Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Former Information Minister, Alh Lai Mohammed, has failed to appear before the Abuja division of the Federal High Court in respect of the N2.5bn Digital Switch Over (DSO) project contract awarded to Pinnacle Communications Ltd.
The immediate past Communication Minister is expected to tell Justice Folashade Ogunbanjo Giwa all he knows about the contract that has led to the trial of the Director-General of National Broadcasting Commission, Ishaq Kawu Modibbo, Pinnacle Communications Ltd and two others.
Mohammed’s name is contained in the list of additional witnesses lined up by the prosecution counsel, Henry Emore, among others.
He was expected to appear at today’s proceedings to testify as the minister who approved the payment of N2.5bn to Pinnacle.
However, after calling two witnesses, the prosecution counsel informed the court that he was to call the former Information Minister but for his absence.
Umore said Mohammed had travelled out of the country but was being expected in the country on or before July 31.
In addition, the court was told that Mohammed had finally made a statement before ICPC, as a former minister.
The prosecution 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 Sir 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 the Information Minister who approved the payment of N2.5bn to Pinnacle as well as join him as a defendant in the case.
A witness called by the ICPC told the court that the then Information Minister had refused to make a statement to the ICPC, claiming that he needed to get clearance from the Secretary to the Government to the Federation.
Earlier, upon cross-examination by Izinyon, a prosecution witness, Olugbemi Abraham, told the court that “during investigation, we could not interview the then minister of Information 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 this case, admitting that “really, we did not bother to get in touch with the SGF to enable him to allow the Information Minister to make a statement.”
Abraham admitted that NBC, based on the provision of the white paper that government should provide a level playing field for signal distributors, it is the one that would determine the level playing field.
Under further cross examination by Amah Etuwewe, counsel to the 4th defendant (Pinnacle Communications), the witness said upon investigation, they did not value the facility put in place by Pinnacle at the Abuja DSO site.
Furrher more, the witness admitted that the N2. 5bn was released under the supervision of the Information Minister, adding that “to the best of my knowledge, the Presidency that released the N10bn to the NBC for the purpose of DSO has not complained of how the fund was used, and I am not aware if the minister had withdrawn his approval.
Meanwhile, Justice Ogunbanjo Giwa has adjourned to July 1, ruling on a motion by the 2nd and 3rd defendants seeking the release of their international passports to enable them travel abroad for official function.