EFCC Quizzes Ndukwe Over 2008 Budget in Nigeria

Telecoms

Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Monday arrested Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), Earnest Ndukwe, over allegations of flouting due process in the award of telecommunication licences by his commission.

The NCC boss is also being quizzed for allegedly spending beyond the commission's budget in 2008.

A competent source in the EFCC told Daily Independent in Abuja on Monday that Ndukwe's trouble centres around award of licences to three communication companies for broadband frequencies.

One of the companies awarded the contract include Mobitel Nigeria Limited, which the source disclosed, was able to raise N1.368 billion for the licence in five days.

The source stated that Ndukwe in October last year had granted Mobitel a waiver of N243 million out of N263 million indebtedness to the Federal Government.

"That means that the communication company ended up paying only N3 million to the Federal Government," the source said.

The source also alleged that Ndukwe misled the Federal Government in the award of contracts for Communication Information Centres across the country.

"He had told authorities that lands for the centres had already been secured whereas in most of the South East states, land had not been secured and yet the contractors are expected to build and equip the centres before June 3, 2009," the source explained.

EFCC's Head of Media and Publicity, Femi Babafemi, when contacted confirmed that Ndukwe is answering questions from operatives investigating the matter but declined further comment.

In its own reaction, the NCC said its boss was invited by the EFCC to give his response to a petition filed by the Minister of Information and Communications, Dora Akunyili, who alleged that the Commission did not heed her directive to stop the process for the award of spectrum slot in the 2.3GHz Band.

It was also alleged that a meeting of the Board of NCC on Monday chaired by its chairman, Ahmed Joda, was intended to ratify the result of the spectrum auction that Akunyili had already ordered to be stopped.

The NCC said Ndukwe, who returned to his office about two hours after he left for the EFCC headqurters, assured his staff, the board chairman and other Commissioners, of the sanctity of the process of the 2.3GHz spectrum bidding which has been paid for by three companies.

He said there must have been some misunderstanding about the process as the minister's directive has to do with stoppage of placement of further advertisement on the process and that the directive was given on May 8.

At this time, the processes was already concluded, he said, and that the Commission had not placed any advertisement about the process till date.

In another development, a petitioner has accused Ndukwe of causing NITEL to lose N500 billion.

According to the petitioner, Solomon Ogunjide Ogundele, from Ibadan, Ndukwe had in 2001 revoked the interconnection agreement rate NITEL had with other telecom operators, and came up with a new rate that caused NITEL to loose N500 billion to other telecom operators from 2001 till date.

Interconnect Agreement Rate (IAR), in technical parlance, is the rate at which a telecom operator pays another telecom operator for terminating calls on its network.

If MTN subscriber, for instance, calls a Globacom subscriber, the call that was originated from MTN network, will eventually terminate on Globacom network.

It therefore means that MTN has to pay Globacom certain amount of money since MTN bills its subscriber for making such call.

The agreed mount paid by one operator to another, is called IAR, and it is the duty of NCC, the industry regulator, to fix the interconnect rate the operators.

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According to the petitioner, there was an interconnect rate before Ndukwe assumed office and that shortly after he resumed office, he (Ndukwe) decided to revoke the initial rate and came up with a new rate that caused NITEL to loose billions of naira.

Worried by revocation of the then extant IAR and the huge loss to NITEL, Ogundele forwarded his petition indicting Ndukwe, to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Minister of Information and Communication; Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and copied President Umaru Yar A'dua, and Vice President Jonathan Goodluck, as well as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The Daily Independent