MINISTER of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, may have a case to answer in the ongoing trial of the Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Ishaq Modibbo-Kawu, for the misapplication of N2.5 billion seed grant for the Digital Switchover programme.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) had dragged Modibbo-Kawu and two others − Dipo Onifade and Lucky Omoluwa − before Justice Folashade Giwa-Ogunbajo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on a 12-count charge bordering on abuse of office, money laundering and misleading a public officer with the intent to defraud the federal government.
The commission claimed that Modibbo-Kawu had “fraudulently” recommended a private company (Pinnacle Communications Limited) to the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, as one of the companies to handle the Digital Switchover programme, contrary to a federal government White Paper directing that the programme be handled by companies affiliated to government-owned institutions.
However, Premium Times reports that contrary to the claims by the ICPC, Lai Mohammed “took part in discussions between Pinnacle Communications and embarked on foreign trips to inspect equipment for Nigeria’s digital switchover”, therefore claims that the Minister only approved the N2.5 billion payment based on the recommendations of Modibbo-Kawu, are false.
According to the Premium Times report, when ICPC investigators went to interview Lai Mohammed, he admitted that he did not do due diligence before approving the payment to Pinnacle Communications, but had done so following Modibbo-Kawu’s recommendation. The Minister, however, refused the ICPC operatives to record the interview, saying that he needed “clearance” from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha.
The report also quoted the ICPC spokesperson, Rasheedat Okoduwa, as saying that they the commission did not include Lai Mohammed in the charges brought against the trio of Modibbo-Kawu, Onifade and Omoluwa, “because he said he was deceived into signing the payment”.
Okoduwa added that if in the course of the trial, it becomes necessary that the minister should be charged, the ICPC would not hesitate to do so.
The ICIR placed a call to the information minister to get him to react to the report, but his line kept ringing. A 3-paged text message sent to him was also not replied as at the time of this report.