Published On: Thu, Jun 27th, 2019

N2.5bn DSO project: Lai Mohammed fails to appear in court

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By Vivian Okejeme Abuja

Former Minister of Information, Prof Lai Mohammed, yesterday failed to appear before Justice Folashade Ogunbanjo Giwa, to testify in the trial of the Director General of National Broadcasting Commission, Ishaq Kawu Modibbo, Pinnacle Communications Ltd and two others.
The former minister was to appear before the Federal High Court Abuja, to explain his role in the approval of N2.5billion to Pinnacle Communications Ltd, for the purpose of the Federal Government Digital Switch Over (DSO) project.
The prosecution counsel, Henry Emore, listed Lai Mohammed in the list of additional witnesses in the trial to give testimony as the Minister who approved the payment of N2.5bn to Pinnacle.
However, after calling two witnesses, the prosecution counsel informed the court that he was to call the former Information Minister but for his absence.
The former Minister, who was conspicuously absent in court, was said to have travelled out of the country but is being expected back into the country on or before July 31.
Emore also informed the court that Mohammed had finally made statement before the Independent Corrupt Practice Commission (ICPC), as a former Minister.
The prosecution also informed the court that the other witness he wished to call, was still in Saudi Arabia. However, Alex Izinyon SAN, counsel to Onifade Oladipupo (2nd defendant) and Sir Lucky Omoluwa (3rd defendant) told the court that he had already filed an application to oppose the list of additional witness filed by the prosecution counsel.
Izinyon said the defence team had already joined issues with the prosecution on the failure of ICPC to call the Information Minister who approved the payment of N2.5bn to Pinnacle as well as join him as a defendant in the case.
A witness called by the ICPC told the court that the then Information Minister had refused to make statement to the ICPC, claiming that he needed to get clearance from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
Earlier, upon cross examination by Izinyon, a prosecution witness Olugbemi Abraham, told the court that “During investigation, we could not interview the then minister of Information because he said he needed clearance from the Secretary to Government of the Federation”.
Abraham however revealed that they later took statement from Lai Mohammed during the pendency of this case, admitting that “Really, we did not bother to get in touch with the SGF to enable him allow the Information Minister to make statement”.
Abraham admitted that, NBC, based on the provision of the White Paper that government should provide condition for a level playing field for signal distributors, is the one that would determine the level playing field.
Under further cross examination by Amah Etuwewe, counsel to the 4th defendant (Pinnacle Communications), the witness said upon investigation, they did not value the facility put in place by Pinnacle at the Abuja DSO site.
Furrher more, the witness admitted that the N2. 5bn was released under the supervision of the Information Minister, adding that “To the best of my knowledge, the Presidency that released the N10bn to the NBC for the purpose of DSO has not complained of how the fund was used, and I am not aware if the Minister had withdrawn his approval.
The court was adjourned to July 1st, to rule on a motion by the 2nd and 3rd defendant.
They are seeking the release of their international passports to enable them travel abroad for official function.

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