In Goodluck Jonathan’s Nigeria, relying on the influence of powerful individuals, including former Vice President Namadi Sambo, a man made it to the position of director general of a key and influential federal institution after he was indicted and even recommended for sack by investigative panels for stealing and gross misconduct.
This is the story of Ladan Salihu, the Director General of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, FRCN.
The official record of Mr. Salihu, the DG of Radio Nigeria, is awash with cases of indictment for graft, abuse of office and gross misconduct, which should have disqualified him from clinching the top job.
But as Nigeria descended so low under Mr. Jonathan that no sin seemed too atrocious to be brushed aside, Mr. Salihu, formerly Zonal Director, Kaduna Zonal station of Radio Nigeria, was appointed Director General in February 2014 by the then president.
The appointment came despite protest by staff of Radio Nigeria and more importantly, overwhelming evidence showing that the man stole government money, forged receipts and was queried and recommended for sack by his two immediate predecessors.
Documents obtained by PREMIUM TIMES revealed shocking details of official theft, misconduct and non-compliance with due process for which he received official queries and sanctions, and at a time, placed on half salary.
In 2008, a petition by a retiree of the radio, A. J. Usman led to the setting up of an administrative panel by the then DG of Radio Nigeria, Ben Egbuna, to probe allegations of “massive fraud and lack of due process in the activities at the Kaduna zonal station” against Mr. Salihu.
According to the report of the panel referenced in a query letter DG.452/VOL.XTV/66, dated July 14, 2008, Mr. Salihu allegedly stole a part of the funds released to him by the station for the coverage of the 2007 Hajj.
Although four reporters were approved for the coverage, with recommendation of $1,500 as estacode allowance to each, the panel reported that Mr. Salihu only took three reporters to cover the event.
Even so, he pocketed parts of the monies meant for the journalists he picked, paying each of the trio $1200; $700; $700 respectively.
He also failed to account for $13,800 he received as team leader for the Hajj coverage.
The panel reported that Mr. Salihu was not only awarding contracts above his expenditure limit, but also expressed worry that the contracts “were awarded only to Scale and Symbol Associates Limited without following the extant guidelines for award of contracts in the public service”.
He was also indicted for selling, without authorisation, a Medium Wave Antenna belonging to the Corporation for N700, 000 in “violation of the Corporations financial instructions which, among other things, require the approval of the Board of the Corporation, and in the absence of the Board, the approval of the Honourable Minister (of Information)”.
The report also found that he was a serving director of Lead Point Nigeria Limited, contrary to code of conduct for public servants in Nigeria.
In response to the fraud allegations, the DG at the time, Mr. Egbuna, issued a strongly-worded query to Mr. Salihu, demanding response within 48 hours. That never happened before Mr. Egbuna retired same week.
If those cases of graft weren’t weighty enough, a string of questionable activities by Mr. Salihu in the coming years, pushed the limits of official fraud.
In 2009, as zonal director of Radio Nigeria, Kaduna, he was enmeshed in a receipt forgery scandal and was recommended for sack after being placed on half pay by Mr. Egbuna’s successor, Nuhu Yusuf, who ironically, Mr. Salihu would succeed as Director-General of FRCN.
A panel of inquiry set up by Mr. Nuhu reported that the FRCN receipts numbers 15051 in the sum of N5,620,000; 2433 in the sum of N500,000; and 25581 for N3,500,000 to Katsina State Government for airing of different programmes were forged.
The N5,620,000 was paid was “Gaba dai gaba dai jihar Katsina”, a sponsored programme by Katsina State Government which aired at 11.50 A.M. on Sundays and Thursdays at the time.
According to a FRCN Board Paper number 2/2010 obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, efforts to untie the knot surrounding the forgery were frustrated by Mr. Salihu who challenged the competence of the inquiry panel, refused them access to key documents and relevant staff like the head of marketing at the station.
For a man who repeatedly boasted of his connections, Mr. Salihu illegally hired police officers – with the backing of Katsina government – to ensure continuation of the contentious programme even after the federal radio headquarters had directed it be suspended forthwith.
Accordingly, the investigative panel recommended that Mr. Salihu’s appointment be terminated, in keeping with Public Service Rule 030301, in view of his “serious acts misconduct”.
In the wake of Mr. Salihu’s appointment as Director-General of FRCN in 2014 by former President Jonathan, staff of the radio, in a petition, questioned the integrity of the new boss, and informed the president of the consequence of such decision on his administration’s touted “transformation agenda”.
They have raised the same concerns with President Muhammadu Buhari on the “need to remove officers with leadership deficit in leadership positions in ministries, departments and agencies”, citing Mr. Salihu as a specific case study.
Even after his appointment was recommended for termination, he remained in the Corporation and would later go on to become its chief. How did that happen?
Connection in high places
When contacted, former DG, Mr. Egbuna, confirmed he queried and indeed sanctioned Mr. Salihu but added that: “I retired from service that same week. So whatever happened thereafter was out of my control”.
Also speaking to PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Nuhu, who succeeded Mr. Egbuna, lamented how an officer with records of graft would become head of the same organisation from which he had stolen.
Mr. Nuhu said while he recommended Mr. Salihu’s appointment to be terminated, it was beyond his powers to enforce same, saying the government owns the radio corporation and there was nothing he could have done to stop his appointment.
Serving and retired officials of FRCN told PREMIUM TIMES how Mr. Salihu boasts of his connections to any and every government in power and so believes he is untouchable and above discipline.
They provided details on how the accused officer rose to the peak of the radio station despite his record.
The trio of former Vice President Sambo, former Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, and former Governor of Katsina State, Ibrahim Shema, our sources said, helped Mr. Salihu escape sanctions for his misconducts and then facilitated his rise to the topmost position in his station.
For years, they said, Mr. Salihu cultivated the establishment and made it appear he was a man to count on for any future dirty job. In this case, the project was helping the government in power stay in power beyond 2015.
Ben Bruce, a Senator, who was the Chairman of the FRCN board at the time Mr. Salihu was appointed said he was not aware of the damning documents that indicted the DG. He said his post was non-executive and “we don’t sit regularly. So I don’t have the knowledge of all these but I know he is a great guy”.
Mr. Salihu as DG, FRCN
Even in his present capacity as DG FRCN, allegations of waste and financial irresponsibility have continued to trail Mr. Salihu.
For instance, PREMIUM TIMES sources, who are very knowledgeable about the goings-on at the corporation, accused Mr. Salihu of “giving out unnecessary contract appointments to several staff who retired compulsorily on account of age or maximum 35 years’ service” as “a fitting reward for their loyalty to his person and friendship”.
By August, the radio had about 473 former staff, including drivers, secretaries, accountants, administrative officers, on contract appointment, thereby denying young, able and qualified Nigerians job opportunities in the public sector.
The cost of meeting obligations to contract appointees is now taking a toll on the Corporation’s finances and personnel management, resulting in depletion of IGR, failure to meet staff claims amounting to over N519 million and stalling of proficiency courses/training for staff, our sources revealed.
Efforts to have Mr. Salihu respond to these findings were unsuccessful.
Multiple calls to his telephone were neither answered nor returned for days, as were messages sent to him.
Our correspondent also went to his office repeatedly but was denied access to him. His secretary kept saying he was too busy to attend to the enquiry our reporter sought.
On Thursday, one of the officials at his office told visitors, including our correspondent, after hours of waiting, that Mr. Salihu was busy as he had been unavailable in the office since Monday.
PREMIUM TIMES spoke with the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Information, Shade Yemi-Esan.
Ms. Esan said the Ministry of Information plays no role in the appointment of DG for the FRCN.
It is the prerogative of the President to appoint anyone to head any of the parastatals under the ministry.
Ms. Esan said she could not confirm if the recommendation for the termination of Mr. Salihu’s appointment in 2010 was brought to the notice of the ministry as she became permanent secretary in 2013.