1.1 Fresh facts have emerged on why the Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu, landed in the custody of one of the anti-graft agencies in the country, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Okechukwu, a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and an ally of President Muhammadu Buhari since the days of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), was detained by the EFCC on Saturday.
The VON boss, who was still with the anti-graft agency when filing this report, is being quizzed by the crack detectives of the commission over a case of conspiracy, abuse of office, and misappropriation of public funds to the tune of N1.3billion.
VON, one of the federal agencies under the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, was primarily established with the mandate of broadcasting Nigeria’s viewpoints, and to project Nigeria’s positive image to the international community as well as making the country’s voice heard on the African continent.
Shortly after President Buhari’s emergence in 2015, Okechukwu, a prominent politician and one of the stakeholders of APC from the South East region of the country, was appointed to man the agency.
His appointment was described as a reward for his steadfastness, courage and loyalty to Buhari and the CPC, which later merged with APC in 2014.
Specifically, Okechukwu was appointed on May 24, 2016, and he has been managing the affairs of the agency till today. He was, however, invited by the EFCC to answer some questions regarding the finances of the agency.
According to a petition obtained by Daily Trust, some of the sins allegedly committed by Okechukwu, who arrived at the headquarters of the anti-graft agency in Abuja at about 1.32 pm on Saturday to honour the invitation extended to him and to respond to some of the allegations against him are captured below:
Disregard for information minister
There is a reported cold war between the minister of information and culture, Lai Mohammed, and the VON boss over the award of some contracts in the agency he superintends.
It was said that the embattled federal agency boss regarded himself as Buhari’s man who will always have his way as far as the award of contracts in the agency was concerned.
He was alleged to have formed the habit of bypassing the minister on the issues that relate to his agency.
Breach of Procurement Act
Okechukwu was alleged to have breached the Procurement Act by awarding some contracts to his relations without due recourse to the law.
Specifically, he was said to have awarded a contract for the construction of an ICT data centre at the newly acquired VON office to his nephew, Emeka, of ECR Technology Service Limited at the sum of N47 million.
Apart from that, the job was not completed despite being paid fully but was certified completed by the agency. The contract was awarded on the 2nd of May, 2017 even before the EFCC handed over the newly acquired property to the agency.
N1bn ICT infrastructure fund ‘squandered’
It was also alleged that about N1 billion set aside as a fund for Information, Communication, and Technology (ICT) for the agency, was expended without the board’s approval and it was allegedly squandered under Okechukwu’s leadership between 2017 and 2020.
Checks showed that despite the huge amount of money expended on ICT of the agency, the internet connection of its Lagos office had been disconnected for the past six months while the Abuja office is still grappling with the epileptic nature of internet connections likewise zonal offices.
“The amount of money spent on ICT in VON, if it was judiciously used, could have turned VON into a world-class ICT centre in Nigeria,” the petition partly read.
The website of the agency, which is expected to publish in at least eight languages in order to reach its target audience, was said to have limited itself to broadcasting or publishing in English Language only.
Two different contracts amounting to N15 million and N43 million respectively were awarded to the same company, ECR Technology Service Limited for the supply of 50 and 150 digital audio recorders in alleged case of contract splitting.
In the same vein, a contract on the supply of software for the agency worth N21 million was awarded to Okechukwu’s nephew’s friend who owns Eppin Forest Engineering Limited, but allegedly supplied software for less than N5 million.
Bypassing FEC for approval of OB Van replacement
Outside Broadcast van worth N150 million was to go to the Federal Executive Council for approval but it was said that that was not done, rather he went ahead to the Bureau of Public Procurement for approval to buy CODEX machines for the same purpose that costs N50 million.
It was said that the remaining N100 million could not be accounted for
Daily Trust reports that the tenure of the embattled VON DG ended in May last year and he allegedly maneuvered and obtained a renewal for another term of five years without the knowledge of the information minister.
Consequently, the minister has refused to issue a statement on his renewal to date, with Okechukwu staying foot in the agency.
Following this development, concerned staff of the Voice of Nigeria (VON) have been calling on Minister Mohammed to prevent the imminent breakdown of law and order in the organisation following a vacuum created after the expiration of the tenure of Mr. Osita Okechikwu on the 23rd May 2021.
On Monday, May 24, 2021, Osita was confronted by staff to present a letter of reappointment, which he did not on that day before leaving the office.
Last year, the concerned staff requested the information minister to intervene and give a speedy direction for piloting the affairs of VON pending approval of substantive DG while asking Mr. Osita to steer stay clear of VON to avoid any embarrassment from an already tensed staff of the Corporation.
Source: Daily Trust