12 December 2012

Nigeria: Rescind Gwandu's Sack


November 9, 2012, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, announced the removal from office of the Executive Commissioner, Technical Services, of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Engr. Bashir Gwandu. Officially, he was sacked for "gross insubordination."

Unofficially he was punished for blowing the whistle on the spectrum fraud at the NCC following allegations of sales of frequency spectrum at giveaway prices by the management of the commission.

Specifically, Gwandu alleged that frequency spectrum racketeering, which started sometime back, was still going on under the current executive vice chairman, Dr. Eugene Juwah.

Electromagnetic frequencies are used for communications - for radio, radar, television and telecommunications. Available information indicates that a frequency spectrum band of 450MHz belonging to the Nigeria Police Force was ceded to a private company, Open Skys Ltd without any competitive bid process as provided by the NCC Act 2003. Without a doubt, this has implications for national security. For example, the police surveillance system has been left in dire straits, as all walkie-talkies have been rendered ineffective due to the displacement of the police from the frequency band. Worse still is that the band was valued at over $50million, but was sold for less than $6million on September 26, 2011.

Curiously, before it was sold off at a pittance, the Police Affairs Ministry wrote Ministry of Communications Technology on September 8, 2011, through a letter Ref: MPA/PSD/PRP/ST/164/I/ for the attention of the EVC of NCC requesting for emergency call service number to activate the newly installed security system. At a meeting held at the instance of the Vice President, Namadi Sambo, and attended by the minister of police affairs, Mr Caleb Olubolade, and that of communications technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson, as well as the inspector-general of police, MD Abubakar, Juwah, and MD of NigComsat AT Rufai, it was noted that the award of the band to Open Skys was irregular and fraudulent.

The sale of the 800MHz spectrum to Smile Communications Ltd followed a similar pattern without any competitive bid process. Indeed, Smile applied for 15MHz of 790-862MHz in 2008. The bid was originally refused. But curiously Smile was secretly paired with other bidders and approval given. We wonder why this twists and turns on sales that patently lacked integrity.

This allegation of insubordination seems to us, a case of calling a dog a bad name in order to hang it. Rather than kicking Gwandu out, he ought to have been commended for raising the alarm. Even if he blew the whistle, we believe Gwandu was exercising his rights under Section 27 of the Freedom of Information Act (2011) which states that 'Notwithstanding anything contained in the Criminal Code, Penal Code, the Official Secrets Act, or any other enactment, no civil or criminal proceedings shall lie against an officer of any public institution, or against any person acting on behalf of a public institution, and no proceedings shall lie against such persons thereof, for the disclosure in good faith of any information.'

Punishing him also contravenes Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) concerning fair hearing in the determination of his civil rights and obligations, including any question or determination by and against any government.'

What's more, Section 10 of the NCC Act of 2003 stipulates that no commissioner would be suspended or removed unless the President informs the commissioner by written notice. The commissioner must also be given a fair opportunity to make written submissions to the President within 14 days before such decision could be taken.

None of these procedures was followed in the removal of Gwandu. Clearly, Gwandu is being victimised for no just cause, other than for stepping on the toes of some sacred cows. Isn't it interesting that the Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson, who was also accused of recommending an improper waiver of N1billion for MTS, a company in which Juwah had an interest, has now become the accuser and the judge in her own case?

Gwandu has shown great patriotism and should not become another sacrificial lamb for the nation's economic buccaneers. If President Jonathan is serious about fighting corruption he should immediately rescind the decision to remove Gwandu from office.

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