BY ABUBAKAR MAHMOUD AHMED
Over the past two weeks, I’ve attended every day of the proceedings in the corruption suit which the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission (ICPC) brought against Pinnacle Communications Limited and the Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Modibbo Kawu. From the outset, I had very strong confidence that the case was a travesty of justice and one that was set up as part of an elaborate politically-inspired, persecution agenda.
That much was what I concluded in the first piece that I wrote, a few weeks ago, about the plight of the NBC DG. I have read several responses to my article. Some even made the laughable assumption that I was a non-existent writer. But we will not be bothered, by such laboured responses, because the truth of the piece, couldn’t be faulted. The past two weeks in court, only deepened my scepticism about the elaborate hoax that was put into the public space, by those who had put together the ridiculous accusations, against Nigerians who are working honestly and honourably, to help deliver Nigeria’s Digital Switchover (DSO) project.
The events in court last Thursday gave the game away. The ICPC Star Witness, Charles Adama, confessed in open court, that there was no petition against Pinnacle Communications Limited, and in the course of their “investigation”, they did not find any sum of money traceable from the accounts of the company, in the account of the NBC DG, Modibbo Kawu. The courtroom was stunned to discover that the petition that ICPC had received, was actually against Integrated Television Services (ITS), the signal distribution company that came out of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).
The trail from ITS to Pinnacle Communications Limited, and the arraignment of the Pinnacle Chairman and Managing Director, as well as the DG NBC, went through the carefully and obviously, mischievous route, of an elaborate media trial, that was relentless, as it was vicious. Charles Adama told the court, that his boss, Hakeem Lawal, directed them to go after Pinnacle Communications Limited. From what we have heard in court so far, the political forces behind the persecution agenda, knew that there was no case against these individuals; but a plan was hatched, which was to damage their characters as much as possible in the media, the conventional and social media, ever before they appeared in court. The idea was to have sufficiently damaged their characters, by a repeated statement of the kicker: “N2.5 Billion DSO FRAUD”, which was pushed relentlessly by Rasheedat Okoduwa of the ICPC and was particularly repeated by some frontline newspapers.
The character damage was only the first salvo in an onslaught. The second leg of the agenda was to get the arraignment carried out and then push for Kawu to be forced out of the NBC. We heard that it was the assurance that they gave to the NBC staff members that they procured as prosecution witnesses. They were assured that by the time the case opened, Kawu would no longer be the Director-General. The individuals concerned bought the assurance line, hook and sinker. Unfortunately for them, the authorities probably saw through their subterfuge, and they refused to remove Kawu from his position. That became their first strategic defeat.
They had banked on that as their main joker, and the truth, from investigations that I carried out inside the ICPC itself, was that those behind this case, only wanted him out of the NBC; they were really not interested in a court case, that was likely to end up exposing them to the ridicule that is beginning to manifest in court, especially with the revelations that came out last week Thursday.
We now know, thanks to the disclosure of the ICPC witness during cross-examination by a counsel for Pinnacle Communications Limited, A.V. Atuwewe, that ICPC did not receive any petition against Pinnacle Communications Limited. The petition received was against ITS, and as Charles Adama confessed, it was when they checked NBC’s account, that they discovered that Pinnacle Communications Limited was also paid a “Seed Grant”, by NBC. They threw caution to the wind, went against the law which set up their own organisation, and decided to pursue an unsolicited investigation against Pinnacle Communications Limited. They were in a desperate search for a smoking gun against the individuals concerned.
An ICPC insider confided to this writer, that they checked all bank accounts that the DG NBC owned; they even checked those of his wife, children and relations, hoping to be able to smoke out a scandal. The more frustrated they were, the angrier they became, and the more desperate became their plan to damage the character of these innocent, hardworking and patriotic Nigerians. When lawyer Atuwewe asked Adama if they found any trail of money, from Pinnacle Communications Limited to the NBC DG, Kawu, he answers No.
But to uphold the delusion that has been at the basis of their wild geese chase from the beginning, he said that in 2015, another company owned by the Chairman of Pinnacle Communications Limited, called Puretec, had paid some money into the account of Word, Sound and Vision, where Kawu worked, before his appointment as NBC DG. Yet, the same man pretended that he didn’t know when Kawu was appointed NBC DG; in the same manner that he feigned ignorance that the Pinnacle Communications Limited transmission centre was commissioned by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2016.
Adama said that ICPC did not visit the Pinnacle installations in Abuja and Kaduna because that was not their interest. What mattered to them at the ICPC, was the scandal that they can create around the N2.5 billion that was paid to Pinnacle Communications Limited, and how the money was spent. He mentioned that the Chairman of Pinnacle Communications Limited paid charities, churches and mosques, golf clubs and other individuals. How these constituted a crime, would still be determined by the court. But going by what legal analysts were saying after the cross-examination of the first four prosecution witnesses, the ICPC has bungled its own case, even before it really got underway. It became clearer, that the ICPC knew that the case was a most useless witch hunt, that was why it went for a media trial, since about October last year.
But the threads in this unfolding case have several strands. The ICPC told a blatant lie in court, that ITS was investigated and found to have used the N1.77 billion it received from the NBC judiciously. They lied. This writer spoke with people connected with ITS operations and installations, in Enugu, Jos, Ilorin and Osogbo; and I was informed that ITS is using the transmitters of STAR TIMES for its operations. Yet the money collected from NBC was meant for acquisition of digitally compliant broadcast equipment and for human capital development. Where are those digitally compliant equipment? Did ICPC trace the alleged transfer of N200 million by ITS and the illegal purchase of a Sports Utility Vehicle from the money? Have they investigated the stories carried in hushed tones within NTA Headquarters in Abuja about illicit payments to some officials? And is there an effort to get to the root of sums of money running to millions, allegedly transferred from the same ITS money into NTA? Are these examples of the “judicious spending” that Charles Adama was talking about in court last week? The NFIU should be very interested in these allegations to determine their veracity.
The ICPC duped everyone, by hiding the petition it received until it was forced by the court to reveal the truth. It was a most unacceptable abuse of its powers, position and responsibilities as an anti-graft agency. It was also clear to all, that the agency is being press-ganged into the ludicrous duty of destroying the character of these hard working Nigerians, to serve the dirty political agendas of certain political forces, located within an ethnic-regional, as well as religious nexus. Related to this point, is the cowardly and irresponsible position of Lai Muhammed, the Minister of Information and Culture, in the entire saga.
The ICPC investigator, Adama revealed in court that they “interviewed” Muhammed as part of their investigation, but the Minister refused to give a statement until he got clearance from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). He was, however, reported to have informed them, that he ‘merely signed’ what was presented to him by the DG NBC. This the ICPC interpreted as the Minister having been “misled” by Kawu. From the inquisitional mentality of ICPC officials, the person who “recommended” action is to be blamed, not the person that did “approval”. So Lai Muhammed that approved payment to Pinnacle Communications Limited, had no case to answer. And in the many months that the case has been deliberately kept in the media, the minister, who is said to enjoy ascribing all successes in every agency under him, as a reflection of his personal ability, has refused to say a word, either to affirm the truth about the payment he approved, or support the position of the ICPC, that the DG NBC “misled” him, to give the approval for the payment. Yet, we all heard the speech that Lai Muhammed gave at the launch of the Pinnacle Transmission Centre in Abuja. We also saw him on television, visiting the site while under construction; and the interview he gave to the press about progress of work; as well as the live television shots of him holding the tape for the Vice President to cut, while declaring open the Pinnacle Communications Transmission Centre in Abuja.
There are a few theories that people in the Ministry of Information and Culture shared, about Lai Muhammed’s attitude, to the N2.5 billion Pinnacle Communications Limited payment. The first one was that he saw the ICPC issue, as an opportunity to get rid of Kawu, as DG NBC. Many observers see him as having a visceral hatred for Kawu’s independence of thought and action as DG, NBC. This is tied to the fact that he was not instrumental to Kawu’s appointment in the first place, and the Lagos political group that Muhammed belongs to has always been unhappy that they lost the chance to get Dele Alake into the position in the first place. Their hope was to use the ICPC arraignment to remove Kawu and shoehorn Dele Alake into the position.
Secondly, Lai Muhammed has not forgiven Kawu’s “effrontery” of going to seek the governorship of Kwara State last year. Searches conducted in the Ministry of Information and Culture, at the Radio House, Abuja, indicate that Lai Muhammed is still trying to canvass that argument of Kawu’s governorship ambition, as a ground to get him out of the DG position at the NBC, even at this late hour of his own tenure as Minister of Information. The other point that has been raised is that Muhammed is so desperate to be re-appointed as a Minister by President Buhari, that he was not going to say anything, that would amount to defending the action he took, in approving the payment to Pinnacle Communications Limited, so as not to be seen as antagonizing another organ of government. The fact that the ICPC is taking the wrong action of arraigning innocent people, means nothing to him.
It is very interesting that the ICPC investigator, Charles Adama, nevertheless was forced by the circumstance of cross-examination, to reveal some curious details. He confessed that months after the first visit to Lai Muhammed, they never bothered to return or to invite him to their office, as they did to others, to make him write a statement. It meant that there was one law for Modibbo Kawu, Mr Dipo Onifade and Sir Lucky Omoluwa; while there is a different law, for Minister Lai Muhammed, who was the approving authority for the N2.5 billion, that ICPC has made the basis of a clearly political witch hunt and a very unconscionable media trial. ICPC’s Adama also confessed, that so far, Muhammed has not denounced, at least publicly or in writing, the fact that he approved the payment to Pinnacle Communications Limited. He also accepted that the Federal Government never complained about the money paid to the company.
This ICPC issue is becoming the ultimate charade. But as the lawyers say, the case is sub judice, so we are not allowed to comment on the substance. However too much has been revealed already, and it’s looking like even more would soon come to the public space, for Nigerians to see some worrisome dangers. The first is the clear abuse of the powers of the ICPC, to intimidate as well as malign the characters of Nigerians, especially when such individuals are the targets of an over-ambitious political, ethnic-regional and religious group. The Lagos political machinery has become a clear and present danger to Nigeria. They arrogantly want to take every strategic position in government and in politics; and they will use every kind of weapon, including their control of the media, to destroy people they have targeted, to achieve their inordinate ambition. We must not allow them to achieve this inordinate ambition at the NBC, and against Kawu and Pinnacle Communications Limited. And as for ICPC, if Adama was right in court last week, that there was no petition against Pinnacle Communications Limited, why were the gentlemen in court arraigned? Nigerians deserve a very reasonable answer; not the wishy-washy presentations they are presenting in court.
Abubakar Mahmoud Ahmed, A Retired Journalist, Public Affairs Consultant and Hadith Scholar, Lives in Kurmi Mashi, Kaduna.