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In search of answers to Akunyili’s N8bn question

September 24, 2009

I’ve been on a journey since July 21. That was when I first wrote an article on this page, titled, “World Cup, Akunyili and the N8bn question.” The article was a response to a statement by the Minister of Information and Communications, Dora Akunyili, that the Federal Government had awarded a contract worth N8.2bn to WTS-Sony to upgrade Nigerian Television Authority’s facilities for the coverage of the FIFA junior world cup to be hosted by Nigeria in October.



According to the minister, who also supervises the NTA, the station would pay 15 per cent of the cost of the contract, while WTS-Sony, the contractor, would pay the remaining 85 per cent, or N6.9bn, repayable at five per cent interest over two years. The minister also said the contract involved the “upgrade and refurbishing” of six outside broadcast vans from standard to high definition; upgrade and refurbishing of the international broadcast centre; and the supply of six fly-away kits.

The crux of the matter, however, was whether it made sense to “upgrade” and “refurbish” the broadcast equipment with N8.2bn, when South Africa cut a deal with Sony SA in September to buy four new OB vans, with 18 cameras, including three super solo high definition cameras for R380m (about N6.3bn)? Short of making beef out of cold turkey, Akunyili also needed to explain how she intended to upgrade standard definition cameras to high definition cameras and who the heck was WTS-Sony? The minister launched a rapid-fire response to my July article, a great deal of it focussing on anything but the real question: where is the money going? Neither the response by her aides nor her fan club, nor yet those by high profile hacks have managed to address the key question: where is the money going?

In my search for answers, I recruited a young Punch journalist, Toyosi Ogunseye, whose investigative zeal the profession will surely hear more about in the nearest future. Before Toyosi joined me, I had sent an enquiry to the Corporate Affairs Commission, Abuja, on the status of WTS-Sony. A letter signed by Abdulkadir Abba Aliu for the registrar and dated July 29, read, “I am directed to inform you that there is no information in our database to show that the above company (WTS-Sony Ltd) is registered with the commission.” In short, WTS-Sony, the company quoted on the website of the ministry of information, http://www.fmic.gov.ng/news.asp, as having received the N8bn contract for the “upgrade” and “refurbishment” of world cup broadcast equipment, could not be found.

Where is the money going? I ran a quick check on the budgetary proposal submitted by WTS to NTA’s director general on April 20, in case some virus had messed up the information on the ministry’s website. Again, I was confronted with a piece of curiosity. The letterhead belonged to a trading company, WTS, with Ayodeji Osibogun as the chairman. Osibogun, by the way, was involved in COJA (the All African Games 2002/2003), as JVC’s consultant. The only link to Sony on the WTS letterhead was a claim that the company was a “Sony dealer.” Between September 4 and 16, Toyosi made over six phone calls to Sony and sent numerous emails with the two simple questions: “What is Sony’s role in the N8bn world cup broadcast equipment award?” and “Is WTS an authorised Sony dealer?”

On September 4 when Toyosi spoke with one Sarah Jones, a staff of Borkowski, Sony’s publicist in the UK, she said he could not say if WTS was in partnership with Sony. Emails were sent to Sony offices in Asia Pacific, Australia, China, Gulf, Honk Kong, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. On September 13, a reply came from one Neil D’Sylva of Sony Gulf: “As of now, we do not have any information regarding this and we are currently checking with our headquarters. We will keep you updated should we receive any feedback from them.” We ran a check on Sony’s website and did not find WTS as its authorised dealer. To date, we have not heard from Sony Gulf, which also looks after Africa.

Where is the money going? The minister’s fan club either insists that it’s not her business to answer or that NTA, being NTA, can have a joyride for N8.2bn with no questions asked. We are told to turn a blind eye to the milkman and ask the cow how the milk was produced. We did and your moo is as good as mine. In response to our question, the DG for Public Procurement, Emeka Eze, said, “Our job is to make sure that the process is transparent by certifying that the contract is duly advertised and to make sure that the company is pre-qualified. We also certify the amount advertised for the contract to make sure that the amount quoted by the eventual bid winner will guarantee value-for-money. After we are satisfied with all this, we can then issue ‘no objection certificate.’” Then, he added the clincher:  “The law expects the MDA's to carry out due diligence on the companies they are putting forward.” Translation: Ask the minister.

It’s over two months now since we first posed the questions to the minister, how exactly was a contract of N8.2bn awarded to a firm that for all practical purposes, is only an agent, if at all? How come the South Africans that are hosting a far bigger competition, are spending almost N2bn less than what Nigeria is spending to “upgrade” and “refurbish” its own equipment? What really is Sony’s role in all this? The minister can be sure that if she does not provide satisfactory answers, the questions will not go away.

A word for Onovo and Sanusi

The Inspector General of Police, Ogbonnaya Onovo, shoved his foot in his mouth last week when he challenged journalists to produce the photographs of Nuhu Ribadu’s condolence visit to the late Gani Fawehinmi’s family, as proof that the former EFCC boss sneaked into town.

Not one, but two different pictures of the visit were published for the doubting IG to see and to keep. For all that has been said about his credential as a top cop, it has taken Onovo over 30 years in the police to find out what we all know – that camels do routinely pass through the needle’s eye. If the police didn’t know about Ribadu’s visit even though the mortuary where he went to see Gani’s remains is only separated by a wall from a police area command, then our worst nightmares are not over yet. Instead of passing the buck, Onovo should cover his face in shame.

As for the Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, two quick points before the final audit reports on the remaining 14 banks are released. One, he must publish the names of all those with non-performing loans in all the banks audited. Fairness and transparency demand nothing less. And two, a uniform standard must be set for all the banks on what percentage of non-performing loans the bank executives are authorised to write-off. Silence will not only encourage arbitrariness; it will give the current bank executives ample room to do under the table deals with debtors. If Sanusi falls short of any of these two points, it will be the beginning of the end for him. 

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