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Digital Switchover scam: Absence of 2nd defendant stalls NBC DG’s arraignment

THE scheduled arraignment of Ishaq Modibbo-Kawu, Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) at the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Tuesday, was stalled due to the absence of the second defendant, Dipo Onifade.

Modibbo-Kawu, Onifade and Lucky Omoluwa are facing a 12-count charge bordering on abuse of office, money laundering and misleading a public officer with the intent to defraud the federal government, brought against them by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC).

The other defendants are the Chairman and Chief Operating Officer of Pinnacle Communications Limited respectively; the company is also joined in the suit as the fourth defendant.

While granting the adjournment on March 12, the trial judge, Folashade Giwa-Ogunbajo, had ordered that Modibbo-Kawu must appear in court on April 17, even it means bringing him on a stretcher.

At the resumption of hearing on Tuesday, Abdulrasheed Mustapha (SAN), counsel to Modibbo-Kawu, thanked the judge for granting an adjournment to enable his client to be in court. He also presented a medical report to prove that his client was indeed ill as a result of which he missed the previous hearing.

Modibbo-Kawu and his co-accused Lucky Omoluwa in the dock.

However, counsel to the second and third defendant, Alex Izinyon (SAN) informed the court that one of his clients, Onifade, was not yet in court, but had informed him that he was on his way from Kaduna.

Izinyon pleaded with the court to stand down the hearing for one hour to wait for his client to arrive.

Justice Giwa-Ogunbajo, obliged and stood down the proceedings, but when the hearing restarted after more than one hour, Onifade was not in court still.

Izinyon then pleaded with the court for an adjournment in line with the already scheduled dates of the trial. He said he would not mind signing an undertaking to guarantee that his client would be in court on the next adjourned date, so long as he is safe at the moment.

In her ruling, Justice Giwa-Ogunbajo expressed her displeasure that Onifade had to leave Kaduna on the day of the trial knowing fully well that the trial time was 9 am. She charged Izinyon to ensure that his client is in town at least a day before the day of trial.

She subsequently adjourned the trial to May 2nd.

Modibbo-Kawu, Onifade and Omoluwa are accused of complicity in the misapplication of the N2.5 billion seed grant for the Digital Switch-Over (DSO) programme of the federal government.

In 2016, the federal government released N10 billion to the Ministry of Information and Culture for the Digital Switch-Over programme, alongside a White Paper containing directives on how the process should be executed.

Among the directives contained in the white paper, only government-affiliated companies were eligible to take part in the programme. One of them was ITS, an affiliate of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), and the sum of N1.7 billion was released to it as seed grant for the commencement of the switch-over.

However, according to Rasheedat Okoduwa, spokesperson of the ICPC, “Modibbo-Kawu fraudulently recommended Pinnacle Communications Limited, a private company, to the Minister of Information and Culture, for the release of N2.5 billion against the guidelines contained in the White Paper”.

It was based on this that the ICPC filed charges against him and his accomplices, the arraingment for which has now been shifted to May 2.

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