By Alex Enumah
A witness of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC) Mrs Alheri Saidu, called in the trial of the Director General of National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Ishaq Modibbo and three others on Thursday, revealed that Information Minister, Prof. Lai Mohammed, gave approval for payment of N2.5bn to Pinnacle Communications Ltd.
Those being tried alongside the NBC Boss include, Sir Lucky Omoluwa, Chairman of Pinnacle Communications Ltd (PCL), and the Chief Operating Officer Dipo Onifade, as well as PCL.
The trio, including PCL, are facing trial over allegation of fraud in the digital switch over project of the Federal Government.
Testifying before Justice Folashade Ogunbanjo Giwa of the Federal High Court Abuja, Mrs Saidu, a retired legal adviser to NBC, told the court that the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, made the approval in accordance with the provisions of the 2012 White Paper on Implementation of the Digital Switch Over (DSO) project.
Saidu was led in evidence by prosecution counsel, Henry Emore.
The White Paper was admitted as exhibit 2 by the court.
According to the witness, a total of N10bn was approved for the DSO project by the Federal Government from which another company CCNL was also paid based on the Information Minister’s approval.
The prosecution witness (Saidu) further disclosed that when she was the Acting Director General of NBC, she did approve the payment to CCNL without a board.
Saidu also told the court that in 2014, another limited liability company set up by the NTA, ITS Limited, was paid N1.7bn by the NBC for the DSO as recommended by the 2012 White Paper.
But during cross-examination by A. V Etuwewe, counsel to the 4th defendant (PCL), the ICPC witness could not cite where the White Paper prohibited similar payment to PCL.
More so, Saidu denied a statement credited to her in the minutes of an emergency management meeting of NBC held on May 31, 2017, in respect of the request for payment by PCL.
The statement linked to Saidu was that she said “All over the world where the DSO was implemented, government paid for services rendered to it”.
Saidu said when she saw the statement, she did not formally write to disown that portion of the minutes credited to her.
On the reference to “level playing field” for the private signal distributor in the White Paper, Saidu said it could mean not putting the private signal distributor at a disadvantage, among other meanings.
Further more, Saidu said there was no legislative document covering implementation of the DSO as the White Paper was a policy guide referred to in implementing the project.
She read from an official document on the DSO which states that the DSO is “under strict supervision of the Minister of Information,” adding that there was no more superior approval than ministerial approval for the NBC concerning the DSO.
Saidu disclosed that the Abuja DSO was officially launched with equipment and facilities of PCL atop the Mpape Hill, Abuja, on December 22, 2016, by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who represented President Muhammad Buhari, adding that the Information Minister, herself and other stakeholders were present during the DSO launch.
In addition, she stated that PCL is a major stakeholder in the DSO Nigeria project.
Testifying earlier, Olawale Abiodun Osisanwo, (pw1) a deputy director of Finance at NBC told the court that he processed the payment of N2.5bn to Pinnacle Communications Limited after all the necessary documentation was attached and the audit department also passed it for payment.
Oshisanwo said although he raised some observations when the DG held discussion with him, however he admitted not putting such observations in writing.
Also, Mr Chukwuemeka Iwunna, an assistant director Human Resource Department, who acted as secretary to the NBC board, was called as witness number two by ICPC.
Iwunna disclosed in his testimony that an emergency management meeting was summoned by the DG to discuss request for payment from PCL and that the minutes he produced was what transpired during the meeting.