Senate Demands Forensic Audit of NTA/Startimes Account over Alleged N200bn Capital Flight


* Asks management team to step aside

By Deji Elumoye

The Senate on Tuesday canvassed for the urgent forensic auditing of the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) and Startimes Joint Venture account through which over N200 billion had allegedly been taken out of the country since 2008.

Its Joint Committee on Finance and National Planning, at a public hearing on the revenue generation for the 2021-2023 MTEF/FSP document on Tuesday, also directed the management of the joint venture to step aside for failing to convince the committee of the transparency of the business agreement.

The Senator Olamilekan Adeola-led committee declared that the forensic audit of the account of the non- profitable venture to NTA needs to be carried out to unravel the exact sum of money that had been fraudulently taken out of the country within the last 11 years, estimated to be N200 billion.

Senator Adeola declared: “With what we are seeing, you people as management of the venture are collaborating with Startimes in siphoning money abroad.
You need to be put under oath along with the other management team, collecting monthly salaries from NTA and working for Startimes and in the process, indulging in capital flight in collaboration with foreign staff of the company.

“By rough estimations, all the revenues made through the joint venture and recorded in dollar amounted to about N200 billion between 2010 and 2018.”

The committee also described the affected management team namely Maxwell Loko, who is the Managing Director of the joint venture, and Tunde Aina, who serves as Chief Operating Officer (COO), as unpatriotic Nigerians working for Startimes but receiving monthly salaries from NTA.

The committee in the course of interfacing with heads of government agencies on revenue projections for the N12.6 trillion 2021 budget called on the NTA/Startimes management to explain why the joint venture has not yielded any profit for NTA as lamented by the Director General, Yakubu Ibn Mohammed, before the committee on Monday.

The MD of the joint venture, Loko, told the committee that he agreed that the business is not thriving because Digital Terestial Television (DTT) being operated through the venture, is capital intensive as against the Satellite model.

He lamented that out of the four million subscribers Startimes have, only 20 per cent are active, which according to him, makes the venture unprofitable for both parties (NTA and Startimes).

But the chairman of the committee, Senator Adeola, and other members, faulted his arguments based on records obtained from the audited account reports submitted by both the NTA and the joint venture.

Adeola particularly asked the MD, why as obtainable in the audited account reports presented proceeds of transactions from the joint venture are both in dollar and naira.

He said: “Based on records made available to us, both the expenditure and revenue components of transactions made on the joint venture since 2008, have been recorded in naira and dollar, indicating capital flight intension.

“For example, as clearly stated in the audited report before us, in 2018 alone, your revenue from subscription was $36.1 million which is N11 billion. Also in the expenditure component for the year, monies incurred were put in both dollar and naira and in that year, your expenditure (N19 billion) far exceeded the N11 billion revenue allegedly generated.”

Attempts by both the COO and Director of Tax and Audit of the venture to disabuse the minds of the committee members on any sharp practices, failed as they resolved that they must all step aside from their current positions for forensic audit to take place.

Adeola and the co-chairman of the committee, Senator Olubunmi Adetunbi, told the DG of NTA to, in his own interest and for his own good, ensure that the three affected workers of NTA on the joint venture step aside.

“This is very necessary and this committee will follow it up because Nigeria and Nigerians are being short changed through the joint venture,” Adeola stated.