Senate Berates NTA over Non-profitable Venture with Startimes

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Deji Elumoye in Abuja

The Senate yesterday expressed disappointment with the management of the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) over the non-profitability of the 11 year-old business agreement it has with Startimes.

Its Joint Committee on Finance and National Planning particularly picked on the NTA Director-General, Yakubu Ibn Mohammed, on the joint venture the national television network has been running with Startimes for over a decade without requisite profit.

Consequently, the DG, who was also accused of making unsatisfactory submissions on operational and revenue drive of the information outfit over the years, was ordered to appear before the joint committee again today along with the Managing Director of NTA TV Enterprises, Mr. Maxwell Loko, who is supervising the joint venture with Startimes.

The NTA boss first appeared before the committee last Friday before being asked to return yesterday for allegedly making unsatisfactory submissions on financial records of the institution as regards the internally Generated Revenues (IGR) and details of its alleged debtors.

The DG ran into trouble at yesterday’s sitting when he told the committee members that not a single dime has been realised from the joint operational venture it entered into with Startimes in 2008.

Mohammed said: “As an executive director in NTA in 2009, not a single kobo was made from the joint venture with Startimes, the same situation I met in 2016 when I returned as the DG.

“In fact, on assumption of office as the director general, that was the first question I asked, upon which records of non- profitability was presented by the NTA subsidiary outfit running it. The non-profitability status of the venture remains till today.”

The Chairman of the committee, Senator Solomon Olamilekan Adeola, was quick to take him up by asking the DG whether he was sure of what he said.

He said: “Mr. DG are you telling this committee that for solid 11 years, the joint venture agreement NTA had with Startimes has not yielded any profit despite using your facilities for over one million subscribers. This is completely unfair to Nigeria. Something is cooking, and you must come with the MD of your subsidiary unit overseeing the contractual and operational agreement with Startimes.”

Contributing, a member of the committee, Senator Danladi Sankara, described the venture as fraudulent since, according him, Startimes did not register with the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).

“Startimes, as far as the laws of the land is concerned, is running an illegal business in Nigeria and very unfortunate that such is being aided and abetted by NTA,” he said.

The DG came under fire again when asked to submit details of debtors owing NTA N1.8billion, and he responded that the indebtedness was purely from COVID-19 adverts which he said have not been paid for despite presentations twice to that effect to the appropriate authorities.

A member of the committee, Senator Ayo Akinyelure, kicked against the director general’s submission on the grounds that the National Assembly approved funds for publicity on COVID-19 out of the N500billion appropriated as intervention fund.

He said: “This Senate, and by extension, the National Assembly, provided money for publicity out of the N500billion intervention fund appropriated. Therefore, your submission that NTA has not been paid any money in that respect is unacceptable. You must collect whatever the said N1.8billion from the Presidential Task Force in charge of COVID-19.”

The chairman of the committee, thereafter, ordered the DG to come with documents on presentations made for payment of the N1.8 billion today.

“The NTA, based on appearances and submissions made by its DG to this committee last week Friday and today (yesterday), is an exceptional institution that has serious challenges in balancing its accounts books despite being funded with N10million on yearly basis by the Nigerian Government,” he stated.