A former Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, on Wednesday, failed to appear before Justice Folashade Giwa of the Federal High Court Abuja, to explain his role in the alleged approval of N2.5billion to Pinnacle Communications Ltd.
The money was for the purpose of the Federal Government Digital Switch Over (DSO) project.
The sitting was in continuation of the trial of the Director-General of National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Ishaq Modibbo, Pinnacle Communications Ltd and two others. Mohammed was listed by the ICPC prosecution counsel, Henry Emore, as additional witness to give testimony on the approval of payment of N2.5 billion to Pinnacle.
However, after calling two witnesses, the prosecution counsel informed the court that the immediate past Information Minister was not in court. Umore said the former minister had travelled out of the country but was expected back in the country on or before July 31. In addition, the court was told that Mohammed made his statement before the ICPC.
The prosecution counsel also informed the court that the other witness he wished to call, was still in Saudi Arabia. However, Alex Izinyon, SAN, counsel to Onifade Oladipupo, (2nd defendant), and Lucky Omoluwa (3rd defendant), told the court that he had already filed an application to oppose the list of additional witness filed by the prosecution counsel. Izinyon said the defence team had already joined issues with the prosecution on the failure of ICPC to call Mohammed who approved the payment of N2.5billion to Pinnacle and joined him as a defendant in the case.
A witness called by the ICPC alleged that the former minister refused to make statement to the ICPC, claiming that he needed to get clearance from the Secretary to Government of the Federation.
Earlier, upon cross-examination by Izinyon, a prosecution witness Olugbemi Abraham, told the court that “during investigation, we could not interview Mohammed because he said he needed clearance from the Secretary to Government of the Federation.”
Abraham, however, revealed that they later took statement from Mohammed during the pendency of the case.
He admitted that: “Really, we did not bother to get in touch with the SGF to enable him allow the former Information Minister to make statement.” Abraham also admitted that NBC, based on the provision of the White Paper that government should provide condition for a level playing field for signal distributors, was in position to determine the level playing field. “Under further cross examination by Amah Etuwewe, counsel to the fourth defendant (Pinnacle Communications), the witness said upon investigation, they did not value the facility put in place by Pinnacle at the Abuja DSO site.
“Further more, the witness admitted that the N2.5 billion was released under the supervision of the former Information Minister.
“To the best of my knowledge, the Presidency that released the N10billion to the NBC for the purpose of DSO has not complained of how the fund was used.
“I am not aware if the former Minister had withdrawn his approval.” Meanwhile, Justice Giwa, has adjourned the case until July 1, for ruling on a motion by the 2nd and 3rd defendants seeking the release of their international passports to enable them travel abroad for official functions. (NAN)