By Ameh Ejekwonyilo
The immediate past Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, on Wednesday, declined to appear before Justice Folashade Ogunbanjo Giwa of the Federal High Court Abuja, to explain his role in the approval of N2.5bn to Pinnacle Communications Ltd, for the purpose of the Federal Government Digital Switch Over (DSO) project.
Wednesday’s sitting was in continuation of the trial of the Director General of National Broadcasting Commission, Ishaq Kawu Modibbo, Pinnacle Communications Ltd and two others.
The former Information Minister was among the persons listed by the prosecution counsel, Henry Emore in ICPC’s list of additional witnesses and was expected to be in court to give testimony being 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 Prof Lai Mohammed had travelled out of the country but is being expected back into the country on or before July 31.
In addition, the court was told that Mohammed had finally made 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 statement to the ICPC, claiming that he needed to get clearance from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
Earlier, upon cross examination by Izinyon, a prosecution witnesss 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 Lai Mohammed during the pendency of this case, admitting that “Really, we did not bother to get in touch with the SGF to enable him allow the Information Minister to make statement”.
Abraham admitted that, NBC, based on the provision of the White Paper that government should provide condition for a level playing field for signal distributors, is the one that would determine the level playing field.
Meanwhile ,Justice Ogunbanjo-Giwa has adjourned to July 1st, 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.