The ongoing trial of the Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Ishaq Kawu, by the ICPC, for alleged abuse of office and laundering of N2.5 billion, was on Wednesday stalled by the absence of the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed.
Mr Mohammed was scheduled to appear before a Federal High Court in Abuja, on Wednesday, as a prosecution witness.
He was meant to explain his role in the alleged misapplication of N2.5 billion funds for the federal government’s Digital Switch-Over (DSO) programme, the ICPC said in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES.
The ICPC, in February, filed a 12-count charge before a judge, Folashade Ogunbanjo-Giwa, against Mr Kawu, Lucky Omoluwa and Dipo Onifade, the Chairman and Chief Operating Officer of Pinnacle Communications Limited respectively, for allegedly misappropriating N2.5 billion.
Mr Mohammed had admitted in April that he did not follow due diligence before signing off on the project.
The ICPC also accused Mr Kawu of allegedly ‘deceiving’ Mr Mohammed to sign the deal.
His defendant’s counsel, A. U. Mustapha had also filed an application praying the court to allow the NBC boss to travel to the Sharm El-Sheik in Egypt, venue of a conference scheduled to hold from October 28 to November 22.
The ICPC said Mr Mohammed would only appear as a witness, effectively excluding him from the alleged crime.
Lai Mohammed’s Absence
According to the statement, at the court hearing, counsel to the commission, Henry Emore, informed the court that the minister was absent because of an ”urgent national assignment”.
He said, “I have been in court since 9 a.m. I called the personal assistant to the witness (Mohammed) and he said that he was unavailable due to an urgent assignment.”
Mr Emore, however, prayed the court to subpoena a second witness, a Bureau de Change operator, Sabo Shuaibu, who had ”repeatedly failed to attend court despite numerous invitations put to him”.
The judge reportedly granted the subpoena and advised the prosecution counsel to be mindful of the five adjournments allowed by the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, ”having used up three already”.
The trial judge also ordered the release of Mr Kawu’s international passport to enable him to attend the World Radio-Communication Conference (WRC 19) taking place in Egypt.
The judge further ruled that Kawu’s international passport must be returned to the court registrar upon his return from Egypt on or before November 30.
Mr Kawu was also told to depose to an affidavit before the court stating that his surety must agree to be detained by security agencies ”if he fails to return for his trial”.
The said surety must also surrender his international passport to the court in place of Mr Kawu’s.
The matter was then adjourned to October 21 and December 3, 4 and 5 for a continuation of trial.