In from Olumide Olaoluwa . . .
It may well end up as the biggest scandal ever for the media in Nigeria. The Fourth Estate of the realm, until now, has maintained an impeccable public perception. It has been a vibrant tool of the masses against oppressive governments and policies. During the military regime, the media was at the forefront of agitation for democratic rule.
When democracy was restored, the media continued to play the role of a watchdog to public acclaim. Several corrupt politicians and institutions were exposed and condemned in the media court of opinion. Many powerful government officials feared the media so much that they avoided it like a plague.
All of these were then. The media, once considered the bastion of democracy and defender of public interest, has been indicted in the ongoing probe of $2.1 billion arms deals allegedly misappropriated by the Office of the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki.
Investigators have traced N670million of the stolen funds to 12 media organisations. President of Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) Nduka Obaigbena admitted to receiving the funds. He however said it was compensation for losses suffered by 12 media organisations during a military clampdown sometime in 2014.
The affected newspapers are: This Day, Vanguard, The Sun, The Nation, New Telegraph, Daily Trust, People’s Daily, Leadership, Daily Independence, Nigerian Tribune, The Guardian and Business Day.
Their copies were seized and circulation vans destroyed by military operatives claiming to be acting based on intelligence reports that terrorists were planning to transport bombs with the vehicles.
Drivers, circulation staff and vendors of the newspapers were brutalised, arrested and detained by the overzealous security operatives. While the public was busy condemning the actions, media managers were negotiating compensation package with former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The secret meeting with government authorities led to release of N670million to the media organisations through Obaigbena, who is the founder of This Day Newspapers. N550 million of the lot was for This Day reportedly because of the terrorist attacks on its offices in Abuja and Kano in 2013.
The N120million was for the 12 newspapers. Each was allocated N10million to cover damages, according to the deal, suffered by the organisations. On the surface, it appears like a fair bargain. To compensate the media organisations didn’t look out of place. But then the pact was shrouded in secrecy. Had the arms deal probe not become public knowledge, Nigerians would never have known about it.
If the intention was just to compensate, how come many of the affected media workers didn’t get to know, let alone benefit from the package? Many media staff didn’t even know their organisations accessed the fund until the ongoing probe became public knowledge.
If the fund was for ‘compensation’ as claimed, how come the detained and brutalised staff didn’t receive a dime? The secret nature of the compensation package casts serious doubt on the real motive behind the windfall.
But not all the media organisations eventually got the N10 million meant for them. New Telegraph, Tribune and Peoples Daily denied receiving a dime of the fund. The Managing Director of New Telegraph Newspapers, Mrs. Funke Egbemode, in a statement said: “It is on record that following the decision of NPAN to seek compensation from the Federal Government in the aftermath of the seizure of editions of newspapers by the military, New Telegraph computed its losses, which were passed to the association. However, since then, the company has heard nothing from the association on the matter.
“Following a report that NPAN has begun paying N9m (not N10m as contained in the report that has gone viral on the Internet), the management of Daily Telegraph Publishing Company Limited, publishers of New Telegraph, Saturday Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, has written three letters to NPAN for its share of the compensation; but regrettably, as at this moment, not even a kobo has been received.
“Therefore, it is nothing but sheer falsehood for the NPAN president, who claimed he received the money on behalf of the association, to have included New Telegraph Newspapers as one of the beneficiaries of the funds, which as it has now emerged, was disbursed by the former NSA.”
The Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief, Tribune titles, Edward Dickson, also denied that a sum of N10m was paid to the company as compensation for the disruption of circulation operations and seizure of newspapers.
He said: “Although, like other NPAN members, we filed claims as requested for by NPAN, the fact of the matter is that up till this moment, December 11, 2015, our company has yet to receive a kobo as compensation from NPAN for the 2014 disruptive activities of the military to our operations.”
Peoples Daily also said: “One of the revelations on the current inquisition of the tenure of the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd) is that this newspaper is among several other national dailies that received the sum of N10m from the office of the former NSA through Nduka Obaigbena, the President of Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria.
“We don’t know of others, therefore, we can’t speak for them. This is news to us. At no time was such money made available to us in whatever guise. We wish to state clearly that it is false and therefore, wish to completely distant this medium from this revelation.”
Guardian Newspapers also said it did not receive a kobo despite being on the list of affected media organisation that got N10million. The implication is that Obaigbena apparently sat on compensation funds meant for some of the newspapers. Daily Independent has also denied receiving a dime from the fund. That means, five of the 12 media organisations did not get anything from the supposed compensation funds. That is a whopping N50 million unaccounted for.
Even those Obaigbena paid were shortchanged. For example, Daily Trust said it received N9million. The balance of N1million, it said, was donated to NPAN Secretariat. Yet, The Sun confirmed it got N10million. The discrepancy is another big dent on the image of Obaigbena, the media mogul.
A trade-off for presidential support
At a time he got over N700million, his staff nationwide were being owed over ten month’s salaries. There is no evidence he paid any of them compensation for the injuries sustained during the attacks on the newspaper’s offices. None of the families of the deceased has acknowledged receiving any form of assistance from the embattled media owner.
The general public has been jolted by the revelations, fuelling speculations that the package was for everything but compensations. Media activist, Mohammed Ali, believes it was a pay-off package for media managers to support the reelection bid of Jonathan.
“The former President was just bribing them to support him. Now, I understand why the media was strongly against President Buhari during the campaign. It was simply a trade-off for Jonathan to use their platforms to get reelected. It is a shame that the once trusted media has been completely compromised.”
Throughout the electioneering campaign, This Day was ferociously against Buhari’s aspiration, casting aspersion on his qualification and rallying supports for Jonathan. It has been proven Obaigbena was using his platform to pursue personal agenda following settlement from the presidency.
African Independent Television (AIT) owned by Dr Raymond Dokpesi, also aired several hate broadcasts targeted especially at Buhari and national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Dokpesi is on trial for receiving N2.1 billion from Dasuki, which he claimed was meant for publicity and media campaigns during the elections.
Will the public ever believe the media again? Has the media lost its biting power because of compromised managers and owners? This trial could bring about the much-needed change to the industry in whom the public used to repose much trust.
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