As a matter of urgency, President Buhari should direct the anti-graft agencies, including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the ICPC – involved in the earlier case – to probe these newer allegations against the leadership of the NBC. The investigations into this embarrassing development would certainly enhance the integrity of the administration as one with zero tolerance for corruption.

The need to fight corruption as the central bane in the lives of Nigerians, which is preventing our country from discharging its proper responsibilities to its citizens, while gathering some of the worst global indicators and indices assigned to the irresponsible or failed state, certainly requires the concerted efforts of all and sundry, who are at the receiving end of the failures in social provisioning of the state.

Particularly, the civil society – involving many of us and civic-minded organisations in the private and public sectors – has a strong moral responsibility of corralling critical information of public interest when it has it, while equally mounting advocacies and embarking on massive campaigns that enhance the role of the government in the anti-corruption fight.

Such crucial information and intelligence on the untoward activities of public officials, in a manner that enables the government – and specifically the Muhammadu Buhari administration – in delivering the responsible state, appears to have found its way into the public space, again, in the more recent light shone into the activities of senior officials of government and of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).

Presently, compounding a subsisting indictment on fraudulent payments to undeserving firms by the leadership of the NBC, in concert with other high-level public sector actors, now appears concerns around the claimed racketeering of radio station licences in a fashion that speak of deep abuses of official privilege.

Importantly, with the second term coming of President Buhari into power, his administration ought to take the issues of the prosecution of grand corruption more seriously, to win the confidence of citizens on its integrity, whilst refocusing its anti-corruption war as not mere sound without motion, and signifying nothing. Or as signposting the hypocrisy of a mere power-grab.

It is equally pertinent for the president to take firm actions against his appointees in order to rollback the distorted image of his administration. Certainly, issues of corruption become seedier when perpetrated from within an administration that claims an essential flank of its raison d’être as the fight against corruption.

As further elucidation: One of the consistent bad raps that this administration seems to keep attracting to itself is the fact that damaging acts of corruption are continually levelled against its officials, with little is done to get this swelling corps of corrupt public officials accountable for their illicit actions. Its quite disconcerting that a slew of government officials now appear immune to real prosecution, despite unassailable evidence of wrong doing against them, as they still hold on to their high offices, in spite of the very disturbing indictments around their unfortunate management of public office and resources.

While there are an apparent legion of indicted officials, a more jarring recent example relates to the cases involving the director-general of the NBC, Mallam Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, who not only has a subsisting indictment on corruption but a civil society organisation has come out with alleged evidence of his involvement in the abuse of office and the racketeering of the allocation of radio station licences, which remain unchallenged.

While the media and other actors in the civil society are involved in the relentless advocacy to put pressure on government to do what is right about its indicted officials, the seemingly slow pace in prosecution, as evident in that of the corruption allegation the Director General of the NBC is embroiled in, can only be described as unacceptable.

In the first instance, as prominently reported by Premium Times newspaper, the DG of NBC, alongside senior government officials, including the chief of staff in the Presidency, Abba Kyari and minister of information, Lai Mohammed, have been accused of a very serious act of corruption. This involves the allegation of a fraudulent payment of N2.5 billion to a private company, Pinnacle Communications, in view of purported work on the Digital Switch Over (DSO) in the nation’s broadcasting platforms, on the recommendation of the DG of NBC.

Also, according to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), which spearheaded the indictment of Mallam Modibbo Kawu, it was largely inappropriate that such payment was ever made to a company that did not qualify for the ‘grant’, in line with the White Paper guiding the DSO process

As PREMIUM TIMES, in its report of April 24 put it:

“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.”

The facts of the investigation revealing that this huge chunks of this massive payment subsequently found its way into the personal account of the managing director of the company Pinnacle Communications and that of a Bureau De Change, for onward conversion into foreign currencies, indicates a fairly familiar Nigerian narrative of the trajectory of kickbacks and illicit returns from government contracts.

Appearing to confirm a pattern of alleged corruption practices by the DG of the NBC pertains to the newer evidence indicating radio licence racketeering and the grave abuse of a position of public trust, as the DG is claimed as awarding his own personal company six of the private radio broadcasting licenses that were recently granted for operations in Kaduna, Lagos, Abuja, Ilorin and other cities. In addition, it is equally claimed that the names of a number of organisations on the original application for private radio licences were subsequently swapped with those of others when the approval came through. This has engendered the allegation that the slots of these original applicants were subsequently traded for illegal gains.

In the information provided by the civil society group, Coalition Against Corruption and Bad Governance (CACOBAG) and its chairperson, Toyin Raheem, which remains largely unchallenged in the public sphere, before his appointment as the DG of the NBC, Mr. Modibbo Kawu ran a private media consultancy known as Word, Sound and Vision (WSV) for several years. And, that there are indications that Mr. Kawu is still connected to the organisation. This private firm is prominently listed as a major beneficiary of the approved private radio licences in six locations across the country, as mentioned above. The group considers this as deeply disturbing in its suggestion of a public official seeking to feather his own nest through the abuse of a public position of privilege.

It is unfortunate that despite being currently prosecuted along with others in court by the ICPC over the mentioned N2.5 billion fraud case, Mr. Kawu yet remains in office as the substantive chief executive officer of the NBC in a situation that appears morally tainted, unethical and a clear breach of public service rules, as well as the code of conduct for public officers.

Only recently, a chief Justice of the federation, Walter Onnoghen was suspended by President Buhari on similar allegations of impropriety occasioned by the concealment and non declaration of private asset by a public official. Why is an official undergoing trial not advised or mandated to vacate his position of public trust while his actions in the same office are being scrutinised? The DG of the NBC is still in office whilst standing trial, and it further appears that he is taking undue advantage of his privileged position as the chief executive officer of a public agency.

In addition to the foregoing is the disturbing allegation that Mr. Kawu is also corruptly enriching himself by substituting radio licenses to companies and allocating this to people who did not apply for them.

As a matter of urgency, President Buhari should direct the anti-graft agencies, including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the ICPC – involved in the earlier case – to probe these newer allegations against the leadership of the NBC. The investigations into this embarrassing development would certainly enhance the integrity of the administration as one with zero tolerance for corruption.

In the interim, the Presidency could do us all a favour by withdrawing his approval for all the recent radio licences granted pending the determination of the investigation, while suspending from office all the public officials involved in this huge scandal. This is more so considering the fact that the DG of the NBC is facing trial on charges of corruption and criminal conspiracy by the ICPC. Hence, his continued stay in office is untenable, until his innocence is established.

Fidelis Nwangwu, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja.