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Carry out forensic audits of Startimes/NTA agreements ~ HURIWA tasks Buhari

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A statement by the pro-democracy and leading civil Rights Advocacy Group; Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria (HURIWA) on the alleged multi-billion Naira fraud in the joint venture operations between the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and a Chinese satellite Pay TV; Startimes, describing it as another means of China’s economic colonialism.

INTRODUCTION:

Not too long ago, we blamed President Muhammadu Buhari for attempting to foist a situation whereby most Nigerians will not be able to opt out of the Future slave labour camp of China, owing to the toxic loans agreement that supposedly puts the country’s sovereignty at risk in the event of default.

In that statement, we quoted President John Adams; an American Founding Father who made a strong assertion in 1826, that one of the ways to enslave a nation is by the sword and the other is by debt.

It is evident that the strings tied to funds provided by China and the ripple effect is particularly worrisome. The typical requirement for loans is that a Chinese company undertakes the project alongside employing Chinese workers, generating tons of revenue.

China’s opaque ways, as well as its desire to gain a more global influence, also raises suspicions around its financing and economic partnership. The heavy involvement of state actors in commercial arrangements by private actors blurs the line between China’s economic and political agenda.

The recent unfolding developments in the issues surrounding the alleged multi-billion Naira fraud in the joint venture operations between, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and a Chinese Satellite Pay TV, StarTime best illustrates the popular literature book; “One Week One Trouble” by Anezi Okoro.

THE ISSUE

The Chinese Pay-TV company; StarTimes runs its cable business in Nigeria under a Joint Venture called NTA-STAR TV Network with the Nigerian Television Authority signed in 2010 which is expected to yield dividends for the Nigerian government through the NTA investment in the joint agreement.

However, the Senate Joint Committee on Finance and National Planning last week raised an alarm over an alleged cover up and absence of such dividends in the record books of the NTA.

This revelations from the Senate Joint Committee on Finance and National Planning, scrutinizing the spending and expenditure of the Nigerian Television Authority for 2021 with the details of the 2021-2023 MTEF & FSP documents are mind-blowing as they are shocking.

The concerns raised by the Senate panel, is a stunning discovery that the multi-billion naira deal with StarTimes was not captured anywhere in the documents submitted to it as presented by the Director-General; Mallam Mohammed Yakubu.

Based on appearances and submissions made by the Director-General of NTA to the Senate Joint Committee on Friday and Monday, as observed by the Chairman of the Committee; Senator Solomon Olamilekan Adeola, NTA has serious challenges in balancing its accounts books despite being funded with N10biilion on a yearly basis by the Nigeria government.

How can the Managing Director of NTA claim that for over 10 years of joint venture agreement with StarTimes, it has not yielded any profit despite using the government owned facilities to garner millions of subscribers?

If this claim by the DG of NTA is true then the fears being expressed on the dubious China loans and the Sovereignty clause which indicates that if Nigeria defaults, China can take over the assets like Railways and airports and run them for years and be returning loses yearly thereby making China life time owners of the assets is gradually materializing.

It is either Nigerian government purposely allowed the Chines Company to operate freely under the banner of NTA as a way of servicing her humongous loan deals with China or someone is sitting on the money. Either way, there is a case to answer for.

Generally, there are global concerns about the alleged fraudulent, irregular, and underhand features of Chinese loan contracts with some African countries, which had resulted in a new form of economic colonialism foisted by China. Since all Chinese loans are tied to infrastructural developments, some of the African nations have had to forfeit their stakes in the infrastructure, which they used as collateral, after they defaulted.

More worrisome is that StarTimes did not register with the National Broadcasting Commission and has been making profits under the umbrella of NTA, yet no revenue has been accrued to the government of Nigeria that owns NTA. This is fraudulent and inimical to our sovereignty and economy as a nation.

OUR POSITION AND DEMANDS

Various experts have expressed fears and worries over what is seen as Chinese cycle and Nigeria needs to be careful. What normally happens is that the Chinese will begin to take over infrastructure asset, which is what some call Chinese Chopstick Imperialism and the experience is not just pleasant. Chinese strategically tie loans to infrastructure and that is with the intention of taking possession of the infrastructure asset if there is the default, as such asset bbecome their collateral.

StarTimes must operate with a license issued by Nigeria and not hide under the banner of NTA to operate freely and to be collecting cash from subscribers and still be declaring cumulative loses.

As far as the laws of Nigeria is concerned, which bestowed on the National Broadcasting Commission through an Act of the National Assembly to among other things regulate and control the broadcasting industry of Nigeria, StarTimes is running an illegal business in Nigeria and it is very unfortunate that such grabdscale illegality is being aided and abetted by the NTA.

Again, based on past antecedents with such investigations by the National Assembly wherein as soon as they are compromised, that will be the end of the noise from the National Assembly, we do not think that anything good would come out from the investigation as being carried out by the Senate. A vivid example is the recent investigation on alleged corruption by the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC which seem to have died a natural death.

Therefore, we are by this statement demanding that investigation on the alleged multi-billion Naira fraud in the joint venture operations between, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and a Chinese Satellite Pay TV, StarTime be jointly taken over by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent and Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).

Additionally, to avoid pitfalls of most of the past investigative activities of those two bodies whereby Ministries, Departments and Agencies that are under investigations for fraud, the Director-Generals allegedly usually bribe the EFCC and the ICPC with employment slots, we demand that credible Civil Society Organisations should monitor the process. These allegations came to us from top civil servants in many Agencies of the Government.

 

Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko:
National Coordinator.

Miss. Zainab Yusuf:
Director, National Media Affairs.

HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA).

25th August 2020.

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