only 1000 kva generator with a capacity to power four transmitters is housed. Now left to power an obsolete transmitter and a prototype, it is no wonder that engineers say the generator guzzles a lot of diesel. Based on electricity bills, the Jaji transmission station alone has an electricity bill of approximately N8 million monthly from the Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company.
Because of epileptic electricity, the transmission station also depends on the 1000kva generator to power the transmitters. However, working at 60 percent capacity, the generator consumes about 200 litres of diesel per hour. At the diesel price of N224.43 per litre, it costs the station at least N44, 800 to power the 1000kva per hour. 2,000 litres of diesel which last for about three days costs the station N448, 860, approximately gulping about N4.5 million a month.
“The power consumption is high because the transmitter is very old. When you combine an old transmitter with an old generator and a prototype transmitter that has six AC’s, the power consumption will be high,” said Eng. Rabiu Tanko who has worked in the Jaji transmission station.
“Modern transmitters are now manufactured to consume low power because valves are no longer used, but the issue is that even with a modern transmitter, the old ones will still have to function as back-up and so the consumption problem will still be there,” he said.
Those working behind the scene to make transmission possible
In spite of a packed up transmitter and leaky roofs, there are ingenious staff still working behind the scene to make transmission possible at Radio Nigeria Kaduna. When the station is on air, the voices of radio presenters and journalists grace the airwaves almost daily to keep listeners glued to the station. However, behind the interesting programmes and news reports, engineers and other technical staff work day and night to ensure that the 40-year-old transmitter doesn’t pack up.
“Kaduna engineers have a maintenance culture, which is why the NEC transmitter is still working. Other transmitters in other parts of the country have since packed up,” said Eng. Tanko. Because of this, many of the engineers who spoke with our correspondent said they were under pressure to come up with creative means of keeping the transmitter alive.
“Over a month ago, the NEC transmitter stopped and we couldn’t scavenge spare parts. The Japanese transmitter also had a problem with the transformers that feed the transmitters and we had to go three days off air. We couldn’t get the components but using our initiative, we were able to improvise to bring it back to life,” said an engineer.
Another engineer said; “It is stressful on all of us because the equipment is obsolete and we don’t know where to get the parts. Right now, if it breaks down, we will have to go off air.”
“What Radio Nigeria Kaduna needs now is at least two transmitters at 250 kilowatts capacity to serve the shortwave and medium wave bands as well as a complete overhaul of the buildings and staff living area and other facilities. Unless something is done fast, it is no longer a matter of if we go off air permanently, but when,” he said.
Management keeps mum on station’s challenges
One month into the commencement of this investigation, the management of FRCN remained mum. Our correspondent had approached the Zonal Director of Radio Nigeria Kaduna, Alhaji Buhari Auwal, to comment on the station’s challenges but he said he was not authorised to speak on the matter. Daily Trust on Sunday then reached out to the Director General of FRCN, Dr. Mansur Liman, who agreed to speak with our correspondents in Abuja but later asked for time to revert back due to the exigencies of office. One month after, Dr. Liman continued to request for time to respond and was yet to do so at the time of filing this report.