There is a new twist to the on-going probe by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) into allegations of mismanagement of N2.5 billion from the N10 billion grant for the digital switchover programme of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), as fresh findings have revealed that President Muhammadu Buhari did not approve the release of the controversial fund.
More curious is another revelation that the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo has no hand in the approval of the release of the digital switchover money. Saturday Sun gathered that funds in that threshold can only be approved by the Federal Executive Council, FEC or the President-in-Council. Ironically, at the time the N10 billion was approved in 2016 and when the N2.5 billion was paid out to Pinnacle Communications Limited in May/June 2017, President Buhari was said to be on medical vacation in the United Kingdom, during which his deputy, Prof Osinbajo acted as Acting President.
It was gathered that the sum of N10 billion was released to NBC in 2016, through the Ministry of Information and Culture for the digital switchover programme, which entails migration of telephone lines from analogue to digital platforms and a white paper was issued directing that the process be specifically handled by government-affiliated companies.
The anti-graft agency has however said that over N2.5 billion had been squandered by the leadership of NBC as there was nothing to show for the amount claimed to have been spent by the management. This prompted ICPC to summon the NBC Director General, Dr. Ishaq Moddibbo Kawu, and other top management staff for questioning over their alleged involvements in the misapplication of the fund.
ICPC spokesperson, Rasheedat Okoduwa, who gave the details in a recent statement said the commission studied the guidelines provided by the white paper and discovered that two companies were nominated to handle the process, one of which was ITS, an affiliate of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) which got N1.7 billion for the commencement of the switchover. “The N2.5 billion was paid into the Zenith Bank account of Pinnacle Communications Limited in May/June 2017 for the programme,” she alleged.
The spokesperson stated that through investigation, it was also discovered that several suspicious transfers of large sums of funds from the account of the company into the bank accounts of several organisations and individuals took place. “It was 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,” she said and added that investigation was still ongoing. The NBC DG, Is’haq Kawu Modibbo, however says the N2.5 billion paid to Pinnacle Communications Ltd, is justifiable.
Mr Modibbo stated this while reacting to a query by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) over the payment.
“NBC paid N2.5 billion to Pinnacle Communications for facilitating digitisation in Abuja, Kaduna and other parts of the country as the work progressed. NBC paid the first national signal distributor, Integrated-Television-Services (ITS) N1.7 billion and as at the time the money was paid, the exchange rate of naira to a dollar was about N167.
“When we paid Pinnacle in 2017, the dollar exchange for naira was N380.
“So if you look at N2.5 billion and N1.7 billion in terms of the amount of money paid, the exchange rate had affected the payment so it was not as if we just threw money at them. All those things were measured,” he said.
He said that when the federal government released N10 billion to NBC, it came with a directive that the money should be used for the digital switchover process and supervised by the Minister of Information and Culture. According to him, every payment that NBC made in the context of the digital switchover got approval from the minister.
Beyond these explanations, security agents are also now interested in the process of approving the release of the huge fund outside of FEC and in the absence of the President. When Saturday Sun contacted the Vice President’s office, his spokesman Laolu Akande distanced his principal from the controversy and directed one of our correspondents to find out the approving authority from the Ministry of Information. “I think it’s best to contact the Information Ministry. The Ministry is the one that has direct oversight on the NBC”, Akande stated in one of his responses to our enquiries. Efforts to get the Minister of Information speak on this failed as his telephone line did not connect till the time of going to press Friday night.
A top security chief involved in the probe however hinted that “indications point to the fact that the Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari is in a position to confirm who gave the approval for the expenditure if he is not the one but such huge sum no doubt is beyond his approval limit because only FEC or the President-in-Council can give such approval.”