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N8.2bn scam: Akunyili warns WTS over graft

By Onochie Anibeze
When Dora Akunyili,    Minister of Information and Communications, made a case for Nigeria Television Authority to go digital, we gathered that the Presidency gave a deadline of June 17, 2012, for them to do so.

Minister Of Communication
Minister Of Communication

The Presidency, thereafter, approved the N8.2bn the minister had consented to for the upgrade of NTA facilities from analogue to digital. We gathered that the government had genuine intentions for NTA although some officials failed to vet properly the technical quality and reasonable pricing for the facilities. Technical experts are questioning the contract meant for upgrading since they say it is technically not possible to upgrade analogue system to digital system and that outright purchase of High Definition facility would be required.

The minister broke the news of the contract after the last Executive Council meeting and said that it was also  to enable NTA to broadcast the  U-17  FIFA  World Cup that Nigeria will host from this October.

The ministry has awarded the contract to WTS, agents of Sonny, the FIFA partners. The rush to do the job in three months is raising concerns especially when a June, 2012 deadline has been given. The cost of the contract and other technicalities are also raising eyebrows. We gathered at the weekend that although the bulk stops on the table of the minister, she did not quite understand the technicalities involved and had taken measures to check gratification. Sources close to LOC and WTS said the minister warned WTS never to give any ministry staff “any dime.”

The difference between media rights and Host broadcast duties of FIFA appeared to have confused some officials who pushed for the contract to be treated as urgent in order for NTA to exercise authority over the broadcast of the matches. NTA already subscribes to Broadcast Organisation of Nigeria, BON, who have media rights of FIFA up till the 2010 World Cup. NTA will,  therefore, televise the matches. But for producing the matches for television stations to hook on to, FIFA finds organisations that can do that.

Digital facilities are now used and the hurry is for NTA to be able to perform this role in October. Meanwhile, AIT has digital facilities and FIFA has chosen them to produce the August 7 draws in Abuja. It will be broadcast live and countries interested can connect. The government canvassed for NTA to produce the matches but they did not have the facilities and FIFA opted for AIT. Government even influenced FIFA to embark on another inspection but NTA still did not meet their standards. This gave room for the hurry that has generated controversy in the country with many questioning the bogus contract for “mere” upgrading.

“The minister directed WTS never to give anybody any dime,” our source said. “But how will she be able to police them? Did she know if something was built in for those who initiated the contract and those who authored everything including the papers?,” another source asked. .


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