‘I spent eight days in EFCC detention’ | Emeka Mba finally speaks on N15bn fraud

After months of silence, the former Director General (DG) of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Emeka Mba, has spoken up on the accusations that he committed N15 billion fraud while still in office.

Mba, who also recounted his role in Nigeria’s digital switchover, told his side of the story at the 79th episode of The Africa Music Law Show with Ms. Uduak.

Here are ten things that we from the interview learnt:

1) Why Nigeria needed a switch from analogue to digital broadcast

““It’s an international telecommunication mandate that all countries, all the 168 member countries should switch from analogue broadcast to digital, principally because it makes use of the spectrum. As more and more devices are out there, telecommunications, all those smartphone use a lot of bandwidth.
Analogue television uses a lot of bandwidth as well; and essentially with digital technology… transmission platforms, only a fraction of that bandwidth can be used for television. That is freeing up a lot of space.”

2) Digital switch-over is expensive, hence why Nigeria didn’t meet the deadline

“In the U.S. (during its 208 digital switchover) it cost $40-60 billion depending on who is doing the math. In the UK it cost them almost 7 billion pounds. So it is a lot of money but obviously the cost savings for government and the multiplier effect is way, way better.

“It is better for every country to do it…. Unfortunately, we (Nigeria) started this journey in 2006, we set it for 2012 but as some things in Africa, … we talked the talk but we couldn’t’ walk it. We couldn’t provide funding to do that….”

3) Government failed to fully fund the switchover

““They (the Government) were saying it, we came out with a budget but they were not funding it…that was the major problem. In the meantime we at the NBC, we kept working, at least from the planning perspective, to do what we could do with the resources we had in-house to at least get the planning stage going.”

4) The switchover will cost $350 million, but government would have made a profit of 1 billion

“We looked at the Spectrum that the NBC controlled which if we fully switched over…we will have had to give up to telecommunications and we had some international consultant value it. He said this was going to be valued at one point something billion dollars and we said “whoa.”

“And the cost of the switchover for us, total cost was 350 million dollars. If you do the math, you require 350, what you were going to get if you did the switchover from the auctioning of the spectrum was way above 1billion so the government will still make profit.”

5) Former President Goodluck Jonathan gave his approval

“So we got approval from the former president that maybe we didn’t need to auction everything. [T]hat is where we got a bit creative in terms of how do we use what we have to create the revenue that we needed to drive this process; because the government said, “fighting Boko Haram, education, you know this, and this, and this, Mr. DG we can’t fund this thing. Go find a creative way.”

6) How MTN was licensed for the broadcasting

“We talked about getting an international loan from the Chinese… different entities. So we looked at different options. The final option we sat with our ministers, we said look… “yeah we can raise some money; we can find somebody who will be willing to pay for what we have.” It’s like an asset that we have and that is how we got to licensing MTN but still limited them to do broadcasting with it; which was one of the most creative things we did. So that, it wasn’t telecommunications that they will use it for… but for converged broadcasting…”

7) How he’s trouble began

“Part of the money, which is the issue around the 15 billion, was we had the setup boxes that needed to be produced in Nigeria, which was required for this switchover. The interesting thing was that government had a policy that said setup boxes had to be manufactured in Nigeria. But, the companies that were licensed to manufacture these boxes in Nigeria were saying look, it was a classic chicken and egg thing, ‘why would we go and manufacture when the product that is going to sit on our boxes doesn’t exist? So you need to give us a guarantee.’

“So two things had to happen. Beyond the financial guarantee, which we had to give them, we had to guarantee the content that the platform would be launched. We then said to the manufacturer, “fine. We will guarantee you guys up to a certain amount…” so that 15billion that you heard, the so called fraud, was actually money set aside as an off-taker guarantee for each of the manufacturers. Here is the money, if you produced these boxes, here is the money set aside; it was in a bank. Everybody signed (the government, ministry).”

8) The talk about fraud is amazing. There was no fraud

“So, the talk about fraud, to me, is amazing really, that is the best way I can put it. There was no fraud… This was the process that was reached…there were 13 companies, there were different stakeholders involved in the meeting.

“This meeting was held in a public place… we had minutes from meetings from 2014 to all the way to when we finally agreed somewhere around March for the off-taker guarantee; and then the payment went to the bank. So there was no fraud at all. And I think when I got detained, the manufacturers, the bank, everybody said, “no money is missing”.

9) If you government in government, you will have to prove your innocent to the EFCC

“I came back on the 4th of January from vacation. 4th of January they were already in my office, they said they received a petition from somebody which till today no one knows who the person is. They said I hid N15 billion away from the Federal government and I paid into some five accounts. I mean when you read it on paper, it sounds alarming in these days of corruption…. I mean everybody now in Nigeria, if you work in government, you are suspect until you prove your innocence”

10) He spent eight days in EFCC detention

“I went in with the copies of the agreement, even samples of the set up boxes, all of the agreements and a bag of files. But I didn’t get out that day. I spent another eight days.”

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