The Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) on Wednesday arrested the Publisher of the National Accord Newspapers, Abuja, Mr Tom Chiahemen, over advertisements his company placed in 2006 and 2007 on behalf of the Ministry of Education.
In an online statement sent to FrontiersNews, Mr Chiahemen confirmed that he was indeed arrested.
The statement reads in full:
“Following several telephone calls I received from colleagues, friends and family members, including visits to my office and home, I wish to confirm that I was invited, arrested and detained for over seven (7) hours by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) at its headquarters in Abuja on Wednesday. I was also asked to report back at 10 am today (Thursday) and was kept for over three (3) hours before a lawyer-friend arrived to sign my bail forms.
“From 10.00am when I arrive at the Commission’s Headquarters on Wednesday to honour their written invitation, I was not allowed to leave the ICPC until 5:12pm.
“In summary, I would say that I was questioned over the Advertisements placed in several Nigerian Newspapers by the Federal Ministry of Education during the tenure of Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili, between August 2006 and May 2007.
“The ICPC had, in a letter dated March 4, 2013 (with reference No. ICPC/CH/FIU.2/126 and addressed to me, said it was investigating “allegations that bothered on the violation of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000.” It added that pursuant to Section 28 of the said Act, I was required to appear before the undersigned (Adedayo A. Kayode, Head, Financial Investigation Unit) on Wednesday, 6th March 2013 at the ICPC Headquarters, Abuja by 10.00 hours.”
“I arrived at the ICPC Headquarters a few minutes to 10.00am and spent a few minutes at the reception carrying out all the procedures including surrendering of my telephone handset, before I was shown to the office of Mr. A. A. Kayode.
“I was handed over to one female official of the Unit who took me into a tiny room with a big table surrounded by about four chairs. There was no television or radio set in the room to watch or listen to.
“Without any preamble, she asked me to say all I knew and/or did with the Federal Ministry of Education between 2006 and 2007 while I was a staff of Daily Independent Newspaper.
“I explained to her that a company in which I owned majority shares, Cattigan Communications Limited, was appointed in August 2006 by the Federal Ministry of Education to handle media buying and placements (of advertisements) for the Ministry. In that capacity, I explained to the ICPC official, Cattigan Communications Ltd was expected to handle the placement/payment of all public notices, announcements and other publicity/promotions materials from the Ministry for public/broadcast in the approved national dailies and electronic stations.
“I went further to recall that in the print media, which Cattigan Communications Ltd handled mostly, various advertisements running into almost N30million were placed and paid for by the Federal Ministry of Education.
“I explained to the lady the circumstances that led to the appointment of Cattigan Communications Ltd to handle media buying/placements during the Education Sector Reform Programme of the Ezekwesili/Obasanjo administration. I told her that the Company was nominated and presented to the Ministry by Correspondents of the various national media organisations covering Education Sector, under the umbrella organisation, Education Correspondents Association of Nigeria (ECAN).
“After listening to my explanations, she said she believed my story because it tallied with the findings by the ICPC investigators. She told me they had been to the Daily Independent, my former place of work and all that. She however asked if I had any documentary evidence to prove that my company was appointed by the Ministry to handle the job and whether there were any receipts to back up payments that were made to Cattigan Communications Ltd. I told her if I searched my house, I could still locate the letter appointing Cattigan Communications Ltd and other receipts/acknowledgement of the payments. I was then given 10 minutes to produce the above documents from my house, which is not far away from ICPC headquarters.
“To my utter surprise, when I presented the original copy of the said letter dated August 24, 2006 and other documents, the ICPC officials changed their posture. First, they excused me from the Interrogation Room for about 10 minutes, during which the lady and 3 others went over my documents and discussed inaudibly among themselves.
“When I was invited back into the Interrogation Room, I was handed an entirely different form which indicated that I was under arrest and that the statement I was going to make from thence would be used against me. I sought to know if I could call in my lawyer to guide and bail me, but they chorused: “no,” that they don’t allow lawyers to bail people. Then I asked them to explain why I was under arrest.
“To my bemusement, the lady said I lied because the letter dated August 24, 2006 appointing Cattigan Communications Limited to handle advert placements for the Ministry was looking newer and neater than the letter sent to me only three days ago (March 4, 2013) by the ICPC. They all argued and insisted that there was no way a letter issued in 2006 could look so new. I only swore and stood by my word that the letter was indeed given to me by the Ministry in 2006 and that I was touching or bringing it out from the file for the first time as there had been no need to touch it before now.
“Their second complaint was that I wrote two different letters to the Minister of Education on the same day (January 23, 2007) claiming two different sums of money (N33, 395,734.20 and N19, 501,327.95).
My explanation was that the second letter was only a follow-up on the first letter to adjust the number of pages that were to be placed in newspapers with the available funds, in cheque form. I told the ICPC officials that the first letter had proposed a total of 125 pages of Adverts to be placed in 12 different national dailies (The Punch, Daily Independent, Daily Champion, Thisday, Daily Sun, The Guardian, The Nation, Leadership, Daily Trust, New Age and New Nigerian) at the cost of N32, 348,195.13 plus VAT of N1, 047,539.07), totaling N33,395,734.20.
The second letter, also dated 23/1/2007 was written in response to the need to reduce the number of pages of Adverts and the number of Newspapers to publish the Adverts within the sum ofN20million that was readily available to the Task Team to use for the payment of Adverts at the time. This second letter was asking the Minister for the release of the sum of N19,501,327.95 (as against the earlier letter that was requesting for N33,395,734.20). This followed the dropping of two newspapers: Daily Independent and Leadership from the list of papers earlier proposed.
“The ICPC officials further questioned the propriety of me working with Daily Independent and at the same time running Cattigan Communications Ltd which, according to them, was performing similar functions as my employer, Daily Independent. I tried unsuccessfully to educate them that Cattigan Communications was only a consulting firm and that I wasn’t running it full-time; nor was the Company competing with Daily Independent.
“The issue of Receipts and Invoices used in the transaction also came up. The ICPC wanted me to show evidence that the N28. 2million that the Federal Ministry of Education paid to Cattigan Communications was paid to the various Newspapers listed and if so, where are the Receipts (not the Invoices attached) from those papers?
“They again wanted me to prove that the Newspapers said to have been paid the various sums of money actually published the Adverts for the Ministry and if so, where are the copies of the papers as evidence?
“I told the ICPC officials that I had collected both the tearsheets (pages of Newspapers showing the Adverts) and Receipts from the various Newspapers and handed them over to the Ministry’s Task Team led, then by Dr. Okey Ikechukwu.
“One of the ICPC officials did ask me how much of the money went to Dr. Okey Ikechukwu and I said as far as the Adverts placed in the print media were concerned, each of the Correspondents was required to forfeit one per cent (1%) of their commission to Cattigan Communications to settle the bank’s COT, while each Correspondent who was a member of ECAN, contributed 5% of their commission to the Treasurer of the Association.
“The ICPC officials were of the view that Cattigan Communications could be one of the Companies used as a conduit pipe for siphoning government funds and they told me pointedly that it was possible the whole Advert jamboree during the tenure of Dr. Ezekwesili as Education Minister could be a hoax.
“Otherwise, they insisted, I must tell/show the ICPC what each of the Adverts was about (the content), and where the Adverts were published. This is something that took place as far back as between September 2006 and May 2007.
By the time I was released to go home on Wednesday, it was 5.12pm and I was asked to report back on Thursday for continuation of the interrogation.
“When I reported at the ICPC headquarters today, I was handed sets of the documents that had been collected from me on Wednesday and photocopied. I was asked for write “certified true copy, my full names, designation, cattigan Communications Ltd, my signature and date.”
“After the exercise, which took almost 30 minutes to complete, I was told to go to the gate of the ICPC and make phone calls and bring somebody to come and bail me. I went to where I had earlier surrendered my handset, made several phone calls, first to the Chairman of the Abuja council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), friends, colleagues and family members. I went back to the financial investigation unit and waited for about one hour before a friend (names withheld) arrived and was handed my bail forms to complete and sign. He was told to be ready to produce me any time the ICPC needed me.
“As I was signing a section in the form meant for me, I noticed that the offence against me was: violation of the corrupt practices and other related offences Act 2000.”
Obviously, this arrest is as a result of recent allegation made by Dr. Oby Ezekwesili that Jonathan’s administration has siphoned $67 billion Foreign Exchange Reserve left by Late President Musa Yar’Adua and President Olusegun Obasanjo, an allegation that the presidency has described as “deliberate dissemination of falsehood, unsubstantiated and malicious claims.”