*The Labaran Maku, Omobola Johnson connection
*ICPC on a wild-goose-chase
Contrary to lies and half-truths being bandied by some mischief makers on contracts for Digital Switch Over (DSO) in the country, it has been revealed that the contracts given to almost 20 companies, including 13 Set Box manufacturers, to move Nigeria from analogue to digital broadcasting were actually approved by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
A document sighted by our correspondent at the weekend revealed that Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and the Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Modibbo Kawu, have nothing to do with the contracts.
“They only implemented the White Paper approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) under former President Goodluck Jonathan”.
In 2014, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) set a June 17, 2015 deadline for Nigeria to move to digital broadcasting and the then Information Minister, Labaran Maku, and his Communication Technology counterpart, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, tabled the matter before the then FEC.
It was learned that after series of documents were presented at FEC, at least, five times, the DSO budget was approved and Maku announced this to Aso Rock Correspondents.
The documents containing minutes and formula for calculating the subsidy rebate scheme were gazetted.
Also, in May 2014 before the presidential approval by Jonathan, the NBC under the then Director-General, Emeka Mba, and Digiteam, announced a public expression of interest in some Nigerian newspapers, Federal Tender Publications and International Trade Press for persons interested in applying for ‘type approval certification for the manufacture or dealership of DTT set top boxes’.
Maku and Johnson told the then FEC that the digital switch over being undertaken by NBC would make Nigeria the biggest digital television market in Africa, positively impact the Nigerian film industry and contribute to the growth of the economy.
Said a source in the telecoms sector at the weekend: “All the players today in the DSO Echo System – Signal distributors, Set Box manufacturers, Aggregators such as Inview, CCNL and others – were all appointed and contracts approved by the Jonathan administration. Alhaji Lai Mohammed and Modibbo Kawu did not approve any contract in respect of DSO. It is absolutely false.
“The allegation that the NBC D-G also awarded contract to Pinnacle Communications is also false as the contract was awarded before the Muhammadu Buhari administration. It is also not true that the Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, claimed that he was misled by the NBC D-G into approving payment. The mischief makers have cleverly hidden the fact that the minister also authored payment – based on the approval by the Jonathan administration – to other players in the Echo System such as Inview, CCNL, ITS and Set Box manufacturers”.
According to documents seen at the weekend, Pinnacle Communications, owned by Sir Lucky Omuluwa, paid a licensing fee of over N600 million to the Federal Government under Jonathan to be able to qualify as the second signal distributor while its competitor, ITS, carved out of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), did not pay any licensing fee.
In fact, Pinnacle Communications had to go to court “due to injustice in the bid”.
This is due to the fact that what was agreed upon when the bid was ongoing was not what was written in the approved letter given to Pinnacle.
ITS inherited 157 sites and Pinnacle inherited nothing, giving undue advantage to ITS “just because the government has interest in it”.
Pinnacle had to start from the scratch and it went to court because it believed it was shortchanged. In actual fact, the licence was supposed to cover more responsibilities than the letter given to Pinnacle.
It was when Alhaji Lai Mohammed assumed office as minister that he called the Pinnacle management to a meeting and urged them to withdraw the matter from court “in the interest of the DSO project”.
“This was done and the company moved back to site. Today, Pinnacle has inaugurated a station in Abuja declared open by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. It also moved to Kaduna to inaugurate another station declared open by Governor Nasir el-Rufai”.
The source wondered whose interest the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) was protecting by going to court, alleging malpractices in the money paid to Pinnacle.
The case is slated for May 2 before a Federal High Court in Abuja and the defendants are Modibbo Kawu, Pinnacle Communications and others.
Till today, nobody knows who sent a petition to ICPC.
The source accused some foreign interests of trying to abort the mandate of the Muhammadu Buhari administration to ensure Nigeria becomes a technologically-driven country.
“What was paid to Pinnacle as seed fund was less than what was paid to ITS (in dollar terms), despite the fact that ITS inherited 157 sites from NTA and paid no licensing fee.
“Pinnacle is a private company and everything is being done by these mischief makers, funded by some foreign companies with interest in telecoms, to destroy it. There is high wire politics involved. People who want to truncate DSO are at work. DSO will lead to technological independence in the area of digital telecommunications in the country but because of selfish interest, they don’t want this.
“Billions have been paid to other companies in DSO by the minister. How come nobody has raised this issue? Entrenched business interest is fighting Pinnacle which is a Nigerian company. This is not the way to promote Executive Order 5. If a company can pay a licensing fee of over N600 million and they are trying to frustrate it by using ICPC, then, they are fighting Federal Government’s efforts to ensure that Nigeria becomes a technology giant”.