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Alleged N2.5bn fraud: Court orders ICPC to unfreeze firm’s accoun

Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief, Umoru Henry & Ikechukwu Nnochiri

ABUJA—A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has ordered Independent Corrupt Practices and  other related Offences Commission, ICPC, to unfreeze the account of Pinnacle Communications Ltd, a firm the Federal Government engaged to implement the transition from analogue to digital terrestrial television broadcasting in Nigeria.

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The ICPC had alleged that Pinnacle, which is the only private licenced signal distributor involved in the transition process, was fraudulently recommended to the Minister of Information and Culture

It consequently placed a post-no-debit restriction on a bank account the firm operated with Zenith bank Plc.

Dissatisfied with the action of the ICPC, the firm approached the court for an order to unfreeze its account.

Meanwhile, in his judgment delivered on Friday, trial Justice Nnamdi Dimgba ordered ICPC to unfreeze the account.

Though Justice Dimgba noted that the anti-graft agency has the statutory power to temporarily freeze a suspicious account in accordance with the provisions of sections 44(2)(k) and 43(1) of ICPC Act, he said such post-no-debit order does not enjoy perpetual lifespan.

Meanwhile, Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, Mr. Modibbo Kawu, has explained that the organisation paid Pinnacle Communications N2.5 billion because of the prevailing foreign exchange at the time of the payment in June 2017.

The DG told Vanguard that there was nothing arbitrary in the payment and explained that ITS was paid in 2015 when the exchange rate was N165/$1 , while Pinacle was paid in June 2017, when the naira exchange rate had dropped to N380/$1.

His words: “We paid them six months after they had installed.  That was June 2017. The question that follows is: you paid ITS, N1.7 billion, how come you paid Pinnacle N2.5 billion?  Very relevant question.   ITS was paid in 2015.

“At that time the naira/dollar exchange rate was N165/$1.  In the middle of 2017, the exchange rate was N380/$1.  That was the context in which we paid them.”

Giving the background to Pinacle’s coming on board as the second National Signal Distributor, Mr. Kawu said, “Pinacle Communications won a bid in 2014.  There was an open competitive bid that the NBC and DGT, the implementation arm of the Digital Switch Over carried out.  About 11 companies were shortlisted in that bid process.  This was an open, transparent, competitive bid that was broadcast on television two years before I became the D-G of NBC.

“The bid was for the second National Signal Distributor, because the White Paper said that there should be one signal distributor out of the NTA system, because that Nigerian government had invested a lot of money in 154 transmission sites and so cannot allow it to just go away like that.

“A Signal Distributor was to come out of that.  So ITS came out of that.   A bid for the second National Digital Distributor was therefore to come from the competitive bid and Pinacle won.

“It was asked to pay N680 million. At that moment, Piancle became the single largest contributor to the Digital Switch Over , up till today. That money was the single largest money that NBC took for the DSO.”

 


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