***Seeks Independent Forensic Probe of JV Operations; Ask MD, Others To Step Aside
*** To Summon CBN, Banks to provide Accounts of Star Times
*** Asks Budget Office to Remove NTA from Federal Government Budget, it should go full Commercial
By Henry Umoru
THE Nigerian Television Authority, NTA was again grilled by the Senate over a joint venture arrangement entered into between the agency and a Chinese media firm, Beijing Star Group, in 2008 known as NTA-Star TV Network.
Before the Senate Tuesday, there were staggering revelations of how officials of NTA allegedly connived with Joint Venture Partners, Star Times to defraud the country.
The Senate said that a total of N200 billion was missing and carted out of the country which represents what would have been remitted as profits since 2008.
The Upper Chamber has however called for a Special Investigation into the record books of NTA/Star Times Joint Venture asking the Management to return roughly N200billion generated since 2008.
Trouble again reared its head when the Director-General, NTA, Yakubu Ibn Mohammed appeared before the Senator Olamilekan Adeola, All Progressives Congress, APC, Lagos West led Senate Joint Committee on Finance and National Planning Stakeholders on the details of the 2021and 2023 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) forwarded last month by President Muhammadu Buhari to present NTA’s projections.
The Senate has also asked the NTA to go full Commercial, just as it has mandated the Budget Office to remove the Organisation from the Federal Government Budget for the government to stop paying salaries, carrying out capital and other expenditure, adding that with this, the NTA will not come to the National Assembly to defend budgets anymore.
Surprisingly, the NTA Director-General who welcomed the arrangement that will make NTA more profit-oriented but on the condition that the mandate of NTA was also changed, said however that NTA with its current mandate as a public-owned media outfit cannot be fully commercialized; proposing a quasi-public status for NTA.
Relying on the audited report of the Auditor-General of the Federation, the Senate through its Joint Committee on Finance and National Planning revealed that the NTA/Star times JV made a whopping $36.1 million (about N11 billion) in 2018; contrary to earlier claims by NTA that the business had yielded no profit in almost 12 years.
Consequently, the Senate accused NTA/Star Times of coming up with incoherent financial records to show that it spent a total of N19 billion; leaving a shortfall of N8 billion in 2018 to justify earlier claims that the business had yielded nothing.
According to the Chairman of the Senate Committee, Solomon Olamilekan said the reason NTA officials kept the account to the JV in dollar form was them to easily ship the profits outside of Nigeria in connivance with some Nigerian officials.
Adeola said, “So that we can look at everything relating to this transactions because from the last record we are able to gather, )over N200bn was generated because only two years alone accounted for about N30bn.”
“N13bn in 2018 and about N11bn in 2019, this is almost N30bn and another $90m. By the time you now take it from 2008, that will come to about N100bn that was missing.”
Prior to the statement, the Senate had asked that the Managing Director of NTA TV Enterprises, Maxwell Loko and 2 other Senior Management Staff of the NTA business subsidiary to immediately step aside to give room for an unbiased investigation.
Senator Adeola said, ” DG, you will be doing Nigeria a lot of good if this managing director, the CEO and the director of tax is allowed to step aside for now. Immediately, to step aside. We will be doing Nigeria a lot of good because they need to be investigated.
“While you have an interim people that can be working. Because they have a lot of grasps, everything about this organisation in their hands. So the three of them starting from the CEO to the director of tax and audit to set aside while you bring in a three new interim to work with.
“It will do you a lot of good if you act in that direction. If you continue to keep them in that seat, while they are being probed, it will be dangerous for us. They should be asked to step aside with immediate effect. The revenue accruing to you was 46.4 million dollars. And 14.2 billion naira in 2019. And a clear lost of 4.8 million dollars and in naira 1.4 billion naira. You said your cost of sales was 31.7 million dollars.
“And administrative expenses of 19.5 million dollars, that is 5.9 billion naira.”
This was as Co-Chairman of the Senate Committee, Olubunmi Adetumbi, APC, Ekiti North called for an independent forensic audit of all the transactions of NTA/StarTimes since 2010, just as the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN and other banks will be invited to provide all the financial transactions by Startimes.
Efforts by the MD of NTA TV Enterprises, Maxwell Loko to provide explanations with regard to transaction with StarTime did not go down well with the Senators and his agency in more trouble in the messy JV deal.
For instance, the N720 million, the Managing Director told the Senate that NTA borrowed from StarTime to pay for licensing fees from 2011-2021 from the National Broadcast Commission (NBac) did not reflect anywhere in the financial records of NTA.
Maxwell said, ” It will interest the committee to know that it was indeed the NBC that introduced StarTimes communication of China to NTA during the 2009 Africast secured in Abuja.
“NBC granted the company licence for the period of August 2011 to 2016 the first instance and we were expected to have paid 500 million naira as licence fee.”
The story was same for the Director-General of NTA; Yakubu Mohammed as he came under even more intense fire along with his Finance Director over their inability to provide explanations to unrealistic figures contained in NTA budget projection for 2021.
NTA’s total subventions from the Federal Government stands at about N7 billion yearly against a revenue generation capacity of N3.5 billion.
Recall that the Senate on Monday took a swipe at the Director-General of the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, Yakubu Ibn Mohammed over what it described as unsatisfactory submissions on operational and revenue drive of the Information outfit.
The Lawmakers who took on the NTA Director-General on the joint venture the television station has been running with Startimes for the past eleven years without any profit, just as he was accused of making unsatisfactory submissions on operational and revenue drive of the information outfit over the years.