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By Abba Gana Shehuri
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. All praises be to Allah. One of the most interesting developments of recent times, was the return of many of the previous ministers to their positions, when President Muhammadu Buhari reconstituted his cabinet.
A major beneficiary of that is Alhaji Lai Muhammed, who returned as the same Minister of Information and Culture.
I have followed very closely, developments in the information and media sectors in general, because I have worked as a journalist for more than 30 years. I also believe that some of the main projects of the Buhari administration in the sector, like the Digital Switch Over (DSO), can become major achievements, that would be praised into the future, by Nigerians.
But I have been puzzled by the earliest steps that Alhaji Lai Muhammed has been taking from the moment he returned as minister.
One of the first groups that he met was led by the Acting Chairman of the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON), Mr Godfrey Ohuabunwa. It was at the event that the newly re-appointed minister announced that President Buhari has approved wide-ranging reforms in the broadcasting industry.
These include the licensing of online radio and television stations. He also responded to the request made by Mr Ohuabunwa for a review of the Broadcasting Code, by telling his visitor that “Mr President has actually already approved a review of the Broadcasting Code that is going to take care of many of the issues you have already raised here”.
I was curious about this, because last July, I saw a report on TVC from Kano, where the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) was launching the 6th edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code. I was wondering which “Broadcasting Code”, did the Minister of Information get approval to “review” again.
Was there a Nigeria Broadcasting Code that the NBC reviews and presents to the broadcasting industry, and yet another one, that the Minister of Information got “presidential approval” to produce? What would be the difference between the statutory NBC, which came from the work of the NBC and the one that the Minister of Information was talking about? Something did not seem right to me, so for the past two months, I have been making inquiries.
What I discovered is the story I am telling in this article. I want to swear by Allah, that I have told the story here as I heard it, from the Federal Ministry of Information; Radio Nigeria Headquarters in Abuja; the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF; the NBC and talking to insiders in the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria (BON), and several other people in the Nigerian broadcasting industry.
The more that I have heard the more obvious it became to me, that Alhaji Lai Muhammed is up to NO GOOD in all that he has been doing. And the whole effort has a well-outlined agenda of PERSONAL REVENGE, that will not serve the interest of President Muhammadu Buhari, whose name he has been constantly dropping, as the source of authority for all he has been doing, in respect of the NBC and the broadcasting industry in Nigeria.
From what I gathered, the story began soon after the 2019 elections. At a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, there were critical observations about the performances of some radio stations before and during the 2019 elections. A former Minister who was at the meeting confided that Lai Muhammed did not speak in defense of the work that NBC did to sanitise the broadcast airwaves, in the period. I got to learn from the NBC, that they closed two radio stations and sanctioned over forty for various breaches. This was apart from sensitisation programs they organised all over Nigeria for broadcasters, along with a very significant study of hate speeches in Nigerian broadcasting.
Lai Muhammed set up a committee, chaired by the Managing Director of News Agency of Nigeria, and included as member, the NBC’s Director of Monitoring, Prof Armstrong Idachaba.
I was told that he is actually the man directly responsible for whatever NBC did or didn’t do right, in terms of the output of broadcasting stations in Nigeria.
In being appointed into the committee, Lai Muhammed, I was informed, wrote directly to the very ambitious Idachaba, ignoring the Director General of the NBC, Malam Modibbo Kawu.
It was a reflection of what the minister has always been nursing; to undermine the NBC DG as much as possible, in his desperate desire to get the man out, from his position.
The committee’s report was a 26-point hodgepodge of recommendations.
But it was noteworthy, that in the accompanying note that Lai Muhammed sent to the SGF, for delivery to the president, he showed clearly, where his mind was. He stated that NBC was unable to effectively do its work, because the Director General, Modibbo Kawu, went to contest as governorship candidate in Kwara state.
I gathered further that Lai Muhammed desperately pushed the SGF’s office to get the report to be adopted by the FEC, especially when President Buhari, travelled for Umrah and the OIC in Saudi Arabia. He had hoped that the Vice President, who is from the same Lagos political camp as himself, would be the easiest route to achieve his obsession to remove Modibbo Kawu from office.
As it turned out, the FEC was dissolved and Lai Muhammed was out for a few months. From Lagos, the story was that Lai Muhammed took his time out to perfect strategy, along with a shadowy character called Toyin Subair. This man is at the heart of so many of the intriguing issues in Nigerian broadcasting. A lawyer by training, Subair, I was informed had been an employee of MultiChoice, before he went his own way, to start HiTV, which took Nigeria by storm, some years ago.
Unfortunately, his project collapsed and he is said to hold MultiChoice in absolute contempt. This contempt is shared by Lai Muhammed, who I was similarly informed, retains sour memories of the company, from his days as Tinubu’s Chief of Staff in Lagos. It is this Toyin Subair, that is driving the part of Lai Muhammed’s plan to break Multichoice’s monopoly of the pay television service in Nigeria. Subair is also the person that Lai Muhammed has given the assignment to prepare a new “National Broadcasting Code”, that he wants to use to supplant the legal, NBC-produced, Nigeria Broadcasting Code. Mr Toyin Subair is reported to always dress his own personal agendas as the interests of Bola Tinubu’s. That way he gets Lai Muhammed to dance to his personal tunes.
Checks at the NBC reveal that Subair is co-owner of Inview, a technology company that works on the NBC’s DSO; he was behind CCNL, along with Godfrey Ohuabunwa, and is close friend of Emeka Mba, the immediate past DG of the NBC.
Soon after the Buhari administration came to power, Toyin Subair was said to be working with Lai Muhammed at a point, to lobby for Emeka Mba, with Bola Tinubu to get Mba to be retained as the NBC DG.
Toyin Subair is reported to always brag that he had been responsible for the removal of three NBC DGs, in the past, because they didn’t dance to his tune. His next target is Modibbo Kawu, who he is said to be very angry with, for hurting the monopoly that he and Emeka Mba, and Emeka’s loyal lieutenant, Armstrong Idachaba, had built into the DSO project. The report from Lagos was that even Bola Tinubu publicly warned Toyin Subair to stop undermining Modibbo Kawu at the NBC, but he has continued to do so, working with Lai Muhammed, who is obsessed with the removal of Modibbo Kawu as NBC DG.
Early in October, Lai Muhammed set up a NBC Reform Implementation Committee that is headed by Armstrong Idachaba NBC’s Director of Monitoring. The appointment was done, without recourse to the Director General, and it ignored the fact that NBC had a Board in place; a Board that was appointed by the same President Buhari, on whose authority, that Lai Muhammed said he is carrying out what amounts to an illegality.
What I have gathered is that there is no way, that he can set up an “Implementation Committee”, because that renders the board of the commission redundant, and in reality, it tantamount to Lai Muhammed having organised an institutional coup, against the structures of the NBC.
And by appointing a director of the commission as chairman of his so-called “Implementation Committee”, ignoring the authority of the director general of the NBC, he subverts the organization, in his near-mad obsession to remove Modibbo Kawu, from his position. I further gathered that his actions caused consternation within the board of the commission, which is chaired by Alhaji Ikra Aliyu Bilbis, two-time minister, former member of the House of Representatives, and a top leader of the ruling APC. The board was said to have written a letter to Lai Muhammed, to state its position on the way that the minister has carried on, with total disregard for the place of the Board.
Lai Muhammed, from what I was told at Ministry of Information, rudely replied the board chairman, and insisted that it was only when the board had withdrawn its letter, that he was going to even contemplate a meeting with the board. So in his desperate effort to humiliate the NBC DG, Lai Muhammed inadvertently took on the Board of the Commission. A Board that was appointed by President Buhari, and with a chairman who has far more political connections in the present administration, than Lai Muhammed himself.
Blinded by hate, and consumed by the obsession to destroy the career of Mallam Modibbo Kawu, Lai Muhammed is “implementing reform”, using PDP supporters from the years of Emeka Mba, as the NBC DG. Armstrong Idachaba, his “Chairman”, is said to retain a total loyalty to Emeka Mba.
Those who know him, say he had proudly stated that he voted against President Muhammadu Buhari, because he supports the PDP, and longs for the old days, under the PDP/Emeka Mba. Yet, in his inordinate ambition, believes that his PDP record would not stop Lai Muhammed from making him NBC DG.
The person, who helped to nominate most of the other committee members, was Godfrey Ohuabunnwa, a PDP financier from a well-known PDP family, and one who was said to act almost like co-DG during Emeka Mba’s tenure. He was the one that Mba was said to have given 200, 000 decoder boxes alone, to supply for the DSO. Ohuabunwa told an insider of BON, that he personally sees Modibbo Kawu as an enemy, from the moment that he was appointed as DG of NBC, in May 2016. It was Godfrey Ohuabunwa that nominated Hajia Binta Adamu Bello of ALGON, and Hon. Kingsley Agbo into the “implementation committee”.
Meanwhile, the puppeteer in the background is Toyin Subair.
What unites the main characters in the unfolding scenario: Lai Muhammed, Toyin Subair, Armstrong Idachaba and Godfrey Ohuabunwa, is their individual ambitions and their agenda against Modibbo Kawu. Lai Muhammed is reported to be telling his close confidants, that he must remove Modibbo Kawu, to ensure total control of the broadcasting industry, for his Southwest boss, in preparation for the 2023 agenda.
On a final note, I will like to point out again, that from my investigations over the past two months, what Lai Muhammed is doing with his so-called “NBC Reform Implementation Committee”, has NOTHING patriotic about it.
Lai Muhammed is wrongly using President Muhammadu Buhari’s name to pursue a personal vengeful agenda, against Mallam Modibbo Kawu, the Director General of the NBC.
He is also desperate to strengthen his own position in the politics of the Southwest, in the lead to the 2023 elections. He confides with his inner circles that NBC must be controlled in the interest of the political circles of the Southwest, and that can only be achieved by the removal of Malam Modibbo Kawu.
And the most curious part of Lai Muhammed’s mis-steps, is the fact that he is using well-known PDP supporters to achieve his unpatriotic agenda, while at the same time, constantly dropping President Muhammadu Buhari’s name, as the source of his authority.
President Muhammadu Buhari and those close to him, must be very careful of the poisoned chalice that Lai Muhammed is preparing in the name of an “NBC REFORM IMPLEMENTATION COMMITTEE”.
It is an ill wind, from Lai Muhammed, that is up to no good.
*Shehuri, retired Journalist, wrote from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital
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