I almost missed the early morning train from Kaduna to Abuja last Thursday, July 4th, 2019. I wanted to be in court early, to get a seat to await the arrival of the immediate past Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, as a prosecution witness, in the case of ICPC versus Malam Modibbo Kawu, the DG of NBC, and Pinnacle Communications Limited. My curiosity was fueled by a few factors; the first was that from all that we have heard about this strange court case, Alhaji Lai Muhammed was the approval authority for the N2.5billion that NBC paid to Pinnacle Communications Limited, on the back of the job the company is doing for the Nigerian Digital Switchover (DSO). I recall watching Alhaji Lai Muhammed on live television, in December 2016, showering encomiums on the feat achieved by Pinnacle Communications Limited, which allowed the initiation of DSO in the FCT and by implication the announcement of Nigeria that the DSO had indeed arrived. Lai Muhammed was, proudly, the man at the center of attraction on the occasion. Television pictures do not lie. So it has not ceased to amaze me, that the former Minister would approve the release of the funds, and from the period that the ICPC story broke, the same former Minister refused to come out publicly to either accept responsibility for the payment confirming his initial and only approval, or denounce it. It took the ICPC to return to court last Monday, to present amended charges, that accused Malam Modibbo Kawu of having “misled” the former Minister, yes “misled”, Lai Muhammed to approve the release of a grant to Pinnacle Communications Limited.
Like almost every Nigerian observer of the strange court case, I wanted to hear how the former Minister would argue that point in court. Unfortunately, the ICPC didn’t present Lai Muhammed. We arrived in court on Thursday to be fed the spectacle of procedural arguments about whether Lai should or shouldn’t be in court at all. On a day of anti-climax, the presiding judge adjourned to October 2nd, 2019. It was the eve of the annual judicial vacation, and we all left the courts rather disappointed. The ICPC was unable to present the remaining prosecution witnesses. From checks I’ve made on this case, things won’t have come as far, had Lai Muhammed as a responsible leader, taken the responsibility of his position, soon as the ICPC waded into the issue, to offer the correct explanation about the payment he approved. After all, the process started in 2014, under the then Jonathan administration, when Pinnacle Communications Limited won a competitive bid to become the Second National Signal Distributor for the DSO. The shameless Lai Muhammed hoped that the bizarre ICPC issue offered an opportunity to remove Modibbo Kawu as DG of NBC. From my investigations and checks with sources at the Federal Ministry of Information in Abuja, and those who know Kwara State politics, Lai Muhammed had many issues against Modibbo Kawu. One was related to the manner that Kawu was said to protect the independence of the NBC; an official of the Federal Ministry of Information described Lai Muhammed as a “control freak”, who wanted the agencies he supervised to be run like departments of the Ministry having inherited these agencies and supervised them without Boards for several months. Modibbo Kawu was said to defend the independence of the NBC; for that, Lai Muhammed is said to describe Kawu as “arrogant”. Lai Muhammed was also said to be uncomfortable with contacts that Modibbo Kawu has within the structures of government, especially amongst people of Northern extraction. Consequently, he is reported to take every opportunity to attempt to destroy Kawu’s reputation with people in government. The final point of Lai Muhammed’s grouse with Modibbo Kawu, was said to be the fact that in 2018 Kawu attempted to be gubernatorial candidate of the APC in Kwara State. Lai Muhammed, as “APC leader in Kwara State”, took it as a personal affront, and was said to have vowed to ensure Modibbo Kawu didn’t get the ticket, and is removed as DG of NBC. Those who know, are therefore not surprised at how Lai Muhammed has behaved, over the ICPC issue. But they also add that Lai Muhammed has hurt himself, far more than he probably thought. When he enters the witness box as a prosecution witness, he would have to explain how Modibbo Kawu “misled” him, to do the right and legally defensive thing by approving the grant to Pinnacle Communications Limited, that he praised so enthusiastically, at not only the commissioning of the Abuja DSO Centre, in December 2016 but also the Kaduna DSO Centre in December 2017.
My investigation reveals that Modibbo Kawu and Pinnacle Communications Limited, have many traducers, and these agents of darkness ,are a very desperate lot. They are all united around a few issues. The first is that Modibbo Kawu as DG of NBC, is not in their pocket, and so is not amenable to the incredibly corrupt process that they instituted within the NBC system immediately preceding the Kawu era. Some of them describe Kawu as “very arrogant”, quoting the words of letters that he writes in replies to communications with errant stakeholders as examples of such “arrogance”. In recent times, I found out that some of these stakeholders in the broadcast sector have become the new hiding place, from which some of Modibbo Kawu’s traducers are attempting to launch campaigns of vilification against him. The main individuals pushing these campaigns are perceived as major success stories in the Nigerian broadcast media but majorly indebted to the NBC as well as a former NTA DG who wants to remain relevant in the field of mass communications. These individuals are hiding behind a few members of the some regional associations to rake up all kinds of incoherent accusations against Kawu. Similarly, those who lost out when the current Board of NBC cancelled an illegality that was termed the “content aggregation” license improperly issued, have been fighting dirty against both Modibbo Kawu and Pinnacle Communications Limited. My sources informed me that some arrowheads of the illegal contraption, worked with insiders in NBC, to take out official documents which they handed over to a renowned broadcast content piracy company by the name of Communications Trends Limited, headed by an Engineer Uzo Udemba. This entity was discovered to have been sponsoring several publications and funding negative social media articles against the DSO project, especially since Kawu became DG of NBC, and the DSO appears to be on course. What I further confirmed, is that Uzo Udemba, has been in the content piracy “business” for 26 years. His company specializes in hacking Set Top Boxes (Decoders) from the Middle East, Europe, China and Africa, so that broadcast content can be accessed without license. The hacked and pirated materials are then put up for sale as the pirate company’s content. So far the company is said to have over 35,000 subscribers and these subscribers pay a monthly subscription of N3, 150.00. Uzo Udemba was said to have told people around him, that he would not allow a successful DSO, because such a success will take him out of his piracy “business”. He then vowed that he would deploy a lot of resources into a major campaign to discredit Kawu as DG of the NBC, as well as Pinnacle Communications Limited (that is the biggest single investor in the DSO project). And in this despicable campaign, he found willing collaborators inside the NBC; these are members of management & staff said to be on his payroll for years, as well as those that had been on retainership, in the corruption gravy train from the Emeka Mba years at the NBC.
One major traducer that must be called out is a certain Hakeem Lawal, a top shot in the ICPC whose name has come up severally in the course of the witch-hunt currently going on at the Federal High Court. This man has been on a personal campaign against Modibbo Kawu and Pinnacle Communications Limited, as an agent of certain political forces, who are positioning for the 2023 elections. The thread from Hakeem Lawal is sewn through the office of the Chairman of the ICPC, into that of the Chief of Staff of a National political office holder of south West extraction. It is this same Chief of Staff that has been directing the media trial against Modibbo Kawu and Pinnacle Communications Limited, using especially PREMIUM TIMES, THE PUNCH and the SUN newspapers. At the heart of this for Hakeem Lawal and his masters, is control of the regulatory power that the NBC represents, in the calculations for power, in the lead to the 2023 elections. Now they are moving from the court case, which is looking like one they would collapse like a pack of cards, to a new campaign, woven around the licenses that the President Muhammadu Buhari approved in September 2018. The political group that Hakeem Lawal works for, have been particularly unhappy, that there was remarkable equity in the licensing that President Muhammadu Buhari approved; the single largest number of licenses ever issued, since the beginning of the NBC. And for the first time, Northerners were issued licenses, in the profitable Lagos broadcasting market. For the political group that Hakeem Lawal works for, that fact was actually seen as one of the major “crimes” committed by Modibbo Kawu; to dare ensure that Northern-owned broadcasting stations would be present in Lagos. They seem to have completely lost all rationality, because no one can query the powers of the President, to approve licenses for whomsoever he chooses. That Hakeem Lawal is able to abuse his public office by pirating ICPC’s statutory investigative functions to achieve the clandestine political agenda of geo-political cult leader to the detriment of the Federal Government’s DSO project presents another sordid aspect of the unfolding scam. It has since come to light that Hakeem Lawal is the point man in a hideous witchunting syndicate in the ICPC that is at the disposal of all sorts of disgruntled people who have sn axe to grind with any high ranking public servant or public office holder in a government institution. All you need is a contrived petition raising outrageous allegations against the targeted person and an “influential”political or financial leverage over Hakeem Lawal and the hatchet job commences with investigators one side and the ICPC media unit on the other orchestrating the crudest form of media trial. It can even lead to malicious arraignment before high courts where the stark incompetence of ICPC’s prosecutors is shamelessly displayed. Ask anyone following the spurious case against Ishaq Modibbo Kawu and Pinnacle Communications Limited for deplorable details! Sadly, the appointment of a supposedly new board for ICPC had no corrective effect because the geo-political cultists hand picked the members and Hakeem Lawal has good company. The growing number of bungled ICPC cases thrown out by flabbergasted judges and loud protests from victims of media trials such as the victimized CEO of the federal bulk electricity trading company are pungent pointers to the decadence in ICPC which powerful parochial politicians cannot hide! I have spent six months to put this investigative piece together. Nigerians must know the truth. Malam Modibbo Kawu is a patriot working for the very best interest of our country. And Pinnacle Communications Limited is a private company with a strong ethical business practice, that has over the past 25 years delivered many successful broadcasting projects all over Nigeria. In a sane setting, these people would be celebrated, not persecuted and face an unnecessary trial. I however believe that they will be vindicated; it’s just a matter of time.
ABUBAKAR MAHMOUD AHMED RETIRED JOURNALIST, PUBLIC AFFAIRS CONSULTANT AND HADITH SCHOLAR, LIVES IN KURMIN MASHI, Kaduna
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