President, Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria and publisher of ThisDay newspaper, Nduka Obaigbena has finally broken his silence on the controversy surrounding the payment of compensation to some media houses whose papers were seized by the military last year.
The media mogul, who was dragged into the disbursement of the arms deal fund by former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki gave his explanations in a letter to the EFFC.
The letter reads:
The Ag. Executive Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ( EFCC),
5, Fomella Street, Wuse 2, Abuja, Nigeria.
Attention: Ibrahim Musa.
At your request, we provide the following clarifications on payments of N670,000,000 received by GENERAL HYDROCARBONS LTD on behalf of THISDAY NEWSPAPERS GROUP (N550,000,000) and THE NEWSPAPERS PROPRIETORS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (NPAN), for member newspapers ( N120,000,000) from The Federal Government of Nigeria through the Office of The National Security Adviser ( ONSA) between 2014 and 2015.
I have set out the areas of possible questions and concerns and provided answers below:
1. Why GENERAL HYDROCARBONS LTD? General Hydrocarbons Ltd was set up as the power supply, diesel and fuel logistics arm of the THISDAY NEWSPAPERS GROUP, servicing the power and fuel logistics requirements of the group. There are other business units that service supplies and imports such as newsprint, ink, chemicals and consumables, machinery, etc. It is standard practice within large media groups to have business units meeting special logistics, infrastructural and supply needs.
2. Why was the payment made to General Hydrocarbons Ltd and not to THISDAY directly? First, President Goodluck Jonathan made it clear at the beginning that he did not want to create a precedent by paying THISDAY compensation given we had several victims of Boko Haram bombings around the country. Once payment was approved for the reconstruction of the UN Buildings in Abuja, that continued refusal or reluctance to pay us became tenuous as we were the next institution to be so bombed after the UN and Police Headquarters buildings which were then being reconstructed by the Federal Government. So when the ONSA said that they had approval to pay us, but would rather not set a precedent by paying THISDAY directly, we nominated a member company of the THISDAY Newspapers Group, called General Hydrocarbons Ltd., to receive the payments on behalf of the group of companies, given that the assets of General Hydrocarbons Ltd – mainly generators – were also destroyed in the bombings.
3. Why did THISDAY Newspapers Group not seek insurance payments for the bombings? We did ask our insurance consortium to pay compensation but they said we were not covered for war and or terrorism risk. Until that time, we never knew we needed war or terrorism insurance in Nigeria as the Government had not officially declared war. With the power of hindsight we now know better.
4. What was the N550,000,000 paid to THISDAY used for? We simply used the compensation funds to defray some 30% of the N1.7billion we already paid to 3rd party printers for services in lieu of the Abuja press (please see attached for a listing of each of these payments) while we went to our banks for refinancing printing presses, computer-to-plate and other facilities.
5. Why was the payment classified by ONSA as payment for “Energy Consultancy”? We do not know and cannot determine why and how security and intelligence agencies classify their payments in whatever manner they do. General Hydrocarbons Ltd did not engage in “energy consultancy” – whatever that means – with the Federal Government and or ONSA. They simply acted in agency collecting approved payments for and on behalf of THISDAY Newspapers Group and the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) – to which the newspapers group belongs.
6. Why did ONSA pay General Hydrocarbons Ltd and not directly to the account of NPAN? We did supply the account of NPAN to the Federal Government through the ONSA once we agreed the N120,000,000 compensation for member newspapers. But when I got a call from an official of the ONSA informing me that the payments agreed with The President was ready and should arrange to pick up cash, I balked and refused, asking him to pay to the NPAN account. Even when he suggested that The Nigerian Guild of Editors – NGE -(who are now calling for a probe) was paid N50,000,000 cash by the ONSA when President Jonathan donated to the building of the NGE secretariat, I still refused to collect cash and in any case, I had no independent confirmation the Nigerian Guild of Editors had collected cash. And even if they did, I was not prepared to do so. And when he insisted, after I had refused to pick up such a huge amount in cash, we agreed in good faith they credit the account of General Hydrocarbons Ltd, who upon legal advice, were acting in agency in line with industry practice where most payments are received through agencies, but in this instance, at no cost.
General Hydrocarbons Ltd did receive the payments on behalf of NPAN and delivered same to NPAN, at no cost, despite bank charges. General Hydrocarbons Ltd – a member of the THISDAY Newspapers Group – who are bonafide members of NPAN – therefore collected the compensation on behalf NPAN and passed on exactly what was collected in fulfillment of the out-of-court settlement reached between President Goodluck Jonathan and the expanded leadership of NPAN who attended the June 12, 2014 meeting, at the invitation of The President, at State House Marina, Lagos to ensure newspapers are never again clamped down after years of military harassment. Indeed the newspaper chiefs were very concerned that the military authorities would accuse them of using their circulation vans to ferry bombs on behalf of terrorists and feared that this was a pretext for more sinister action against the media by the Federal Government. Against this background, we summoned a high – powered NPAN team that reached the out-of-court settlement with the Federal Government and they included: Nduka Obaigbena (THISDAY), Chief Olusegun Osoba ( Past NPAN President invited to underscore the seriousness of the issues), Uncle Sam Amuka (Vanguard Newspapers), Lady Maiden Ibru (Guardian Newspapers), Wale Aboderin (Punch Newspapers), Victor Ifijeh (The Nation Newspapers), Femi Adesina ( Sun Newspapers), Bayo Onanuga ( The News Magazine Group), Frank Aigbogun (BusinessDay), Mrs Nwadiuto Iheakanwa ( Champion Newspapers), Comfort Obi ( Source Magazine and General Secretary), Mr Akanni Aluko ( New Telegraph), Gbenga Adefaye (Vanguard), Toke Alex Ibru ( Guardian), Ayo Arowolo (THISDAY), and Feyi Smith ( NPAN). Everyone who attended this meeting did so with their heads high in defense of Free Speech and sought nothing beyond the national interest and an enabling environment for the media to operate in a democratic setting.
7. Did NPAN members receive the N120,000,000 payments and did they know these payments were from the ONSA? Yes. At the NPAN meeting of March 17, 2015 held at the offices of Media Trust, Abuja, ahead of honoring the invitation of then Presidential Candidate of APC, General Muhammadu Buhari, at Sheraton Hotel Abuja, members were, again, informed that the Federal Government through the ONSA had agreed to make the payment of compensation for newspapers that had made claims for the military crackdown on newspapers. Indeed when the ONSA asked for their own meeting between President Jonathan and the media ahead of the elections, he was told that the NPAN would not meet with him or President Jonathan until the out-of-court settlement was paid. The NPAN captured this in the Minutes of the meeting as follows:
“The President (of NPAN) reported on a request by the National Security Adviser for a meeting for the following Wednesday and added that he made as a precondition for attendance, the payment to affected members, of the agreed sum of N10million compensation for the June 2014, military seizure of newspapers and distruption of circulation. The (NPAN) meeting endorsed the decision. It also endorsed that each beneficiary will pay N1million of the paid sum to the Association for its development activities.” – Extracts from Minutes NPAN Meeting of March 17, 2015 held at Media Trust offices, Abuja Once payment of the full N120,000,000 was received, we realized that we had 13 newspapers claiming instead of 12 and bank drafts were then issued as follows: 1. THISDAY Newspapers / N9,000,000; 2. Media Trust Newspapers/ N9,000,000; 3.VANGUARD / N9,000,000 ; 4. Leadership Newspapers /N9,000,000; 5. The Nation Newspapers (Vintage Press) N9,000,000; 6. Business Day / N9,000,000; 7. The SUN Newspapers/ N9,000,000; 8. Blueprint Newspapers / N9,000,000; Daily Independent / N9,000,000; 10. Peoples Daily / N9,000,000 ( with secretariat);11. Tribune Newspapers / N9,000,000 ( with secretariat); 12. Guardian Newspapers / N9,000,000 ( with secretariat) ; 13. New Telegraph / N9,000,000 ( with secretariat) and NPAN /N3,000,000. TOTAL : 120,000,000.00 as received from the ONSA ( Not a penny less).
The association had ruled that members should first bring their membership accounts current with the NPAN Secretariat and then collect their cheques. The onus of whether or not to collect cheques for compensation they had voluntarily and collectively claimed remains with each member.
8. Did NPAN members know these payments were from Arms Purchase budget to fight Boko Haram? The NPAN and indeed THISDAY Newspapers and / or even General Hydrocarbons Ltd could not have known which budget head payments ordered by The President through the ONSA came from, given that security and intelligence agencies have several payment conventions unknown to the public. But what is in the public domain is that The Appropriations Act 2014 and the Appropriations Act 2015 provided N28.5 Billion and N26.49 billion respectively in capital expenditure for the ONSA which included such miscellaneous subheads, that did not include arms purchase, from which the payments agreed with the President on June 12, 2014, could have been made after due process given that it was the ONSA that oversaw the crackdown on newspapers. Separately, the same Appropriations Act 2014 and the Appropriations Act 2015 provided the Ministry of Defense with arms budget of some N35.4 billion and N36.7 billion for capital budget and arms purchase. We never dealt with the Ministry of Defense. So any suggestion that payments made to NPAN and THISDAY Newspapers Group were for arms purchase is like calling a dog a bad name in order to hang it; incite the public against us and create panic amongst our members and stakeholders in such an important national institution as the media. We never participated in any arms purchase in any shape or form and only demanded compensation for a horrendous terrorist act against us. In the same way, the United Nations and others who may have received some compensation, could not have known the line budget items for the funds being used for the reconstruction of the UN Abuja buildings. Even the Nigerian Guild of Editors, which may have received donations for their secretariat from the ONSA, could not have known which subhead it was paid from. We simply cannot know or be expected to speculate which line item the spending was made from by the ONSA. There is simply no nexus between payments made for compensation, to us victims of terrorism as well as to newspapers in compensation for an unprovoked attack on free speech, and any arms purchase budget. It will be of interest to have a full and complete list of all payments made by the ONSA between 2014 and 2015 to make an informed determination and to understand what happened to the over N70 billion in arms budget allotted to the Ministry of Defense for armament.
9. At the end of the day, we were victims of a horrendous terrorist attack and should not be victimized any further as the terrorists will be celebrating what we are now being put through. We do not deserve further trauma because some official(s), outside of our control, may or may not have followed due process. All victims of terrorist attack deserve a fair and just compensation. The fact that we have received some remedy should be reason to accelerate compensation for all victims of Boko Haram attacks across Nigeria however big or small. We never wished this upon ourselves. The central purpose of government is the security of life and property of all citizens. And the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as other international law instruments and conventions of which Nigeria is a signatory underscores this – and infact requires that we receive effective remedy and compensation.
10. Please find attached statements by the expanded Executive Council Meeting convened in the wake of these allegations.
Chairman & Editor-in-Chief, THISDAY Newspapers Group.
President, Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria.
35 Creek Road Apapa, Lagos.