The Nigeria Election Debate Group, NEDG, has organised presidential and vice presidential debates since 1999, but fresh claims have emerged questioning the independence and partisan nature of the group.
The debates, the final lap of the series of debates organised by the NEDG, is holding on March 22, according to the organisers.
But there have been allegations that the group is actually a one-man show run by Raymond Dokpesi, the Chairman of DAAR Communications Limited (owners of Africa Independent Television, AIT), who uses it as a bargaining tool for private gains and political advantage.
When it was incorporated in 2011, the NEDG listed six organisations as shareholders, each with a representative.
They include Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, BON, represented by Abubakar Aji; DAAR Communications, represented by Tony Akiotu; Nigeria Union of Journalists, represented by Mohammed Garba; Alliance for Credible Election represented by Emma Ezeazu; Nigeria Guild of Editors, represented by Gbenga Adefaye; and Transition Monitoring Group, TMG, represented by Moshood Erubami.
At a press conference on Friday in Lagos, a pressure group, Value and Integrity Group, accused Mr. Dokpesi of having turned the NEDG into a private estate put at the service of President Goodluck Jonathan and his Peoples Democratic Party.
“Our investigation reveals as follows: First, a First Bank account was opened for the NEDG and had Dr. Dokpesi as the sole signatory, though he is not listed as one of the Directors,” the group said in a statement signed by Sina Odugbemi and Popoola Ajayi, Coordinator and Secretary respectively.
“He also used the DAAR communications office address, a personal address as the address listed in the bank account documentation. These two moves effectively turned the NEDG into Dokpesi’s private company.”
According to the group, an initial N1 million was paid into the said NEDG account, and on March 28th, 2011, another N20 million was paid into his (Mr. Dokpesi’s) personal account.
“The N20m was paid into his personal current account number 2017171535 because the NEDG account opening was in process then hence he received the N20m in his personal current account instead of NEDG,” the group said.
“A text message from Dokpesi to the banker confirms this. The text message reads – ‘He sent about N20 million to the account since last week and I utilised about N50 million for the NEDG DEBATE. As soon as the sponsors pay, I will pay in.daar'”
The group, brandishing copies of Mr. Dokpesi’s bank account opening documents and NEDG’s certificate of registration at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), also said that Mr. Dokpesi tried to open another First Bank account in 2012.
“The First Bank account was opened by Dokpesi at the Maitama branch of the First Bank in Abuja with account number 2021069251 with Chief Raymond Dokpesi as sole signatory to the account with the help of his aide banker.
“The second account which Dokpesi equally instructed the banker to open in the Bwari branch of the First bank is pending to be opened because the banker left. However, before then, Dokpesi in fact signed the application forms, attached his passport photos entered his personal details in 2012. The account was yet to be approved before one of the manager handling it was eased out of the bank.”
The NEDG began organising election presidential debates in 1999 and describes itself as a coalition of broadcast organisations, civil societies and professional groups committed to entrenching enduring democratic cultures through organised television debates.
“The Nigerian Elections Debate Group has since transformed into a broad based non-partisan, non-profit making organisation with the primary mandate of organising and hosting live televised debates for all Presidential, Vice Presidential and Gubernatorial candidates in Nigeria,” the NEDG stated on its website.
But in their press briefing on Friday, the Value and Integrity Group described the NEDG as the non-profit wing of DAAR Communications, available to do the bidding of the ruling party and which had kept other NEDG directors in the dark about their financial transactions.
“An Organisation on the board of the Group, Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), had last year dissociated itself from the planned Presidential debate. TMG accused the organisers of the debate of fraudulently using its name in the promotion of the event and warned NEDG to desist from such shenanigan forthwith.
“Chief Dokpesi’s name does not reflect in the NEDG registration documents from the CAC only that of DAAR representative, Tony Akiotu. But Chief Dokpesi has opened the account in his name and went ahead to single handedly organise the 2011 election debate with AIT staff – Imoni Amarere and Nancy Ilo as moderators.
“Again, he is accused to be the sole organiser of the 2015 presidential election debate for the NEDG which has generated unpleasant credibility crisis for the NEDG.
“It is alleged that for the 2015 debate, well over 250 million has been paid to the organisers by the Presidency.
“Unfortunately, the refusal of the leading opposition to attend the integrity deficit presidential debate, AIT has chosen to unprofessionally attack and even defame both the candidate and the party.”
In January, the All Progressives Congress said it would not participate in the presidential debate organised by the NEDG, accusing the organisers of bias and “wearing the toga of government control, especially being composed mainly of agencies and allies of the incumbent PDP administration”.
The parties involved
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mr. Erubami, who was the Chairman of TMG when NEDG was incorporated, he said issues like that did not arise during his time at the helm of the civil society organisation.
“I only know to the extent of the time I was chairman of Transition Monitoring Group, but I have completed my time and I’m now at Ibadan, I don’t know anything about the group again,” Mr. Erubami said.
“If you want to confirm the veracity of what has happened you can contact the current chairman in Abuja.”
Ibrahim Zikirullahi, the current Chairman of TMG, was more forceful in his response, accusing the NEDG of lacking integrity and being involved in ‘shady deals.'”
“While I cannot authoritatively say whether Dokpesi is the only sole signatory, I will also say that the claims (of the Value and Integrity Group) are not far from the fact,” Mr. Zikirullahi said.
“I became chairman of Transition Monitoring Group in July 2012, till date, nobody informed me that TMG is a member of the Nigeria Election Debate Group, neither my predecessor nor those that are holding fort at the Nigeria Election Debate Group.
“Between 2012 and now, there was no meeting that was called upon which to deliberate on any issue regarding Nigeria Election Debate Group until now when I saw our name being floated in the media that we are one of the organisers of the presidential debate.”
Mr. Zikirullahi accused the NEDG of using TMG’s name to send out proposals to foreign donors seeking support for the presidential debate.
“So as far as I’m concerned, I don’t know anything about the debate. No phone call has been made to me or to any of my officers, no written invitation, and there is no meeting between us in which we agree on the mode and scope of the debate,” he said.
“So for me I cannot allow them to be using our corporate identity. It was on that strength that I wrote to them asking them to stop forthwith using our corporate identity.”
Mr. Zikirullahi said that he had it “in good record” that the NEDG had already collected billions of naira from a political party.
He declined to name the party.
“Yet, to make it credible they are just sending out proposals to donor agencies, and those donor agencies we have a very good relationship with them. And before they do anything that they see our name they need to verify from us.
“And it was on that stretch we got to know the extent to which they have gone to. If not they should mention the source of their funding,” said Mr. Zikirullahi.
“A lot of shady things they are doing that is not known to the public, and I said under my regime we cannot be part of that hidden agenda. It’s better they come out open let us know the direction they are going, let us know the source of their funding?
“Who is running the secretariat? How is the board being appointed? From 2011 till now there is no meeting that has been called. So it’s just a one man show, I can agree especially, it is a product of AIT and Dokpesi and so for us you have to count us out at any time we are not part of it.”
‘It’s not true’
Eddie Emessiri, NEDG’s Executive Secretary, dismissed all the claims, accusing Mr. Zikirullahi of dabbling into partisan politics.
“High Chief Raymond Dokpesi has no hand (in NEDG), or let me put it better, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi was even the founder of this whole thing because he started election debate in 1999,” Mr. Emessiri said.
“By the time NEDG was formed, a group of organisations now decided to get this thing over, and he handed the management over to Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, BON.”
Mr. Emessiri explained that the chairman of BON at any particular time was the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the NEDG.
According to him, the headship of BON is rotated between the three federal government-owned media of Nigeria Television Authority, NTA; Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, FRCN; and Voice of Nigeria, VON.
The current head of NEDG, Sola Omale, is the Director-General of NTA.
Before him were Taiwo Alimi of VON and Abubakar Jijiwa of FRCN.
“The only thing Raymond Dokpesi does, or used to do, or even now is simply we contact him and tell him please we need airtime, we want to do this, and he’ll just give his final approval, ask his Group General Manager, Tony Akiotu, to give us every support that we require,” said Mr. Emessiri.
“And that is why they have given us airtime to carry everything, all their stations anywhere they are we want to advertise anything. And they are the hub of the production.
“Raymond Dokpesi does not even attend our meetings. How then can they say Raymond Dokpesi is the person who directs NEDG.”
Mr. Emessiri denied claims that Mr. Dokpesi was a signatory to NEDG’s bank account.
“I am the Executive Secretary of the organisation, I manage the bank account and the bank account is Zenith bank. Come to Zenith Bank, Area 7, Abuja, and find out. That is the only account that we have,” he said.
“The First Bank account was the account that they ran many many years ago and we don’t use that anymore. It was at the very beginning when Raymond Dokpesi founded the organisation, even before 2003. We never used that in 2007, we never used that in 2011, not to talk of now.
“We moved over to Zenith Bank when the chairmanship of the organisation went to VON. And VON also has account in Zenith bank, that particular branch.”
Mr. Emessiri insisted that the NEDG had been having meetings, adding that TMG was part of the group but he doesn’t know “what got into the head” of Mr. Zikirullahi, its current chairman.
“He didn’t look through the books he had to know that the former chairmen of TMG were full time members of NEDG and present in every of our meetings. This man has taken over, because he has a bent on politics he started criticising.”
PREMIUM TIMES also contacted Mr. Dokpesi, who vehemently denied all the claims, particularly the allegation that he collected billions from a political party on behalf of NEDG.
“Which politician ever gave me money? Which politician ever gave me money?” he asked.
When told that some newspapers had already run the story on how he was using the NEDG as a private estate, Mr. Dokpesi said he had not seen the publication yet.
“I’m in Edo North at this point in time. Election is next week, I’m busy in my senatorial district so I do not know what you are talking about,” Mr. Dokpesi said.
“But you say there is a publication, they can publish anything they want. Before they invited you to a press conference I’m sure they already had what their considerations are.
“NEDG is a group that started the debate in 1999. DAAR Communications and I have always wanted a debate in Nigeria since 1999. Almost single-handedly, it is part of our budget.
“In 1999 when we held the debate in Lagos all the media people (that) are existing how did they contribute? When we held in 2003 was it not the same DAAR Communications that funded it? When they held in 2007 was it not DAAR Communications that supported It? When they did in 2007, did they not see It?
“Why is this one the particular one that is now an issue?”
Asked if he carried other board members along in NEDG’s activities, Mr. Dokpesi responded, “What do you mean whether I carry? Who do I have to carry? Mr. Gentleman, understand that there is a chairman, NEDG, in the person of Aremu Taiwo Alimi. There is a chairman Board of Trustees of the NEDG, that was Jijiwa but it’s now DG of NTA. They have their Board of Trustees, what is my role in It?
“I have no problem. I know that…. Who are these Integrity Group? Who are they made up?
Mr. Dokpesi also denied the claims that he single-handedly ran the account of the NEDG.
“So why don’t you find out, they have an Executive Secretary of NEDG, whether I know anything about the account?
“I have no apologies. I can understand. I’ve told you I’m in Edo north at this present time.
“Whatever is the issue it is good, if the fear of Raymond Dokpesi is the beginning of wisdom now, may God Almighty help Nigeria.”