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Exposed; Documents show how Lai Mohammed approved N2.5 billion ‘fraudulent payment’

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A newly-obtained batch of documents has further exposed how information minister Lai Mohammed was instrumental to the release of N2.
5 billion in questionable payments to a private digital broadcast signal provider.

The payments in May 2017 to Pinnacle Communications Limited by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) have now been deemed fraudulent by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC).

The agency had also brought charges against four individuals, including the director-general of NBC, Modibbo Kawu.

Mr Kawu, as well as Lucky Omoluwa and Dipo Onifade, the two Pinnacle executives also standing trial for the payments, all denied allegations of fraud.

PREMIUM TIMES reported last week that Mr Mohammed, as the minister supervising NBC, approved the payment to Pinnacle, a private digital broadcast signal carrier. The minister was also involved in several negotiations and foreign trips that preceded the payment.

Although anti-graft detectives at the ICPC knew Mr Mohammed was involved, they declined to hold him criminally liable. Instead, they argued in court documents that the minister was misled into granting the approval.

When he was questioned by detectives, Mr Mohammed said he only signed documents as forwarded to him for approval by Mr Kawu. He also did not deny the possibility of fraud in the N2.5 billion payments he approved.

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Mr Kawu admitted to PREMIUM TIMES that Mr Mohammed approved the payment request as he presented it to him, but did not accept responsibility for the minister’s consent.

In one approval document on May 16, 2017, Mr Mohammed wrote that he “approved as prayed” by Mr Kawu, who had made the request on a few days earlier on May 11.

The approval was one of several documents culled from the case file the ICPC prepared over the matter.

Mr Kawu expedited the payments following a letter from Pinnacle on March 9, 2017. The letter demanded a “seed grant” from the Nigerian government, similar to a previous arrangement the government had entered with Integrated Television Services (ITS).

Pinnacle described the N2.5 billion from public coffers as “a very modest” request for it to continue its digital distribution of television signals to Nigerian homes.

The ICPC court filings also included a voucher that was raised for Pinnacle only a few days after Mr Mohammed approved. The voucher was for N2.5 billion.

An ICPC official in charge of finance and administration reportedly queried the suspicious payments, but he was ignored, according to court filings. He will be amongst the prosecution witnesses.

At least 11 witnesses had been lined-up for the trial by the ICPC, which slammed 12 counts of fraud against Messrs Kawu, Omoluwa, Onifade, and Pinnacle as a separate entity.

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Under extant procurement provisions, neither of Messrs Mohammed and Kawu could approve such humongous payment. But the director-general argued that the payment had already been approved by President Goodluck Jonathan before he left office in May 2015.

The N2.5 billion was deducted from about N10 billion in NBC bank accounts. The N10 billion was seized by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in early 2016, amidst allegations that Mr Kawu’s predecessor, Emeka Mba, had squandered it.

The EFCC later discovered that Mr Mba did not squander the money, but it had instead been deposited with Zenith Bank. The anti-graft office subsequently moved the fund to one of its recovery accounts at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Mr Mba warned against the arbitrary use of the fund, saying it was sourced from private investors and earmarked for the development of digital switchover.

President Muhammadu Buhari later asked the EFCC to release the N10 billion to Mr Mohammed and the NBC. A September 29, 2016, letter by the chief of staff, Abba Kyari, informed Mr Mohammed that the fund had been released strictly for the digital switch-over project and mandated him to provide updates on its judicious use

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JUST IN: Gunmen attack police station in Anambra, kill two Inspectors, free detainees

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Gunmen on Wednesday night attacked Obosi police station in Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State, killings two police Inspectors and freeing all detainees in the cell

The attack happened barely 24 hours after the new Commissioner of Police, Mr Christopher Adetokumbo Owolabi, assumed office.

A source at the affected police station told journalists that the gunmen attacked the station late on Wednesday night, killing two Inspectors while all the detainees in the cell were freed before razing down the police station.

When contacted, the Anambra State Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Ikenga Tochukwu, confirmed the incident, adding that the police commissioner has sent a team to the scene of the incident to unravel the circumstances behind the attack.

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EXCLUSIVE: Abuja Schools Shut Down As Truckload Of Bandits Arrives In Border Town

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Despite assurances by the police authorities that the Abuja is safe, private schools in Bwari Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory, yesterday, hurriedly shut down their activities over fear of possible attack by kidnappers.

LEADERSHIP learnt that some schools hurriedly sent their students home when news got to them over 200 unidentified men suspected to be bandits were dropped by a truck in Sabon Wuse area of Niger State, a border town with Bwari, Abuja.

A source disclosed  that some private schools closed their schools with instructions to student to remain at home till further notice.
Some parents who do not want their identities revealed told our correspondent that the schools gave the instructions on various group WhatsApp platforms of the schools.

In the last two weeks, over ten persons have been kidnapped in Bwari area council with ransom of about N10million paid to secure their release.

Last week, about seven persons were kidnapped in Sabon Fulani area of the council and about N5 million ransom was said to have been paid.
According to residents, the fear was heightened following the report that over 200 unknown persons were dropped from a truck in Sabon Wuse area.
A parent who spoke to LEADERSHIP said, “We were asked to come for our children in their school before the time they were supposed to close for the day.
”I don’t know if they will be going to school tomorrow because we are still waiting for further directives from their school group WhatsApp platform”, the parent, who does not want her identity revealed said.

Another parent told LEADERSHIP that there was specific instruction for students to remain at home until further notice from the school authorities.
”My children came back home before the usual closing hour. When I enquired, the school said there were reports that kidnappers had surrounded Bwari area council and they (school authorities) do not want to be responsible for any kidnapped student, hence the closure of the school.
”As we speak, the school has been shut down indefinitely,” he said.

Some of the schools in Bwari area council that sent their students home yesterday for fear of possible attacks by kidnappers include De-Goopherwood Montessori School (close to Nigerian Law School), Glorious Bright School, Tundun Fulani and Asusi International School.

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A parent, who has children at Glorious Bright School said she got a call from the school management to come and pick their children before the normal closing hour for fear of attacks by kidnappers. Another parent who has children at De-Goopherwood Montessori School also confirmed that his children closed before the normal closing hour.

According to her, the students were asked to go home after information got to them that there is a likelihood of a breach of security in Bwari.
LEADERSHIP learnt that Veritas University, in Bwari, has been closed down and students sent home.

According to a senior lecturer of the school, who said she was not authorised to speak with journalist, ”The school was shut this morning by the vice chancellor. ‘We received a circular that everyone should vacate the school by 11am today (yesterday). ”

She said the students had been on holiday since last week but the academic staff and other staff were still going to school before the circular was sent out.
”Though the students were on holiday, we were still going to school until we got a circular today (yesterday) from the office of the Vice Chancellor that everyone should leave the campus”, the source said.

Another polytechnic in the area also sent its student out of the hostel.

A 200-level student of Dorben Polytechnic, Bwari, told LEADERSHIP that the school authorities issued a circular asking the students to vacate the hostels and that henceforth they will holding lectures online.

The student who studies public administration at the polytechnic said all the student promptly complied with the directive and quit the hostels.
About three days ago, the FCT Police Command faulted information that the territory was under possible the attack of Boko Haram terrorists. The command had, in a press statement by the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), ASP Yusuf Mariam, said, “The attention of the FCT Joint Security Team has been drawn to a viral publication in the social media purporting that the ‘Federal Capital Territory is under the attack of Boko Haram Terrorists’.

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”The Joint Security Team of the FCT wishes to refute the mischievous publication targeted at creating palpable tension amongst the well-spirited residents of the FCT.”

We’re Monitoring Situation – Police

Meanwhile, following the social media report of invasion of Bwari axis of the FCT by suspected Boko Haram terrorist, bandits or kidnappers, the Nigeria Police have said they monitoring the situation.

Though the spokesperson of the police and the FCT PRO did not comment on the issue, a reliable senior police officer, who pleaded anonymity, told LEADERSHIP that the police management had deployed tactical teams which are monitoring the situation, but that there is no cause for alarm.
According to the source, the situation is very critical and the police are not taking it lightly.

There were reports on social media of invasion of Bwari by a group numbering about 800.

This led to report of closure of schools around the area fearing abduction as has been the case in recent times.

27 Abducted Kaduna Students Regain Freedom
Parents and family members of the kidnapped students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Igabi local government area of Kaduna State can now heave a sigh of relief after they were released by their abductors yesterday.

According to the chairman of the parents committee, Malam Abdullahi Usman, 27 of the students who were in the captivity of the abductors were released unharmed.

He said two of the students had escaped on the day they were abducted but that the parents chose to keep mute in other not to jeopardize the chances of securing the release of the remaining students.

Earlier, 10 of the students were released in two batches of five each after it was reported that ransom was paid.
When asked whether ransom was paid for the release of the 27 students, Usman declined to speak on it, stressing that the parents worked tirelessly, including reaching out to prominent persons to assist towards their release.

“We are indeed thankful to former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Kaduna-based Islamic scholar Sheikh Ahmad Gumi among others for their roles towards the eventual release of the students.

“We also thank the journalists who helped to publicise our cries and worries, and Nigerians who encouraged and prayed with us for the safe release of our children. We are indeed grateful and pray that God will bless them all,” he said.

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The parents of the students had on Tuesday stormed the National Assembly in Abuja to protest the continued holding of their children in captivity and government’s apparent indifference over their abduction.

The students, 39 in all, comprising of 23 females and 16 males, were abducted on March 11, 2021 from their school premises. Two of the students were said to have escaped from their abductors leaving 37 of the students, out of which ten of them were released before the final release of the balance of 27.

Meanwhile, the students were taken straight to the Kaduna Police command headquarters in two 18-seater buses, accompanied by an ambulance and nurses.
They looked emancipated and one of them could hardly work and had to be helped and later rushed to the hospital.

In a short address, the Commissioner Ministry of Internal Security and Home Affairs Samuel Aruwan, who spoke to newsmen at the police headquarters in company of the police commissioner, said details will be given about the students today.

“Yes we can confirm that the students have been released as you can see, but details will be made available on Thursday. They will be taken for proper medical checkup now,” he said.

Meanwhile the state government has confirmed that the Police Command had reported the release of the remaining students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, in Kaduna State.

Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has welcomed the release of the 27 students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization, Afaka, near Kaduna and congratulates their friends, families and the government and people of Kaduna State following the happy end to the saga.

“We are happy they have been released,” says the President.

“We express our deep appreciation to all the actors who contributed one way or the other to this happy outcome,” President Buhari said in a statement by his media aide,Garba Shehu, yesterday.

Credit Leadership Newspaper

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Afaka students: How Nigerian govt released notorious kidnapper, parents paid N32m ransom

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Detail has emerged as to a how Nigerian government released a notorious kidnapper in exchange for the freedom of the last of batch of 27 students of Federal College of Forestry, Afaka, abducted on March 11.

In a prisoner swap deal brokered by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, DAILY NIGERIAN learnt, the kidnapper simply identified as Nanono was transported from a detention facility in Kano, were he was being held, and handed over to a traditional ruler in Kaduna who acted as the middleman.
Parents and relatives of the victims were then left with the payment of N15m, in addition to the N17m they earlier paid for the release of the 10 of the students earlier released in two batches.

The parents first paid N17m last month for the release of the all the victims, but the kidnappers released 10 students in two batches, insisting that amount was too small.

In view of the kidnappers’ failure to meet the obligation, the parents insisted on a middleman for the second round of negotiations.

A security source involved in the negotiation confirmed that the kidnappers demanded the release of three of their gang members in custody and payment of the N50m.

But after a series of negotiations and pleas, they accepted to reduce the amount and the only surviving gang member named Nanono,” said the source.

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