© 2018 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Lai Mohammed, NBC DG, named in alleged N2.5bn digital switch-over fraud
THE Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) says it is investigating the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) over the alleged misappropriation of a N2.5 billion seed grant released to the agency by the federal government for its digital switch-over programme.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, and the Director General of the NBC, Modibbo Kawu, were said to have approved payment to a private company for the digital switch-over programme, in contravention of a government directive that the process should be handled by government-affiliated companies.
Though the funds had been released, there was no evidence that the job for which it was released was carried out.
According to a statement issued on Thursday by the ICPC spokesperson, Rasheedat Okoduwa, the federal government released the sum of N10 billion in 2016 to the Ministry of Information and Culture for the digital switch-over programme which was aimed at migrating telephone lines from analogue to digital platforms.
To actualise the programme, a white paper was issued by the information ministry, directing that the process should be handled by government-affiliated companies.
Two companies were nominated to handle the process, one of which was ITS, an affiliate of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), and the sum of N1.7 billion was released to it as a grant for the commencement of the switch-over.
According to ICPC’S spokesperson, Rasheedat Okoduwa, investigations revealed that the process was fraught with alleged corrupt practices, as the NBC DG, Kawu, allegedly recommended a private company called Pinnacle Communications Limited, to the Minister, Lai Mohammed, to do the job.
The sum of N2.5 billion was released to the company, paid into its Zenith Bank account between May and June 2017, against the guidelines contained in the white paper.
In the course of the investigation, Kawu, as well as some other top management staff of the NBC were invited by the ICPC to explain their involvements in the alleged misapplication of the fund, but he could not satisfactorily explain why he flouted the directives contained in the white paper and released money to an unqualified company.
Also, during interrogation, the Managing Director of Pinnacle, Dipo Onifade, confirmed that money was released to his company, but he could not justify that the money was used for the purpose of digital switch-over.
“The Commission through investigation discovered several suspicious transfers of large sums of funds from the account of the company into the bank accounts of several organisations and individuals,” stated ICPC’s spokesperson, Okoduwa.
“It found out that N100 million of the fund was paid into the personal bank account of Mr. Onifade in Zenith Bank which he claimed was for legal services that he had rendered to the same Pinnacle Communications where he is employed.
“Also investigation revealed that another N450 million was transferred into the account of Sabdat Investment Limited, a Bureau de Change, which then converted the money into dollars and handed it over to the Chairman of Pinnacle Communications Limited, Mr. Lucky Omoluwa, in his Kaduna residence as he usually did with other funds.”
The ICPC statement added that Omoluwa refused to honour invitations to come and explain his role in the alleged fraud. He rather filed a lawsuit before the Federal High Court, Abuja, seeking to stop the investigation as well as unfreeze the Zenith Bank account of the company that was frozen by ICPC.
The court, however, ordered him to first present himself to the ICPC before the next adjourned date of 3rd December 2018.
“In compliance with the court order, Omoluwa has appeared before the Commission where he made useful statements to investigators,” Okoduwa stated.
The ICIR called Mr. Mohammed several times between 7:56 pm and 8:13 pm but he did not answer the calls. He also did not respond to the SMS sent to him at 20:06 pm.
Mr. Kawu could not be reached.