By Vivian Okejeme Abuja
Former Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed has taken responsibility over the approval of N2.5bn released to Pinnacle Communications Ltd by the National Broadcasting Commission under the Digital Switch Over (DSO) project of the Federal Government.
Mohammed, owned up in his statement dated June 13, 2019, which he made available to defence counsel in the alleged fraud case brought against the NBC Director General Ishaq Modibbo Kawu and executives of Pinnacle Communications Limited.
In his statement, the embattled former minister said he approved the payment “on the strength of” particular reference to section 11.2 (c) of the White Paper governing Implementation of the DSO in Nigeria by the NBC DG in recommending the payment to him for approval.
Lai .Mohammed said section 11.2(c) of the White Paper “directed the NBC to put in place necessary conditions and ensure that close to a level playing field is achieved in reference to the significant advantage over new entrants enjoyed in the DSO ecosystem by the Government Signal Distributor, in this case the ITS that came out of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), which already had 157 transmission sites spread across Nigeria.”
The former minister added that the recommendation letter from NBC also recalled that ITS had already been paid N1.7billion for DSO rollout in three states and therefore noted that the payment of N2.5 billion to Pinnacle Communications Limited would represent close to a level playing field that the White Paper called for.
He explained that by virtue of their position as chief executives of various parastatals under his ministry, he frequently relied on their expert professional advice when they sought his approval for projects.
“ I wish to state categorically that there was no meeting in London between me and Pinnacle Communications Limited or its representatives regarding any form of payment to Pinnacle Communications Limited or its representatives,” Lai Mohammed declared in his hand written statement to ICPC.
He further stated that he did not need to seek approval of the Federal Executive Council for the payment to Pinnacle Communications Limited since he already had a presidential directive that the money released, about N10 billion was to be used under his supervision for the Digital Switch Over (DSO).
It would be recalled that a prosecution witness Olugbemi Abraham, had 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.