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Before ICPC suit against NBC DG, two others ends like suit against SEC DG

No doubt, since the beginning of the suit filed by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) against the leadership of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) late last year, there had been serious drawback on the hitherto excellent speed of the adopted regional Digital Switch Over (DSO) from analogue to digital TV experience in Nigeria.
This was the general position of industry stakeholders’ who reviewed the nation’s DSO journey so far in Lagos recently.
They disclosed that such distraction is capable of frustrating the chances of Nigeria meeting the set new target to join other global communities in DSO which will further free up digital dividend that will boost broadband penetration ahead of Nigeria’s journey to knowledge economy.
Some of the experts who reviewed the spirit of the litigation against the activities of NBC DG, Mallam Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, averred that first of all, the suit by ICPC ran contrary to the express advice of the Minister of Justice who had earlier looked at the matter and advised accordingly.
Besides, latest embarrassing loss of the Commission’s suit against the suspended Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Zakwanu Garuba, a commissioner of the commission, may be setting precedence that the ongoing suit against NBC officials and Pinnacle Communications may after all become academic exercise, distractions and waste of public funds.
Recall that the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Maitama, Abuja, on Tuesday, April 16, 2019, dismissed corruption charges involving alleged mismanagement of about N115m public fund levelled against Mounir Gwarzo, the suspended DG and two others.
Trouble had started in November 2017, when Kemi Adeosun, the former Minister of Finance, had suspended Gwarzo over allegations of financial improprieties, part of which formed the basis for the charges brought against him and Garuba.
But, in its intelligent ruling, Justice Husseini Baba-Yusuf discharged and acquitted both Gwarzo and Garuba of the charges in all the five counts preferred against them by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC).
Besides, the judge upheld the defendants’ no-case submission by dismissing the case mid-way into trial, as he held that the prosecution failed to lead credible evidence to warrant the two men to open their defence.
Above all, at the resumed hearing Thursday, second May, 2019, the Director General of NBC, mallam Is’haq Moddibbo Kawu, the Chairman of Pinnacle Communications Limited, Mr. Lucky Omoluwa, and the Chief Operating Officer of the same company, Mr. Dipo Onifade were docked over alleged misapplication of the N2.5 billion seed grant for Digital Switch-Over (DSO) programme of the Federal government.
However, the trio were granted bail in the sum of N100m each and two sureties each in the like sum after entering a plea of not guilty to all the 12-counts charge brought against them by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
Business Hilights Abuja Bureau chief, reports that Justice Folasade Ogunbanjo Giwa who admitted them to bail, however, gave them 10 days within which to perfect the conditions attached to their bail or risk being remanded in prison custody.
On their bail applications, Justice Giwa averred that she was admitting them to bail based on the provisions of Sections 35 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution which presumed the defendants innocent of the alleged offences until proved otherwise.
It is very important to understand that in 2014, Pinnacles Communications Limited won an open, competitive bid, amongst 11 companies, to be appointed as the Second National Broadcast Signal Distributor (BSD), for Nigeria’s Digital Switchover (DSO). The Nigerian Government White Paper on the transition from Analogue to Digital Broadcasting, had directed that a BSD be licensed from the public broadcaster, NTA, and that led to the licensing of the Integrated Television Services (ITS). This was premised upon the fact that there should be a BSD from the public sector, leveraging upon the investment made nationwide by the government in the NTA transmission system.
However, the White Paper went further that another BSD be licensed immediately, while a third could come later, when the exigencies of the market dictated. This was the basis of the open bid that Pinnacle Communications Limited won. The bid opening was broadcast on television and on winning; Pinnacle Communications Limited paid a license fee of N618Million to the NBC. As I stated earlier, this was in 2014; two years before I became the Director General of the NBC.
However, soon after it was licensed, Pinnacles Communications Limited noticed discrepancies in the promised license as stated in the bid documents, and the actual license it was issued. When they couldn’t reach an agreement on those terms, they went to court. They were in court for two years till 2016.
In 2015, the NBC paid the ITS, the BSD from NTA, a Seed Grant of N1.7Billion. This was in consonance with a provision of the White Paper. That was the year of the change of administration in the country. They had been paid to facilitate work for the launch of a PILOT PHASE of the Digital Switchover (DSO), which eventually took place in April 2016 in Jos Plateau State. As well as to launch in two other locations around the country.
The Jos Pilot offered viewers 15 channels of TV and was quite a success. I was appointed DG in May 2016; and we began consultations with Pinnacle Communications Limited, on their grievances. They accepted to come out of court, citing two reasons: that they had nothing against the Buhari administration and were willing to listen to the new DG. On that basis, we reached an Out-of-Court settlement, and consequently, Pinnacle Communications Limited we’re appointed as the BSD for the launch of the Abuja Digital Switchover, in August, 2016. They had three months, between September and December, 2016, to order, import, install and commission their Transmission system, including air freighting 9tons of equipment into Nigeria.
Their system was set up to provide 30channels of TV to viewers in the FCT. The system was commissioned by the Vice President, on behalf of President Buhari on December 22, 2016. This was broadcast Live on NTA. They have subsequently installed same in Kaduna, which was commissioned by Governor Nasir El-Rufai on December 22nd, 2017. Again it was broadcast live on television. They are presently installing transmission equipment in Gombe state, and would subsequently install the same in Delta State, as part of our national rollout of Digital broadcasting. Pinnacle Communications Limited was then paid N2.5billion for its services in May 2017. Almost six months after installing and commencing transmission in Abuja.
It is important to mention that the payment came out of the N10billion that had been returned to the NBC in September, 2016, from the EFCC recovery account. The previous NBC DG, had hidden the money in a commercial bank, when all agencies were ordered to transfer funds into TSA! On returning the money to the NBC, we received a presidential directive to use the fund solely for DSO payments. And that all such payments be approved by the Honourable Minister of Information. NBC paid several stakeholders from the funds.
These included Set Top Boxes Manufacturers; Content Aggregators; Companies engaged for DSO-related studies and publicity companies as well as Call Center operator. ALL payments were approved by the Hon. Minister of Information. Yet, when he was questioned by the ICPC, the Minister stated that he only signed what he was given by the DG, and insinuated that he was misled to sign. And every single company paid was commissioned for their services before I was appointed NBC DG! It is important to point out, that the White Paper in Section 11b, had underlined that NTA, with 157 transmission sites across Nigeria, has significant advantage over a new entrant into the business as a BSD. In 11c, it further directed that NBC should provide “Close to a level playing field…”, for the success of the DSO.
This was the clause that NBC quoted and relied on in effecting payment to Pinnacle Communications Limited. When ITS had been paid N1.7Billion in 2015, the dollar exchanged at N165. While the exchange rate in May 2017, when we paid Pinnacle Communications Limited, was N385 to the Dollar!
In June 2018, NBC received a letter from ICPC, stating that they had received a petition, that I had recommended an “unqualified company” to the Minister of Information, to be paid a seed grant of N2.5billion.
Explaining more in a Press Conference, Kawu made it clear that “I wrote a statement, telling them that: a. Pinnacle Communications Limited was NOT an “unqualified company”, because they had won a bid, were licensed as the Second BSD and had paid a license fee of N618Million, as prescribed in their licensing terms; b. I added that we did NOT pay a seed grant, but paid for their services, as prescribed by the White Paper. We never heard from ICPC again.
“But in the meantime, they froze the accounts of Pinnacle Communications Limited. They took ICPC to court and eventually got the order freezing their accounts lifted. In October 2018, ICPC issued a press release, stating that it was investigating the DG of “Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation” (we are NATIONAL BROADCASTING COMMISSION); they added that we misapplied funds in our transition of TELEPHONES from Analogue to Digital.
“We have nothing to do with TELEPHONE but Television. I had been abroad when they commenced what amounted to a “trial-by-media”. On my return, I addressed a press conference where I did a rebuttal of the misrepresentations made by the ICPC, and I presented to the media, the facts I have stated herein.
“The next issue emerged early in March, when the ICPC again issued another press statement, indicating that they have arraigned in court, the DG NBC; the Chairman of Pinnacle Communications Limited, Sir Lucky Omoluwa; the Executive Director, Mr Dipo Onifade and Pinnacle Communications Limited. By the end of March, we also received the indictment from the ICPC. They went into mischievous details about how the Chairman of Pinnacle Communications Limited changed money into dollars, as if there was a law against such. If one was paid for job done, what you used your money for, or what currency you legally changed it to, is strictly your business. But it was part of the media trial.
“In all these, the ICPC NEVER sent investigators to check the facilities installed by Pinnacle Communications Limited in Abuja, which was commissioned by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo; nor those commissioned in Kaduna, by Governor Nasir El-Rufai.
However, there seems to be another veiled angle to the suit hence there are possibly, all kinds of extraneous factors related to the issue. Many of these are political analysts say.
There are the political forces fuming from Lagos, who had initially schemed to have one of their own, a former Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Lagos State, as the NBC DG.
Followers of this matter argued that the Lagos forces were shocked that it didn’t happen in May 2016.
Observers say that the failure compelled them to start riding on the petition written to the ICPC, by former NBC DG, Emeka Mba, as the platform to achieve the appointment plot. The new ICPC Chairman, Bolaji Owosonoye, ignored the advice from the Ministry of Justice, that there was no merit in the plan to arraign the NBC DG.
It is important to recall that two committees that had earlier been set up in the Federal Ministry of Justice to examine the Pinnacle Communications Limited transaction, and the committees affirmed that the NBC DG, did no wrong.
Still yet, the ICPC Chairman in defiant to the committees report, went ahead to indict and arraign the DG, Modibbo Kawu by clearly ignoring the legal opinion of the Ministry of Justice to apparently suggest that the AGF is attempting to stop the “corrupt payment” trial of the NBC DG Modibbo Kawu.
Like stakeholders in DSO race against time, such litigation can cause serious drawbacks on the efforts of NBC to achieve nationwide migration from analogue to digital TV which will further boost broadband penetration as associated digital dividends will continue to hang on.