By Ushang Ewa
The Speaker of the Cross River State House of Assembly, Honorable John Gaul Lebo (PDP Abi) has said that the House cannot deliberate on the loan the state government obtained for the Calabar Media City Special Purpose Vehicle.
Mr. Lebo said the matter is currently subjudice after Nigeria’s anti graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) investigation.
Responding to a tweet by CrossRiverWatch News Editor, Mr. Jonathan Ugbal where he wondered why the matter has been swept under the carpet, Mr. Lebo tweeted: “Because the matter is subjudice after the EFCC investigation.”
Because the matter is subjudice after the EFCC investigation
— John Gaul Lebo (@LeboGaul) June 30, 2018
Meanwhile, information reaching CrossRiverWatch suggests the parties involved entered a plea bargain with some amount of money paid back already.
However, CrossRiverWatch could not independently verify this as the spokesperson for the EFCC could not be reached.
What is the Calabar Media City Special Purpose Vehicle?
Here is an excerpt from a CrossRiverWatch investigation published on January 4, 2015.
In June 2012, the Cross River State House of Assembly authorized the granting of a NGN2.4 billion loan to the state government for the Calabar Media City-Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) between the government and Ebony Life, operators of Ebonylife TV on DSTV.
In a letter to the Assembly dated 31st May, 2012, and obtained by CrossRiverWatch, former Governor Liyel Imoke had said the essence of the facility is to set up an entertainment channel, which would serve as the hub of African Private Television Entertainment in Calabar Media City.
He said EbonyLife, the partner, is highly experienced and will handle the operation; while Ministry of Finance Incorporated, MOFI, another partner, will assist in overseeing the business.
He said the revenue prospects of the business are high; and that it is envisaged that the government guarantee will never be called-in for failure of the business to meet its obligation.
“Calabar Media City, through EbonyLife, has secured the patronage of Multi-Choice company. The total fees of N2 billion is expected from Multi–Choice in the first year of operation,” he added.
Imoke stated that other revenue services include several projects that will yield income from professionals, institutions, and tourists, as the projects will also include Calabar Film Academy, Calabar Film Festival, Calabar Music Festival and Calabar Festival Week.
According to him, the business revenue plan shows that by the third year of operation, the revenue will be NGN3.8 billion and by the seventh year, the total income expected will be NGN33.3 billion.
Highlight of the First Bank offer showed the borrower and therefore, “the obligator is Calabar Media City with tenor of 48 months and 16 per cent interest rate, with other fees granting at a total of 1 per cent flat.”
Now, the Association of Cross River Online Journalists (ACROJ) had written the incumbent governor, Ben Ayade as well as the 8th assembly to investigate the matter.
Portions of the letter read: “Your Excellency, more than two years on, it is doubtful whether there is a Calabar Media City anywhere or whether the projected revenue from the loan facility is accruing to the state. Our expectation that the capacity of struggling home grown media organisations with total commitment to the coverage of Cross River State, will be developed has also remained illusory due to the opacity surrounding the whole deal.
“It is in the light of all these that we in the Association of Cross River Online Journalists, ACROJ are asking His Excellency to commission an enquiry into the loan deal to determine whether it has met the terms of reference. Specifically Sir,
*What has become of the loan?
*Who have been the players in its disbursement and management?
*What has become of the Calabar Media City?
*What has been the impact of the deal on the development of the media in Cross River State particularly with struggling home grown media platforms that are being starved of support?
*What employment opportunities, and other infrastructural development has it brought to Cross River State?
*What is the percentage Cross River content in Ebonylife TV production?
“It is our fervent hope that His Excellency will see the imperative need for this inquiry and commission it as soon as possible so that Cross Riverians can say with accuracy where their 2.4billion Naira loan was spent.”
Neither the state nor the assembly acknowledged or replied the letters.
However, following a courtesy visit to the leadership of the assembly in July 2015 by ACROJ, Mr. Lebo promised the House will investigate the matter.
He directed the House Committee on Information and Technology to begin the process of an enquiry into the state of the facility.
He had said that: “For the issue of the Calabar Media City I know that the Calabar Media City is a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) of the state government and I know there was a provision in respect to the media city project but that again, the Chairman House Committee on Information, Communication and Technology will look into it appropriately. The House has an opportunity that is guaranteed under the Constitution, to consider public complaints, arbitration, investigation of even criminal matters if the matter gets to that point.
“I think Section 128 of the Constitution as amended has dealt with that issue that even the House of Assembly now has quasi powers of the judiciary. We can summon and ask the Commissioner of Police to arrest and produce anybody that is needed for an investigation on the floor and order for his detention. We will ensure that we look at this matter and try to create an inter face and make it creative enough. First, let it be a fact finding committee to find out whether there are areas government can intervene or somebody has done something wrong or whether the guarantee that the money will be properly used was not properly used.”
Where is the Calabar Media City?
From records and CrossRiverWatch findings, non ever existed.
But, EbonyLife TV began transmission on July 1, 2013 in Calabar and recently announced July 2, 2018 for the launch of its global Video-On-Demand service in Africa; streaming movies and series via its EbonyLife on mobile; commencement of regular broadcast in Africa on the StarTimes network and flow in 10 Caribbean countries as well as the launch of a new brand identity to mark its fifth year anniversary.
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