Controversies trail VON DG, Okechukwu’s EFCC invitation

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Chief Osita Okechukwu

The recent quizzing of Mr. Osita Okechukwu, the Director General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), has continued to attract mixed reactions.

Daily Post had reported that Okechukwu was grilled within the week by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, over alleged mismanagement of over N2billion.

However, sources have now ascribed the development to the infighting between the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and some heads of agencies under the ministry.

Okechukwu’s ordeal is said to be similar to the fate that befell Ibrahim Modibo Kawu, a former Director General of National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), before his eventual exit.

There are claims that some top officials loyal to the Minister were motivated to petition the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), which led to Okechukwu’s invitation to the anti-graft agency’s headquarters last Saturday.

A source claimed that Okechukwu angered the ACN camp of the APC when he supported the removal of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, noting that the DG VON compounded his case with his recent call on Asiwaju Bola Tinubu not to run for President, but to remain a kingmaker and unite the Southeast and Southwest by supporting a younger person from Southeast to succeed President Buhari.

It was also alleged that when some governors met recently with President Muhammadu Buhari to complain about the poor management of the Federal Government information platforms, Okechukwu’s name was among the three that the governors suggested.

Checks showed that Okechukwu’s invitation followed an anonymous petition, which claimed among others that the DG VON allegedly paid 2016 capital funds 100% the same year to procure some equipment and complete the multi-storey head office corporate office of VON, off Aminu Kano Crescent Wuse 2, Abuja, a building that was by then under interim forfeiture.

On the nature of defense supplied by Okechukwu, sources within EFCC said the VON DG denied the allegations in the petition that funds were embezzled, arguing that all the contracts were executed and that Voice of Nigeria is currently occupying its corporate headquarters situated at 1386 Aminu Kano Crescent.

“The DG informed operatives that what he did was for overriding public interest and on doctrine of necessity, stressing that shortly after his appointment, he sought for the plot of land allocated to VON in Abuja master plan, but was told that the plot was reallocated to Yar’Adua Center, as a token gift to Gen Shehu Yar’Adua, who is one of Nigeria’s heroes of democracy that paid the supreme sacrifice.

“The DG further told the interrogating team that he made acquisition of befitting corporate office his cardinal objective to upscale operations of the agency. He added that being a contemporary of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that Voice of Nigeria needed a befitting office complex to house its systems and digitize its operations, especially as VON now has a lot of competitors,” the source hinted.

VON, one of the agencies under the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, was established in 1991 as the international radio broadcast arm of the Nigerian government.

EFCC sources said the matter of interest to the agency was whether there was economic sabotage or infringement of the procurement procedure, pointing out that the petitioners’ claim of possible diversion of funds was still being investigated as they alleged that some in-house prices differ with that of the National Information Development Agency.

He stated: “What our investigating team wanted to know was how the DG spent public funds when he had not acquired the house. They said Okechukwu’s defense was that he was reassured by Mr President’s approval in principle in July 2016, and the cooperation of Ibrahim Magu led EFCC.

“However, Okechukwu maintained that given the dynamism of technology the users of Short Wave transistor radio was on decline due to different geo-time zones across the world, where 5 – Europe, North and South America, Southeast Asia, China are no more using the short wave frequency. It was no longer serving the international audience as hitherto. As such it became imperative to go digital in line with contemporary realities in the digital broadcast world.

“I recall that the DG revealed that three months after his appointment he discovered that VON was merely squatting in Radio House belonging to a sister agency and he asked about the whereabouts of the plot in the Abuja master plan. And they told him it was reallocated. He had his critical mandate to secure an office space for VON, digitalise broadcasting, provide staff housing and solar energy for the transmitter station.

“Okechukwu told operatives that the Commission took him around to inspect various properties before he settled for the one at the 1386 Oda Crescent, which was seized from the former Chief of Air Staff (CAS), late Alex Barde.”

He disclosed that in July, that is less than three months later, he applied to the President, who graciously approved in principle and directed him to the chief of staff, who in turn directed him to the EFCC chairman.

In the petition, the petitioners said, “the irony of the situation was that at the time VON moved into the premises, EFCC had not secured final forfeiture of the property.”

But, EFCC sources said Okechukwu claimed that it was because final forfeiture had not been granted that in 2018 Magu asked VON to rent the place at the cost of N86 million, being the market value of the property at the time, so as to .have one leg in the uncompleted building since the Nigeria Airforce and others were making moves to take possession.

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