It was at a broadcasting industry event on Monday this week, that the story first came out. It was also set like a whisper. Those present were asking themselves, if the other persons present had heard the story. What story? The main purveyor of the news said that he had been “reliably informed”, that Alhaji Lai Muhammed has concluded plans to install Toyin Subair, as the next Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission, after he might have removed the current DG, Modibbo Kawu. I was in shock at the story. Could it even have any veracity? Who on earth would think in such a direction?
That was the question that another person asked as we ate our snacks. But is that the way that these politicians think? The last person then added that the Minister of Information, must install Toyin Subair, because it is a way to show gratitude to his political leader, Bola Tinubu. Don’t you know that Toyin Subair has no life, other than following Tinubu around? So for Lai Muhammed, Toyin Subair offers an opportunity to show loyalty to Bola Tinubu, especially with the plans being put in place for Tinubu’s candidacy in the 2023 elections.
I was still in shock from all that I heard, as we left for our different locations. What I heard was a complete polar opposite of the briefing that I had been given in Abuja, early in October. A person in the inner circles of the Minister of Information had confided in me, that the NBC Reform Implementation Committee, was deliberately being headed by a Director from the NBC, a certain Armstrong Idechebe, because he had been promised the position of DG, whenever the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, has been able to remove the sitting Director General, Modibbo Kawu. Idechebe, according to what I was told, had made a personal pledge of loyalty to Lai Muhammed, and promised that he would do the Minister’s bidding at all times, if he got the coveted position.
As a matter of fact, individuals like former Acting Chairman of BON, Godfrey Ohuabunwa and former NTA DG, Tony Iredia, have been going back and forth in the Minister’s office, to plead for Armstrong Idecheba. So confident has the Armstrong man become, that they say that he hardly goes to his NBC work, since his appointment as Chairman of Lai Muhammed’s NBC Reform Implementation Committee. He reports daily at the Ministry of Information, to show loyalty to Lai Muhammed and his main hatchet man, William Adeleye, who determines for the Minister, who wins favor and who gets the rough treatment. The situation as far as I can see, is on a delicate balance, and no one can tell exactly what the Minister, Lai Muhammed is up to.
If we look at Toyin Subair, his career is steeped in controversy. He was a former employee of Multichoice, the leading pay television company for several years. Armed with intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the company, he left, to start his own pay TV company, called HITV. At the beginning, it looked like a formidable Nigerian company had arrived, to give the South African Multichoice, a good run for their money. But bad investment decision, took down and he relocated to London.
There he became an errand boy for Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. But he never forgot his experience nor forgave Multichoice. And he never stopped scheming to make money from broadcasting. His chance came in the “Wild, Wild West” environment of the Jonathan administration days. Toyin Subair’s very close friend, Emeka Mba, was DG of NBC. Under him, NBC auctioned a broadcasting frequency at over N35 Billion to MTN, and the Commission became awash with money. The problem was how to spend, as knowledgeable insiders said, of the period. There was a potentially lucrative window of spending in the Digital Switchover (DSO).
Toyin Subair saw the opportunity and reached out to his friend Emeka Mba. Unfortunately, the company he introduced, Inview, was disqualified from the bid to become middle ware provider for the project. Yet, it was that disqualified company, that Emeka Mba decided to appoint for the position. It turned out, that Emeka Mba, paid the unregistered Inview, over One Billion Naira, for its operations. This information came to light, for the first time, at a DSO sub-Committee public hearing, at the House of Representatives, in 2017. Toyin Subair began rolling in money. And not only that, he also got Alhaji Lai Muhammed to issue what is called an “aggregation license”, to another company he also controlled, called CCNL. He was said to confidently tell his friends, that he has found a limitless source of money in the DSO process. So what he lost in HITV, he found in the DSO.
Then there was a change of government in 2015, and the APC came to power. Alhaji Lai Muhammed was appointed Minister of Information and Culture. For Toyin Subair, the scenario can only be an Act of God, because the Lagos political family of Bola Tinubu, was firmly in control. So Toyin Subair, tried to create a new image for his friend Emeka Mba. A PDP financier, in the 2015 elections, was suddenly being taken by Toyin and Lai Muhammed to meet Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, to ensure that he was retained as NBC DG. A lot of money was spent on the project. But the refusal of Emeka Mba to transfer over N10Billion into the TSA, in defiance of President Buhari’s directive, led to his removal as NBC DG. There was a second option that was in reserve, by the Lagos political team, and that is to appoint Dele Alake, as Emeka MBA’s replacement.
This is where Armstrond Idecheba entered the fray. He had been Emeka Mba’s number one instrument within the NBC. And on his being sacked as DG, Mba handed over to Idecheba. Emeka Mba’s puppet acted as DG for 24 hours, and he exposed himself, by telling the staff that his acting status was the continuation of Mba’s tenure. That statement filtered to the presidential villa, and he was promptly told to handover to the most senior Director. But he had tasted the position briefly, and he wanted more. He was willing to bide his time, while licking his wound. Contrary to their calculations, President Muhammadu Buhari, did not appoint Dele Alake from Lagos. He chose instead, the former Editor of DAILY TRUST newspaper, Modibbo Kawu, who had been a supporter of the President since 2002. He is also a well-trusted member of the Northern intellectual elite. The appointment shocked all the people, who are presently scheming to remove the man as DG: Lai Muhammed, Toyin Subair and Armstrong Idecheba. The scheming against the man started from the day he was appointed, and they have not stopped till today.
We are where we are now, because they still believe they can remove Modibbo Kawu as NBC DG, without reckoning with the way the man came into the position in the first place. What is clear, is that there is no vacancy in the NBC. And it is clear to all who can correctly read the politics of appointments, that Alhaji Lai Muhammed is over-exaggerating his own power, because he does not have the authority to remove Mr Modibbo Kawu from his position as the Director General of the NBC. But there are two people now, who have over-exposed their heads, and have been given the impression that they are in line to become NBC DG. These are the controversial Toyin Subair, and the over-ambitious Director of Monitoring of the NBC, Armstrong Idecheba. They are fighting over a position that is not vacant, and from the looks of things, is not likely to be vacant anytime soon.
Lai Muhammed has also exposed himself, and shows that he is merely a paper tiger, who can huff and puff, make noise and get sound bites on television, but actually has little, in terms of authority or influence, to pull through his self-serving agendas. Toyin Subair would have to return to the wilderness of his wild ambitions, while Armstrong Idecheba can only continue to lick his patched lips for a position, that his stance cannot destine him to get.
Godwin Henshaw is Media Economist in Lekki, Lagos.