The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) was raided by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) over a N10 billion fraud perpetrated under the supervision of Nigeria’s Information Minister, Mr Lai Mohammed, and the commission’s suspended Director-General, Mr Ishaq Modibbo Kawu.
According to sources speaking to Point Blank News, a N10 billion loan given to the commission in December last year was transferred to a private account and has already yielded interest in excess of one billion naira.
According to the source, the ICPC stormed the commission’s headquarters in Abuja early last week after receiving a tip and detained many files, computers, and devices belonging to the commission.
Since his appointment as a minister in Mohammed Buhari’s government, Lai Mohammed has allegedly been involved in a series of financial scams, the most recent of which has threatened Nigeria’s Digital Switch Over (DSO) Project, which has been running in fits and starts since 2016.
According to Point Blank News, the Minister admitted in 2015 to extorting N13.5 million from the NBC in order to go on an overseas trip.
Our correspondent discovered that N10 billion was a loan given to help pay off debts owed to contractors who had been constructing infrastructure in order for the DSO project to begin in earnest.
The DSO is the process of converting analogue television broadcast systems to digital television broadcast systems (DTT). The initiative is based on an international treaty agreed in Geneva in 2006 by Nigeria and many other nations in the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) Group A batch. The protocol set a July 2015 deadline for fully transitioning from analogue to digital.
Almost every country in the world has subsequently abandoned analogue television broadcasting in favour of the digital platform, with the exception of Nigeria.
Nigeria began the procedure in 2008 but has yet to make any headway. Faced with the vulnerabilities of operating an obsolete technology, the Nigerian government relaunched the programme with fanfare in Jos Plateau State in 2016, but it was quickly marred by scandals of fraud and embezzlement of funds involving the Minister, Mr Mohammed, and the then-DG NBC, Mr Ishaq Modibbo Kawu.
Mr Kawu was removed from office and is currently facing criminal charges in the Federal Court in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, while Mr Mohammed, who authorised the swindle, remains in power.
Following the reported fraud, the Nigerian government halted further action on the project to investigate the scams. Contractors who had worked on the project since its inception in the belief that payment would be made on time to enable them to service bank obligations and maintain the project’s tempo were unable to continue.
However, the NBC, according to reports, has expressed concern about the potential issues that Nigeria may face if the project remains stalled. Local television stations, for example, were unable to obtain spare components for their equipment.
Given the urgency, Nigeria’s Federal Executive Council (FEC), presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, granted a loan to the NBC in the amount of N10 billion naira, with N9.4 billion to be utilised as contractor payments and N600 million as a recurrent budget for the NBC to carry out the project.
However, despite the fact that the money was fully released in the first week of January, the contractors did not get it until two weeks ago, when they began to receive payments in small increments. Even now, the money has never made it to the NBC accounts!
Rather, Mr Mohammed was reported to have entered into some dubious arrangement with officials in the finance ministry’s hierarchy to redirect the money to an interest-bearing account for an initial 90 days, which was then rolled over for a second time in March until the contractors became irritated.
Even the hasty liquidation of funds from fixed assets
It was learned to deposit and pay the contractors as a consequence of a tip to the Minister that the contractors had contacted anti-graft agencies.
Indeed, one of the companies was alleged to have notified the ICPC and the EFCC, alleging that the NBC was withholding funds fraudulently. However, the ICPC, which jumped into action as soon as the allegation was received, was alleged to have uncovered during its first examination that the money never made it to the NBC.
Furthermore, Mr Mohammed craved the N600 million allotted for the project’s commission and redirected it to the ministry, where he devised a strategy to personally and directly control the monies.
He quickly established a ministerial task force on DSO, effectively usurping the role of the NBC and Digiteam, a body of experts already in place by Nigeria’s federal government to liaise with the NBC and give them an ultimatum to deliver the DSO Project by June 2022, and ensuring the money was not subject to audit and official control of the ministry. Mr Mohammed took no chances and named himself Chairman of the task team, with unilateral authority over the disbursement of the N9.4 billion and the appropriation of the N600 million set aside for the NBC.
Messrs Inview will be paid N908,000,000, Messrs Intergrated Television Services (ITS) would be paid N3,773,046,000, Messrs Pinnacle Communications will be paid N1,936,572,305, Messrs SES will be paid N2,148,762,245 and Messrs Outsource will be paid N800,000,00.
Mr Mohammed is reported to have a vested interest in Inview, which is run by Toyin Zubairu, who is also said to be his business partner.
The aforementioned Zubairu was the CEO of the now-defunct HITV, a company in which Mr Mohammed was involved as a Legal Adviser before Zubairu mismanaged it to collapse. Mr Mohammed has planned a payment of N908 million to Zubairu’s Inview from the N9.4 billion that was recently taken from the private interest earning account.
The N908 million payment is a scam, according to reliable industry sources, because Messrs Inview was paid N1.2 billion for the identical services in 2015.
Mr Mohammed was also accused of abusing his position as minister to force the NBC to pay Mr Zubairu N350 million as a Digital Access Fee for accessing a platform that the commission had paid Zubairu to create for it.
“It’s as if I hired a contractor to construct me a house. Then, when I moved in, a bully came along and started pressuring me to start paying rent to the contractor for occupying my own house—even though I had already paid him in full for his work as a contractor,” a distraught service provider in the DSO project lamented to Pointblanknews on Monday following the ICPC raid.
Apart from the ICPC, it has been reliably learned that Mr Mohammed has always used the NBC as a personal cash cow, and that he has utilised his political clout to make NBC DGs fall guys whenever schemes have been exposed.
The first was Emeka Mbah, DG, who served from 2013 to 2016 before being arrested and held by the EFCC on suspicion of a N15 billion fraud. He was accused of keeping the N15 billion in Zenith Bank to earn interest rather than following the government’s Treasury Single Account Policy.
Mr Mbah was able to show the EFCC that he did nothing without the permission of the highest authority. He showed minutes of a meeting, presided over by Mr Mohammed, in which it was agreed to deposit the funds in Zenith Bank as a guarantee to contractors hired by the commission to construct Set-top Boxes for the DSO Program. He was able to produce the Minister’s approvals.
Surprisingly, the EFCC spared Mr Mohammed, who approved the shady registration, but Mr Mbah was dragged before a federal court in Abuja to face corruption charges! The scandal resulted to his dismissal by President Buhari, who quickly selected Mr Kawu on Mr Mohammed’s nomination. Mr. Kawu and Mohammed are both from the Nigerian state of Kwara in the north central region.
Mr Kawu’s tenure was cut short after another N2.5 billion scandal involving Mr Mohammed erupted just two years into his term. On Mr Mohammed’s approval, a private company called Pinnacle Communications was secretly awarded N2.5 billion for no work done. It was referred to as “seed money” because it was used to help the company prepare to provide digital telecommunications services to the DSO project.
Mr Mohammed, who was 40 years old at the time and a lawyer with 30 years of experience, quickly claimed that Mr Kawu had duped him into signing the N2.5 billion approval. He claimed he had no knowledge of the scam and relied solely on Mr Kawu’s recommendations. However, Mr. Kawu and Mr. Lucky Omoluwa, Pinnacle’s CEO, vehemently refuted Mr Mohammed’s claim of ignorance. They produced evidence that NBC, Pinnacle Communications, and Mr Mohammed, who presided over all of the meetings, held a series of meetings. Aside from that, he went on overseas excursions paid for by the contractors while still collecting government allowances and estacodes.
In reality, Mr Kawu was claimed to be convinced that the memo was written in response to a verbal command from Mr Mohammed, who spent no time in approving the funds without raising any questions.
According to commission sources, N150 million of the money transferred to Pinnacle was linked to Jimi Mohammed, the Minister’s son who is now a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of his guilt, Mr Mohammed is confident that his political clout and connections as a major player in the ruling party will once again save him, as it did in the previous case.
This time, Lai Mohammed became arrogant and was claimed to have tormented the ICPC investigators, dictating the scope and style of interrogation on multiple occasions, or even refusing to be interrogated at all.
The ICPC only charged Mr Kawu and even recommended that he be removed from office. Mr Mohammed, a co-conspirator in the scheme, was not only omitted, but was also said to have fought tooth and nail to get presidential approval for the ICPC’s decision to immediately suspend his co-conspirator.
Observers are concerned that President Buhari’s administration, which has a reputation for treating allegations of corruption from cronies with “deodorant” and those from opposition members with harsh “pesticides,” may weigh in again and allow Mr Mohammed to flee the glaring cases of corruption currently raging.
Mr Kawu, a brilliant journalist, veteran broadcaster, and respected ace columnist for many years, is still embroiled in criminal proceedings, desperate to prove his innocence, whereas Mr Omoluwa, the Chairman of Pinnacle Communications and a successful businessman for many years, was not so fortunate. He died while the case was being prosecuted, and his name was soiled. Mr Mohammed has clung to his seat despite being involved in a number of previous financial schemes, convinced that he is a holy cow in a so-called anti-corruption government that has so far ignored every documented example of wrongdoing involving its high-ranking appointments.
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