By Tope Owotoki
Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the immediate past Minister of Information and Culture, has been scheduled to appear before a Federal High Court, Abuja, as a prosecution witness in the case against the Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Ishaq Kawu, and three others over the alleged misapplication of N2.5 billion Federal Government Digital Switch-Over (DSO) programme.
The planned appearance of Mr Mohammed was revealed by the Independent Corrupt Practice and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), who is prosecuting the case against the defendants.
Mrs Rashidat Okoduwa, the Spokesperson for the commission, in confirming this development, said Mohammed will appear as a witness.
The anti-graft body had filed a 12-count charge before Justice Folashade Ogunbanjo-Giwa, against Mr Kawu, Lucky Omoluwa and Dipo Onifade, the Chairman and Chief Operating Officer of Pinnacle Communications Limited respectively, and the company saying that the NBC director general misled the former minister into approving government funds to a private company.
The former minister’s involvement had come under questioning following discovery by ICPC during investigations, that a government White Paper that governs the execution of the DSO programme, was allegedly flouted by the head of NBC.
Mohammed had however admitted in a statement to the Commission that he was misled by Kawu, as opined in court by a witness from ICPC, Osanato Olugbemi.
Olugbemi, led in evidence by counsel to ICPC, Henry Emore, also told the court that the payment of N2.5 billion from NBC to Pinnacle Communications Limited, as seed grant was suspicious because ICPC found out through its investigations that only government owned company was approved to benefit from the grant according to the White Paper.
The court also heard that the processes that led to the final payment of the fund to the private company were shrouded in secrecy as revealed by the minute from an NBC emergency board management meeting where issues of carriage fees owed Pinnacle and not seed grant was discussed.
He told the court that 47 suspicious transactions were originated by the chairman of Pinnacle Communications, Omoluwa, immediately after the receipt of the funds on June 2, 2017.
The transactions includes payments of N363 million to one Idowu Olatunde, N274.4 million to one James Segun and N127 million to Dipo Onifade, the Chief Operating Officer of the company.
He informed the court that Omoluwa refused to explained the reasons for the payments to Messrs Olatunde and James when asked by ICPC, but Onifade explained that he received the N127 million as legal fees he rendered to Pinnacle Communications Limited.
A Bureau de Change operator, Salisu Daura, who also testified in court, said he received N167 million in two installments of N97 million and N70 million respectively, from Pinnacle Communications Limited.
Daura added that the sums were converted into $265, 000 and $195, 735 respectively, at the rate of N360 to the American dollar, and handed in cash to one Alhaji Sabo, supposedly on behalf of Pinnacle Communications.
Counsel to the accused persons, Alex Iziyon (SAN), A. Yusuf and A. V. Etuwewe for Omoluwa, Onifade, Kawu and Pinnacle Communications respectively, took turns to cross-examine both witnesses after which the matter was adjourned to July 1, 2019 for continuation of trial and ruling on two pending motions by the trial judge.