OPINION: The unholy nexus in Digital Switch Over saga by Umar Lukman

OPINION: The unholy nexus in Digital Switch Over saga by Umar Lukman

Editor's note: Public affairs analyst, Umar Lukman, writes on the controversial trending issue of the Digital Switch Over (DSO) which has attracted the attention of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).

Read below:

From all that has come to light on the trending issue of the Digital Switch Over (DSO) it is clear that there is a nexus between the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the minister of information, Lai Mohammed to scuttle the federal government’s well intentioned effort to improve the overall quality of broadcast in the country.

From what we now know, the ICPC has not done the due diligence expected of it on the whole issue. From the onset, the commission's spokesperson Rasheedat Okoduwa could not properly differentiate the roles of the National Broadcasting Commission and those of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation in her public statement. The spokesperson did not know that the National Broadcasting Commission is a regulator of the broadcast industry as distinct from the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation which is an operator. Such ignorance from a public affairs spokesperson of an investigative agency as the ICPC is not excusable especially given the fact that the commission was supposed to be thorough and fair in its investigations.

And to the substantive matter which is about the payment of 2.5 billion naira to Pinnacle Communications for the services rendered in the federal government's DSO initiative. The commission's lead investigator could not establish in court proceedings that there was infraction in the payment procedure to Pinnacle. Similarly the attempt to rope in the director-general of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, Ishaq Kawu in the recommending the payment did not stand up to scrutiny. The commission could not establish that Pinnacle did not do the job as required by its terms of reference. Neither could the commission establish that Pinnacle was up to the task in a job that it won through competitive bidding against nine other similar companies.

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The evidence of Pinnacle executing its task is clear enough in the improved quality of broadcast services which the industry and the subscribers currently enjoy. The Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo had commissioned the switch over from analogue services to digital services in 2016 which was done by Pinnacle. If there was any hanky-panky in the installation that would not have been possible.

So what is the beef?

ICPC believes DG Kawu colluded with Pinnacle in making the payment. But the NBC in its capacity as end user of Pinnacle services was satisfied that the services met its requirement and accordingly forwarded approval for payment.

ICPCs attempt to link Pinnacle to DG Kawu in an unholy alliance to defraud the government does not hold water because Pinnacle was engaged a good two years before DG Kawu was appointed. and DG Kawu's recommendation for payment does not amount to actual payment itself because the final approval had to be done by the minister of information, Lai Mohammed who is the supervising minister and DG Kawus nominal boss.

It was the duty of minister Lai Mohammed to do due diligence on the matter by going through all procedures before approving final payment. It should be a simple routine job for someone who was once Chief of Staff of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu when he was governor of Lagos state. This is more so as the minister is the chief spokesman of a government which is supposed to be harping on due process.

So for minister Lai Mohammed to turn round having signed the approval for the payment to Pinnacle and claimed he was “influenced to approve the payment” smacks of something baffling. And for the ICPC not to direct its searchlight not on the minister's faux pas but on Pinnacle and DG Kawu who did what was expected of them diligently in the value chain of this whole issue reeks highly of an attempt to collude for less than noble purposes.

It should arouse our suspicion that the ICPC appears hell bent on wanting nail down Pinnacle and DG Kawu even without doing the right thing and with no scintilla of concrete evidence other than suppositions, conjectures and innuendos. And it should worry us that the ICPC is not going about this case in a brusque style unbecoming of a constitutionally constituted institution with clearly specified civil methods and procedures of operation.

We have it on good authority that the ICPC is under pressure to meet targets on conviction of cases to justify its existence. It is clear that that the commission feels left behind by the spectacular public exploits of sister investigative agencies fiercely competing for attention from the supervising authorities. This is even more pointed as the first term of the Buhari winds down and chief executives of government agencies and institutions are lobbying hard to be retained in the second term.

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Similar thing seems to be playing out with the minister of information. Lai Mohammed is not only reported to be making moves to be retained, he also would not wait to see the back of DG Kawu with whom he hails from the same Kwara state. Apparently it riles the minister that DG Kawu does not recognise his political status as the new numero uno in Kwara politics. And it has also come to light that the minister was not enamoured on DG Kawus appointment in the first place. He wanted someone else. It does not help that between the two there has been a frosty relationship.

But on a wider perspective, all these shows that very often, it is the implementation of government policies that has been the bane of our development as a country. The DSO saga shows too clearly that what people have been saying about the inability of government appointees and institutions to rise up above petty considerations in doing what is expected of them.

In several government establishments, the points of contention have always been either between substantive ministers against ministers of state, ministers against permanent secretaries or directors. And these needless squabbles take up much time and resources which ultimately leads to low productivity and achievement of government targets and goals for the people. The DSO saga is clearly one of those.

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