LAI MOHAMMED IN ICPC SOUP OVER ALLEGED N10BN FRAUD INVOLVING NBC FUNDS
Desperate attempts by Nigeria’s Information Minister, Mr Lai Mohammed to use the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to circumvent ongoing corruption investigations mounted against his person by the Independentt Corrupt Practices and Other Offences Commission (ICPC) may have ignited a simmering animosity between him and the leadership of the parastatal.
This is even as the Information Minister’s business relationship with Toyin Subairu has raised serious concerns amongst the leadership of the NBC. Subairu who was on the Interpol wanted list for fraud, allegedly launders funds for Bola Ahmed Tinubu, using his now moribund HiTV.
Last week (Thursday) the minister verbally directed the Director-General of the NBC Mr Balarebe Ilela to write to him demanding for the release of N10 billion illegally being kept by his Ministry since January but was coldly ignored by the DG. The money was a loan provided to the Commission by the Federal Government to enable it successfully prosecute the Digital Switch Over (DSO) which is an internationally mandatory protocol to digitize television broadcast in every nation of the world.
Pointblanknews.com last week reported exclusively that rather than the money released directly to the NBC, Mr Mohammed used his influence with the Federal Ministry of Finance to divert the money to a private account where it is estimated to have generated interest already amounting to over One Billion Naira. Complaints from service providers to the project and a petition to the ICPC culminated in the anti-graft agency raiding the NBC and seizing files, software and computers.
Mr Mohammed is also accused of deliberately duplicating payment to one of the companies, Inview Nigeria Limited owned by his business partner Mr Toyin Subairu among several other dubious actions taken allegedly aimed at skimming the N10 Billion.
Besides, all through last week the commission rigorously interrogated two main accounting officers of the ministry, the Permanent Secretary, Mrs Ngozi Ayanwuotaku and the Ministry’s Director of Finance, Mr Kayode Musbau who was reported to have fainted,(foaming from the mouth) at a point on Wednesday and had to be rushed for medical attention. He was said to have been stabilized and returned for a continuation of the process on Thursday.
The testimonies of both officials according to ICPC sources thoroughly indicted Mr Mohammed as the sole mastermind of the fraud. Mr Musbau confessed to disbursing the money to some persons and companies on the directive of Mr Mohammed.
But Dr Ayanwuotaku who is the accounting Minister of the Ministry strongly denied any knowledge of the money coming to any bank accounts of the ministry either at the Treasury Single Accounts (TSA) or any other accounts held or kept by the ministry.
It was after Dr Anyanwuotaku’s testimony that Mr Musbau who reportedly sang like a canary was hauled in. Mr Musbau is a kinsman of the Minister from Offa in Kwara State was said to have been serving at the ministry of Police Affairs until 2019 when Lai Mohammed was reappointed for a second term lobbied the Office of the Head of Service to have him transferred to the ministry information. Mr Mohammed’s lobby for the transfer of Musbau to his office was seen as a move to secure his dealings which often got leaked and have been the source of many petitions to anti-graft agencies.
In the ICPC interrogation, which was video recorded, Musbau came in grandstanding. He claimed there was nothing wrong with the Ministry of Information warehousing the money for the DSO project as the supervising ministry of the NBC which he claimed had demonstrated overtime the propensity to mismanage public funds. He pointed out the controversy of a N2.5 Billion alleged fraud by a former DG of the Commission, Mr Ishaq Modibbo Kawu and an earlier one by another former DG Mr Emeka Mbah both of whom are standing criminal trials at the moment.
But Mr Musbau began to falter when the investigators asked him to provide the details of account where the money was been warehoused. Besides, when asked to provide his own personal Bank Verification Number (BVN) and National Identity Number (NIN) he claimed he could neither remember his BVN nor dial the shortcut on his phone because the line he came with wasn’t the line he used in opening his bank accounts. He also claimed he was yet to register for the NIN. But one of the investigators punched his laptop and printed out Mr Musbau’s NIN and BVN and cautioned him against attempting to tell any more lies in the course of the interview. “Theres nothing we are asking you that we don’t already know” they told him.
It was after this encounter that Musbau knowing he had been cornered decided to save his own neck and claimed that he was just a civil servant who diligently obeyed directives from his minister. He even disclosed to the investigators that most of the N10 Billion had been spent -directly disbursed by him on the instruction of Mr Mohammed to beneficiary companies namely Inview Nigeria Limited, Pinnacle Communications, Integrated Television Services (ITS) and Outsource Nigeria Limited. He said only a foreign company by name SES based in Luxembourg was yet to be paid as they were unable to reach “understanding” with Mr Mohammed.
He said Mr Mohammed had tried to get a consultant for SES which was not registered in Nigeria to help them facilitate their payment which cannot be “straight forward” because of their unregistered status, but “the white people mistook his good intentions for an attempt to arm-twist them into giving kickbacks and angrily rejected the money”. He said the money amounted to about $5 million USD or N2.4 billion. He furthermore disclosed that an excess of N600 Million which was earmarked for the NBC recurrent expenditure on running the DSO project had been substantially depleted by Lai Mohammed. He told the ICPC that Dr Anyanwuotaku wasn’t told of the money on the instructions of the Minister because the woman was always ‘too rigid’.
On getting details of the indicting testimonies given to the ICPC by Mr Musbau and the Permanent Secretary, Mr Mohammed desperately reached out to the NBC DG to ask that the commission initiates a letter to him asking for the full DSO money. Besides he was said to have directed the DG and his management Staff to hold a press conference and deny Pointblanknews.com last week’s investigative report which exposed his scam of diverting the money and the ICPC Probe. Aides of the Minister complained that the new DG has been rude and insubordinate refusing to cooperate with the Ministry to work as a team to address the current challenges
But the DG, Mr Illela who was appointed only two months ago was only being careful not to suffer the same fate like his two predecessors who were successfully sacrificed by Lai Mohammed who made them the culprits of his own scams when they were only following his directives.
The most recent was the N2.5 Billion scam where the NBC following Mr Mohammed’s verbal directive just like the one been presently ignored, asked the then NBC DG, Mr Kawu to bring a memo applying for N2.5 billion to be paid to Pinnacle Communications as seed money to build infrastructure for the DSO project. Mr Kawu carried out the directive and the money was paid to the company. But an outcry from players within the industry blew the scam wide open which brought the ICPC.
But Mr Mohammed claimed he was deceived by the same Kawu he verbally directed to initiate a memo and using his influence as a major stakeholder of the APC and the government, the ICPC was unable to rein him in and drag him before the courts to answer to his crime which was not only obvious from the approval he hastily gave to the memo to release the N2.5Billion but N150 Million was traced from Pinnacle Communications directly to the accounts of his son, Mr Folajimi Jubril Mohammed who is now a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly.
Besides, pointblanknews.com finding indicated that Kawu was in no place to deceive the Minister as there was no love lost between Kawu and Mr Mohammed because of the former’s rising popularity in Kwara State at the time . It was said the former DG was been pressured to run for governor. Kawu’s popularity in Kwara according to sources was said to have kindled Mohammed’s hostility. Thus the memo which Kawu acquiesced to writing which cost him his job and a prolonged prosecution which is still ongoing was actually an act of submission not to offend the minister who he believed was looking for excuse to deal with him.
Before Kawu, Mr Mohammed had also sacrificed Mr Mbah the DG he met in the NBC when he was appointed a minister in 2015 in similar circumstances. In 2016 Mr Mohammed was said to have convened a meeting between the service providers of the DSO Project, the NBC and himself where he suggested that to assure the contractors of timely payment for any contractors discharged the money earmarked for their payments will be kept in Zenith bank rather than deposit it in the TSA.
But when the anti-graft agencies got whiff of the deal and came calling Mr Mohammed washed his hands off. Not even his approval and the minutes of meetings he conveyed to take the decision produced by Mr Mbah was enough to extricate him and rein-in Mr Mohammed the mastermind.
With the benefit of knowing about these previously exploits where the DG of the NBC ended up carrying the cans when the chips were down, while Mr Mohammed always worked free despite his very filthy fingers, the new DG Mr Illela is said to be on the alert refusing to obey the implicating directives Lai Mohammed was churning out to escape the ICPC dragnet. Illela reportedly angrily complained that why does Mohammed now want to return the money when it has become a subject of investigation and when almost 75% of it had been unilaterally spent without recourse to the commission. Beside he was said to have grumbled to the hearing of staff loyal to Mr Mohammed that the role of the NBC does not include defending the person of the Minister from allegations or whatever.
These utterances. got to the Minister who is said to be now telling all that care to listen that the ICPC probe is a plot of the Hausa-Fulani Cabal in the APC Government led by the Attorney-General Abubakar Malami and a nephew of the President one Tunde Sabiu to bring him down because of his perceived loyalty to former Lagos State Governor and self-styled APC National Leader Mr Bola Ahmed Tinubu. But he has reportedly vowed to bring down the roof on those behind his travails as he claims to have evidence that some of them benefitted heavily from the N10 billion.
But a source informed Pointbanknews.com that Mr Mohammed is drowning and therefore clutching at any and every straw he could conjure. The source said The Attorney General and Mr Sabiu may not even be aware of the issue except they read it in the media. “I don’t understand why he’s looking for people to stain rather than face his demons” a presidency official told our reporter on Monday wondering if it was Malami and Sabiu that have been responsible for the several other allegations of corruption made against him since 2015.
Indeed, Mr Mohammed’s reign in the Information Ministry has been a glossary of allegations and tales of fraud and corruption. In his first tenure in 2016 he was implicated in a N200 million scam involving the dubious procurement of 18.5 KVA and 13KVA generators but in actual fact nothing was to be suplied. When the scam was exposed, Mr Mohammed and his officials retreated and blamed the contractor for misunderstanding. But the money was kept aside. When they thought no one was watching anymore on March 29, 2017 one Bunmi Morgridge said to be the Deputy Director of General Services at the time raised a memo asking for the supply of some urgent office equipment including five Ford Ranger pick-ups and computer hardware and software. The memo was sent to the then acting Permanent Secretary one Hassan Dayar who quickly recommended the procurement. At the end of it all, they conjured papers and vouchers and claimed a contract for the supply of office equipment worth N180 Million was awarded. But no such supplies were ever made. The money was allegedly shared by the Mr and his management. The scam was exposed but neither the EFCC nor the ICPC ever prosecuted anyone involved in the glaring act of corruption.
Mr Mohammed’s influence was believed to have been at play once more. Another mega fraud exposed involved the immediate past Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Mrs Grace Gekpe. A petition by one Clifford Ume addressed to the Special Presidential Investigative Panel (SPIP) claimed that money amounting to over N459 Million was embezzled by the duo of Lai Mohammed and Mrs Gekpe. The monies he said were proceeds of phantom appropriations for cultural centers in several Nigerian foreign missions which either do not exist or have been closed down since 2011.
The SPIP in its investigation and in an Executive Brief to President Buhari established that there have been several inflows and lodgments in Mrs Gekpe’s accounts which can only be the proceeds of corruption. The report noted that the total inflow into her UBA Savings Account amounted to N89,831,916.00 while her account in EcoBank had a total inflow of N299.385,428.92. Furthermore, she had lodgement amounting to N6, 971,265.00 in her Heritage Bank Account. Mrs Gekpe was also said by the panel to have a domiciliary Account worth $107,655.75 in her UBA Domiciliary Account.
Under interrogation by the SPIP the lady was said to have confessed that most of the cash were kept for her Honorable Minister, Mr Mohammed.
Indeed, Mr Mohammed’s track record of fraud and corrupt practices really stink. But so far the ICPC has been helpless. The more they dug into his grimy activities, the more powerful he would seem to have become. But investigators are hopeful that his magic wand to escape being held accountable for his sleazy crimes may have waned of late. His panic and desperate reaction to the exposure of his latest fraud and the investigative activities of the ICPC is seen as evidence that his wall of protection to loot with abandon is already caving in.
Lai Mohammed might be the next to go down….he has been fighting to bury his crooked ways