EFCC invitation: Alleged plot by Lai Mohammed to sack Okechukwu

By AdvocateNews on 05/02/2022

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THERE are allegations that the Honourable Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, is behind the travails of Mr Osita Okechukwu, Director General of Voice of Nigeria (VON).

It is alleged that the minister is plotting a move, similar to that of Ibrahim Modibo Kawu, a former Director General of National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), before his eventual exit.

Some top officials loyal to the Minister were allegedly motivated to petition the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), which led to Okechukwu’s invitation to the anti-graft agency’s headquarters last Saturday.

Sources said the speed and official prompting of the syndication of reports about Okechukwu’s invitation by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), despite the fact that the correspondent of that sister agency to VON was not available in EFCC headquarters that Saturday night further exposed the involvement of the Information Ministry.

Okechukwu’s invitation and session with EFCC investigators made headlines on television, social media and all major newspapers the following Sunday, according to the plan of his traducers, thereby confusing the hand of Esau with the voice of Jacob in the matter.

Observers of the goings on in the Ministry of Information and its subordinate agencies, hold that the serial infighting between the Minister of Information and most heads of parastatals under him, which claimed Modibo Kawu, was rearing its ugly heads in the Okechukwu case, especially given the state of affairs within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

A source within the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, who did not want his name revealed, said Okechukwu angered the ACN camp of APC when he supported the removal of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, noting that the DG VON compounded his case with his recent call on Asiwaju Bola Tinubu not to run for President, but to remain a Kingmaker and unite Southeast and Southwest by supporting a younger person from Southeast to succeed President Buhari.

It was also alleged that when some governors met recently with President, Muhammadu Buhari, to complain about the poor management of Federal Government information platforms, Okechukwu’s name was among the three that the governors suggested.

A source within the governors’ forum claimed that when the Minister heard that Okechukwu’s name featured, he swore that Okechukwu must go by fair or foul means. This allegedly prompted some senior staff of VON and some operatives of EFCC to bring up the petition, despite that ICPC had previously investigated the claims.

However, an aide to the Minister who pleaded anonimity told our reporter that Lai Mohammed had no hand in the matter between the DG VON and EFCC.

He said Okechukwu should answer for his deeds.

Investigations revealed that Okechukwu’s invitation followed an anonymous petition, which claimed among others, due process infractions, that the DG VON, allegedly paid 2016 capital funds 100% the same year to procure some equipment and complete the multi-storey head office corporate office of VON off Aminu Kano Crescent Wuse2, Abuja; a building that was by then under interim forfeiture.

Sources within EFCC, who are very familiar with the case told our reporter that contrary to insinuations in the media, Okechukwu was not detained by the commission.

He explained that what happened was that after interrogation by a team of the commission’s investigators, it was too late into the night for Okechukwu to produce two directors as directors of VON cannot surety their Director General. He needed directors from other MDAs as a subordinate cannot bail his boss.

“We were very civil and courteous with the DG. We did not detain him per se, because what actually happened was that the DG could not get other MDA’s directors on time to endorse his release.

“We deduced from the anonymous petition that it had to do with a running battle between the DG and his supervising minister. The petitioners alleged hat he used the 2016 budget provision to acquire a none existent head office at Plot 1386 Oda Crescent Wuse II, Abuja,” one of the sources disclosed.

In his defense the operative said the VON DG denied the allegations in the petition that funds were embezzled, arguing that all the contracts were executed and that Voice of Nigeria is currently occupying its corporate headquarters situated at 1386 Aminu Kano Crescent.

“The DG informed operatives that what he did was for overriding public interest and on doctrine of necessity, stressing that shortly after his appointment, he sought for the plot of land allocated to VON in Abuja master plan, but was told that the plot was reallocated to Yar’Adua Center, as a token gift to Gen Shehu Yar’Adua, who is one of Nigeria’s heroes of democracy that paid the supreme sacrifice.

“The DG further told the interrogating team that he made acquisition of befitting corporate office his cardinal objective to upscale operations of the agency. He added that being a contemporary of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that Voice of Nigeria needed a befitting office complex to house its systems and digitize its operations, especially as VON now has a lot of competitors,” the source stated.

It could be recalled that VON, one of the agencies under the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, was established in 1991 as the international radio broadcast arm of the Nigerian government.

EFCC sources said the matter of interest to the agency was whether there was economic sabotage or infringement of the procurement procedure, pointing out that the petitioners’ claim of possible diversion of funds is still being investigated as they allege that some in-house prices differ with that of National Information Development Agency.

He stated: “What our investigating team wanted to know was how the DG spent public funds when he had not acquired the house. They said Okechukwu’s defence was that he was reassured by Mr President’s approval in principle in July 2016, and the cooperation of Ibrahim Magu led EFCC.”

“However, Okechukwu maintained that given the dynamism of technology the users of Short Wave transistor radio was on decline due to different geo-time zones across the world, where 5 – Europe, North and South America, Southeast Asia, China are no more using the short wave frequency. It was no longer serving the international audience as hitherto. As such it became imperative to go digital in line with contemporary realities in the digital broadcast world.

“I recall that the DG revealed that three months after his appointment he discovered that VON was merely squatting in Radio House belonging to a sister agency and he asked about the whereabouts of the plot in Abuja master plan. And they told him to was reallocated. He had his critical mandate to secure an office space for VON, digitalise broadcasting, provide staff housing and solar energy for the transmitter station.

“Okechukwu told operatives that the Commission took him around to inspect various properties before he settled for the one at the 1386 Oda Crescent, which was seized from the former Chief of Air Staff (CAS), late Alex Barde.”

He disclosed that in July, that is less than three months later, he applied to the President, who graciously approved in principle and directed him to the chief of staff, who in turn directed him to the EFCC chairman.

In the petition sited by this reporter, the petitioners said, “the irony of the situation was that at the time VON moved into the premises, EFCC had not secured final forfeiture of the property.

But, EFCC sources said Okechukwu claimed that it was because final forfeiture had not been granted that in 2018 Magu asked VON to rent the place at the cost of N86million, being the market value of the property at the time, so as to have one leg in the uncompleted building since the Nigeria Airforce and others were making moves to take possession.

When contacted about the progress of the investigation and whether the DG VON was still in their custody, EFCC’s spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, said he has no information on the matter, saying that that was all he had to say.

Posted 05/02/2022 09:00:25 AM

 

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