Editor's note: Kaduna-based Abubakar Mahmoud Ahmed, a retired journalist, public affairs consultant and Hadith scholar, writes on the controversy in the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), warning that it is a ploy to side-line northerners in the scheme of things.
When the director-general National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, was called into the dock at the Federal High Court, it was the culmination of high wire politics, of the dirtiest type. For most people, the more they saw, the less they understood; and that was precisely the whole idea. Those who schemed the plot, have a central agenda. It was to REMOVE Modibbo Kawu as DG of NBC, by all means, but most especially, the most foul, but with a complicit media.
This story started, not in 2018, but actually in 2016 when President Buhari announced the DGs to head media parastatals and the NBC, he caused the first level of shock. The announcement of Modibbo Kawu as NBC DG shocked the political team from the south-west, that had primed the position for Dele Alake, the former commissioner for information and strategy in Lagos state. Lai Mohammed, as minister of information, was very unhappy that he had no input whatsoever in the appointment of all the DGs announced on that occasion.
The last DG of NBC, Emeka Mba, had actually been the writer of the petition that ICPC had used, as the basis for questioning the payment that NBC made to Pinnacle Communications Limited, using a set of members of staff of the NBC, to get official papers of the commission for his petition to the ICPC. Emeka Mba had been a very good benefactor of Lai Mohammed, in the few months that he was still DG NBC, after the 2015 elections and the inauguration of the Buhari administration.
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Emeka Mba had used NBC’s funds to finance the Jonathan campaign and he looked the other way, when NTA and AIT were broadcasting hate materials, against then candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. But soon as the APC won it’s victory, like a chameleon, he began to change his posture. He also got access to Bola Tinubu, through his friend, Toyin Subair, whose company, INVIEW, he had unilaterally appointed as the middle-ware provider for the Nigerian Digital Switch-over (DSO). The company had been DISQUALIFIED in the bid process; but Emeka Mba, met Toyin Subair in London, and agreed that he would set aside the thorough work that DIGITEAM NIGERIA did in its search for a middle-ware provider. He dropped the Nigerian company that won the bid, and appointed the disqualified INVIEW. Not only that, he paid INVIEW N1.7b, three months before it was registered to do business in Nigeria. It should not be forgotten that Emeka Mba had received presidential approval to sell frequency, which fetched NBC N35billion from MTN.
In the meantime, Emeka Mba had a major battle on his hands, and that was the stubborn resistance of Pinnacle Communications Limited. They had won an open, transparent and competitive bid, in 2014, and were subsequently licensed as the second national signal distributors for the Nigerian DSO, after paying the bid sum of N685 million. Emeka Mba extracted all the money-making elements from the license he gave Pinnacle Communications. He then licensed CCNL, partly owned by himself. Pinnacle Communications Limited went to court, and were in court, till the Jonathan administration was defeated.
In the heydays of Diezani Allison-Maduekwe’s powers, Emeka Mba would brag that he had Diezani’s backing; and vowing to turn Pinnacle Communications Limited’s license, to a worthless piece of paper! It became a condition to get any look in at the NBC, by strictly following Emeka Mba’s order that they must NEVER have anything to do with Pinnacle Communications Limited. The broadcast stakeholders were encouraged/threatened to treat Pinnacle like a leper.
Having spent so much money, and receiving the assurances of Lai Mohammed and Toyin Subair’s support, that he would get Bola Tinubu to ensure he was retained, the propaganda was spiked, that the DSO was going to collapse, if Emeka Mba was not retained as DG NBC. Even Lai Muhammed who had been lavishly indulged by Emeka Mba, assured him that his tenure was going to be protected. A notorious PDP financier, had spread so much money within a segment of the new APC administration, that the minister of information, Lai Mohammed and his political group was prepared to forget all he did against President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Pinnacle Communications Limited Chairman, Lucky Omoluwa, had supported the Buhari campaign, and had thought the change of administration would offer an opportunity to rectify the injustice they faced under Emeka Mba. Lai Mohammed pretended he was going to offer a platform of genuine settlement while he was always on Emeka Mba’s side. But Emeka was to prove his own worst enemy. The directive that all funds be put into the Federal Government’s TSA, became his Achilles heel. He hid ten billion naira which was eventually revealed by a whistle blower. He became an orphan, because Lai Mohammed and the Lagos political machinery, quickly abandoned him to his own devices. He was removed from the NBC. And on his way out, he handed over to one of his most gung-ho minions; the only NBC director that was part of all his secret schemes.
This was the explosive situation that Modibbo Kawu inherited as director-general of the NBC. It was almost akin to a poisoned chalice. But he set out to systematically make the system serve Nigeria’s interest. Pinnacle Communications Limited that had been in court, was encouraged to accept an out-of-court settlement. They were appointed signal distributor for the Abuja switch-over. They delivered within 90 days, including air-freighting 9 tons of equipment into Abuja. They provided the very best facilities that were commissioned by the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, on December 22nd, 2016. Their Kaduna center was commissioned a year later by Governor Nasir El-Rufai.
These events were broadcast live on television, and attended by all the stakeholders in broadcasting. It was for their services, that five months after commissioning of the Abuja center, NBC paid them the N2.5billion that has become the source of controversy and the basis of the ICPC indictment. It should be noted that the honourable minister of information, Lai Mohammed, approved the payment; just as he approved all the payments made to set top boxes manufacturers; CCNL; Call Center operators, and others. The white paper is the instrument used to justify these payments. Yet, the ICPC accepted Emeka Mba’s “petition.” Emeka Mba had never reconciled himself to the fact that he is no longer the NBC DG, given the money he spent, to retain the position.
The NBC itself is an institution that is badly skewed, over the years. The majority of the staff recruited by Mba, were from the south-east, and for the majority of those, Modibbo Kawu is an alien, as far as they are concerned. They regularly release NBC’s secret papers to external forces, while Emeka Mba brags that his boys inside keep him abreast of any, and every development. In the last elections, most NBC staff were reported to have voted for PDP, because they wanted President Muhammadu Buhari to lose, since that would mean that Modibbo Kawu would then be removed as DG. One of the most entrenched cabals inside the NBC is the licensing cabal. It was the ruling mantra, that southerners can, and must be given licenses in the north, but northerners are ALWAYS denied licenses in the south, especially the lucrative Lagos market. Well, Modibbo Kawu ensured that for the first time, in the 25 year history of the NBC, northerners got several licenses in Lagos, and there was a far more just and even spread of licenses, with the licensing round that President Muhammadu Buhari approved in September 2018: the single largest round of licensing in Nigerian history.
But there were people who were also angry outside of the NBC about the licensing, and these include Lai Mohammed and the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo. The applications that went to the NBC from his people, had initially requested for Ibadan, and these were offered. Unfortunately, he later wanted approval for Lagos, but NBC could not give him. The reason was simple. There were 45 approvals for Lagos, but there were only 15 available frequencies. NBC gave them out on a first come, first served basis.
But the Emeka Mba petition suddenly took a life of its own. It became a very useful instrument to serve an original agenda: to get Modibbo Kawu out of the NBC. There’s a strong Lagos and Redeemed Church connection to this agenda. The first person that took on the battle was the head of operations at the ICPC, a certain Hakeem Lawal from Lagos state. He was working directly on this project with Ade Ipaye, the VP’s chief of staff. They decided this was an opportunity too good to lose. To make things even better, the new ICPC board is headed by another VP sidekick, Bolaji Owosonoye, who also belongs to the Redeemed Church. The plan is to bring into the NBC, after they might have removed Modibbo Kawu, their original candidate, Dele Alake, who also belongs to the Redeemed Church. VP Yemi Osinbajo has stealthily implanted his Redeemed people into leadership in the Consumer Protection Council as well as NAFDAC, but for him and his team, NBC, is the ace of cards. Modibbo Kawu is giving northerners licenses in areas that they were long banned from. They cannot allow that to continue. Media power, including but especially, broadcast media power, MUST remain a southern monopoly. With Modibbo Kawu in position, there’s danger. So willy-nilly, he must be removed, even if the basis is spurious.
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The ministry of justice set up two committees to examine all the details of the NBC payment to Pinnacle Communications Limited. The committees reached a verdict that there was no wrongdoing in the process and the payment. They then issued an advice to ICPC to step down the plan for indictment, and carry out further investigations, including visits to the Pinnacle DSO project sites, since no ICPC investigators have ever done so. Bolaji Owosonoye refused to acknowledge the letter, nor listened to other members of the ICPC board. He was on a mission to ensure that Modibbo Kawu is arraigned. And that actually is their simple plan: arraign Modibbo Kawu in court, then begin a campaign that he should step aside.
Lai Mohammed has his own personal grouses against Modibbo Kawu. The most contemporary had to do with the politics of Kwara. He was unhappy that Modibbo Kawu participated in the gubernatorial race last year. To sum up what appears to be an issue of so-called “corrupt payment” is actually high wire political intrigue. Those who have a genuine sense of justice, and especially northerners, must “shine your eyes;” you are about to lose one of the best opportunities to have an equitable period in the history of the NBC. That is what Modibbo Kawu has worked for, in almost three years. If you don’t rally round him, and allow them to remove him, you would discover that the imbalance in broadcast media power, would be deepened.
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