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Trial Of NBC DG: ICPC Accused Of Witch Hunt

The ongoing trial of the DG National Broadcasting Commission, Mallam Is'haq Modibbo Kawu and 2 others is one of the current judicial cases making the waves in Nigeria.

It all started in 2018 when the ICPC said it uncovered some discrepancies in the award of contracts to a private company by Mallam Modibbo Kawu led NBC. Since the first mention of the case in October, it has since emerged into a full fledged trial or more accurately a media trial since until now, the prosecutor has not substantiated its claims despite the heavy media frenzy the commission invoked towards the trial.

As an ardent follower of the case and broadcast enthusiast, I have since developed interest in the case in a bid to see through it just like most Nigerians who wants an end to the corrupt practices that has brought the country to where it is at the moment.

Today, I took my curiosity to the next level and decided to be a guest at the justice Folasade Giwa's court 8 at the Federal High Court, Abuja.

I came in with lots of questions and curiosity was of topmost interest. The hall was packed till capacity. Many even stood just to follow the now historic trial.

The prosecution brought in 2 out of the planned 4 witnesses. One was a Bureau De Change operator identified as Salisu Suleiman Daura who said he changed the sum of 97 million to dollars for one of the accused who is an executive at Pinnacles Communications Limited. He further acknowledged that he also changed the sum of 70 million Naira to its dollar equivalent on June 23rd 2017, the same month the debated sum of 2.5billion Naira was paid by the NBC to the company. He finally acknowledged that the sums of 97m and 70m were transferred to his account by Mr Lucky Omoluwa.

Next came in to the witness box was the principal witness in the case. The ICPC lead investigator Mr Osanoto Olugbemi Abraham. He acknowledged knowing the 2nd and 3rd defendant Mr Dipo Onifade and Mr Lucky Omoluwa. He said he was awarded the case by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) after the suspicious transaction of 2.5 billion naira was discovered. He further said the commission swung into action and uncovered that one of the two companies which got the contract is a privately owned company. A decision which contravened the law.

He further said the main bone of contention is the award of contract by the NBC to a private company and perhaps the use of the money which the commission traced to various places.

The defence while questioning the witness asked about his knowledge of the white paper which was enacted to drive the digital switchover project, this he answered in the affirmative. The prosecution further asked if the witness who is the chief investigator studied the white paper which he also affirmed. The defence lawyer then pointed the attention of the court to section 11.2c which stated that "The NBCs should put in place an enabling environment for the licencing and achieving the DSO project." This by virtue of interpretation technically permits the NBC to award the contract to a private company if they can deliver diligently.

The defence also highlighted that the relationship of Pinnacle communication and NBC predates the era of Modibbo Kawu. Prior to his appointment, the company and NBC had been embroiled in a legal battle over payments for the services rendered to the commission by the company. It took the intervention of Kawu before the suit was resolved. Following the resolution, the company in 2016 without even being paid by the NBC already set up transmission equipments which marked the launch of the DSO project in Abuja. Vice president, Yemi Osinbajo represented President Mohammadu Buhari in commissioning the Abuja DSO project in December 2016.

The initial allegations that the NBC paid a private company in doing nothing other than to distribute public funds to private coffers was clearly proved by the defence to be not just an outrageous allegation but also the fact that the ICPC through it's investigators failed to do a good job in their investigations.

When the defence asked the witness whether there was a report or complaints of wrongdoing from any of the parties, which could have triggered the investigation from the commission, as such had always been the case with similar situations, he replied that there was none.

Finally, the prosecution pleaded with the court that it could not provide the two other witnesses that it had promised; the minister of information and culture Alh. Lai Mohammed who signed the disputed sum as well as a BDC operator who the prosecution said is a person of interest.

The ICPC investigator in his statements said he already got a statement from the minister. He said the minister claimed he did not do due diligence on the documents before signing and further said he relied exclusively on the recommendations of the NBC Director General. It was an amusing thing to hear from the minister through the investigator. I'm sure most of the people in the court, just like me weighed the statement of the minister.

Although I am not gifted to name calling but I must say this is hypocrisy and perhaps incompetence on the part of the minister.

Although the judge is yet to give her judgement, but going by what I witnessed today and the available facts, its crystal clear that the ICPC is on a witch hunt. This is because they have failed to substantiate their allegations with facts. Also, they have technically succeeded in slowing down the digital switchover project which is long overdue in Nigeria plus they have been successful at embarrassing the trio of the Director - General of the NBC, Pinnacle communication's Lucky Omoluwa and Dipo Onifade who are also charged in this case.

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