The Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Is’haq Modibbo Kawu’s calling into the dock, at the Federal High Court, on Wednesday this week, was a 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 the DG of NBC, by all means, but most especially, the foulest, but with a complicit media, but most especially, Premium Times, as the preferred social media outlet. 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 Southwest, that had primed the position for Dele Alake, the former Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Lagos State. Lai Muhammed, as Minister of Information, was said to have shouted in his office, that: “this is unacceptable. Modibbo Kawu is not one of us”! He was very unhappy that he had no input whatsoever, in the appointment of all the DGs announced on that occasion: DG NBC; DG FRCN; DG NTA; DG VON; DG NOA and MD NAN. He then vowed in the VP’s Office, that he was going to make life difficult for all these appointees. This background is very vital to understand what is unfolding at the NBC.
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 Muhammed, in the few months that he was still DG NBC, after the 2015 elections and the inauguration of the Buhari administration. 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. It should not be forgotten that Emeka Mba had received presidential approval to sell frequency, which fetched NBC N35billion from MTN. Emeka went on a spending spree, encouraging his friends and associates, to set up shell companies, through which the money could be taken out. The NBC had initially emphatically stated, that Set Top Boxes would not be subsidized. But Emeka and friends, needed to corner the funds, so he got Sir Godfrey Ohuabunwa to lead an elaborate process of a subsidy regime, not known to the White Paper on the Transition from Analogue to Digital Broadcasting. Billions of naira went into that. Ohuabunwa was later to confess that Emeka Mba owned 100,000 of the 200,000 boxes that he fronted, that took billions of naira from the N35billion.
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, Toyin Subair and Godfrey Ohuabunwa. 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, and at the forefront of the propaganda machinery that Emeka oiled with NBC’s funds, was Godfrey Ohuabunwa. He was regularly on television and the pages of newspapers, extolling Emeka MBA’s “ingenuity “. It was clear, that Godfrey Ohuabunwa, a man of very limited financial means, had suddenly hit a jackpot, through Mba. He had to protect his new found wealth. At the IBC conference in Amsterdam, he saw Dipo Onifade of Pinnacle Communications Limited, and told him that the gravy train had left Pinnacle behind.
Having spent so much money, and receiving the assurances of Lai Muhammed 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, assured Mba 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 Muhammed 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 Muhammed 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 whistleblower. He became an orphan, because Lai Muhammed 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 Armstrong Idachaba. He was so loyal to Emeka Mba, that he was reportedly given some of the shares of CCNL, and a few thousands of the Set Top Boxes that Emeka Mba turned into freebies.
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 Switchover. They delivered within 90 days, including airfreighting 9tons 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 had become the source of controversy and the basis of the ICPC indictment. It should be noted that Lai Muhammed 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. And he still has the billions of Naira that came from the Set Top Boxes payments that NBC made. Similarly, his team within and outside the NBC, all of a sudden, were no longer calling the shots, with Modibbo Kawu’s emergence as DG.
The NBC itself is an institution that is badly skewed over the years. The majority of the staff recruited by Mba were from the Southeast 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.
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. There’s Premium Times, to help spin the story, plus a complicit traditional media too.
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. But the first step was to leak the information to Premium Times, that the AGF is pressuring the ICPC to drop the “corrupt payment” case against Modibbo Kawu. The idea is to ensure that the Ministry of Justice won’t then be able to intervene, in their well-orchestrated plan to remove Modibbo Kawu, and replace him with Dele Alake, a fellow member of the Redeemed Church, like the promoter of this campaign, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, through his Chief of Staff, Ade Ipaye and ICPC Chairman, Bolaji Owosonoye.
Lai Muhammed 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. Lai vowed that he was going to ensure that Modibbo Kawu didn’t get the ticket, and at the same time, he would make sure he never returned as DG NBC. Well, Modibbo didn’t get the ticket, but Lai Muhammed has not abandoned the plan to remove him, as NBC DG. Lai Muhammed, in fact, was said to have written the letter requesting Modibbo Kawu to step aside, until it was pointed out that only the SGF, could issue such a letter.
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. And not only that, you would have used your indifference, to assist VP Yemi Osinbajo and his team, to further the entrenchment of the Redeemed Church in the Nigerian political space. The choice you make today, will have consequences tomorrow. Northerners shine your eyes.