Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) headed by ThisDay publisher Nduka Obaigbena has, again, protested its innocence against biases it benefited from state funds believed to have been looted through the Office of the National Security Adviser, which were ostensibly designated for procurement of arms. NPAN has said the N550m Obaigbena collected and another N120m allegedly collected on behalf of 12 newspaper companies, which circulation were disrupted by the military over claims of ferrying arms for Boko Haram insurgents, were compensations received from the federal government of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. Kabiru Yusuf and Comfort Obi, deputy president and general secretary of the association, claimed they are being deliberately linked to the scam. “It is unfortunate that some people not in possession of the full facts are seeking to link the NPAN with the alleged misdeeds of those who may have received huge sums of money from the office of the NSA unlawfully. Nothing can be further from the truth”, their joint statement read. The statement told the public “the fierce independence, diversity and forthrightness that have characterised the Nigerian press remain unshaken”.
It explained that NPAN, during its expanded Executive Council meeting in Lagos on Thursday December 17, examined the issue of compensation to its members, whose newspapers were seized by security personnel in June last year.
“The association was concerned by the insinuations, posturing and uninformed commentary on the matter and wishes, and out of respect to its readers and advertisers, will set the records straight.
“Between Friday June 6 and Sunday June 8, 2014, some military officers and other security personnel impounded bundles of newspapers and circulation vans belonging to our members in Abuja, Oyo, Ondo, Edo, Ekiti, Delta, Niger, Kogi, Kano, Kaduna, Plateau, Benue, Imo and Enugu states, among others. In some of these locations, this illegal obstruction lasted five days.
“By this unlawful seizure of newspapers, our members suffered huge losses in sales and advertising revenue and in business goodwill. Many of our members affected by this reckless assault considered resorting to the courts to seek redress.”
It added that it was even more alarming when the military authorities claimed that they had intelligence report that newspaper vans were being used to ferry bomb-making materials, “an outrageous charge that seems to be a prelude to some sort of clampdown”.
“Amidst this tension, and perhaps to stem the spate of multiple litigation against the security agencies and the Federal Government, former President Goodluck Jonathan held a meeting with the NPAN executives on June 12, 2014, at the State House, Marina, Lagos.
“At this meeting, he apologised for the infraction of press freedom and the disruption of the business rhythm of our members. This was well received by our members.”
NPAN said in recognition of the President’s gesture, an NPAN executive officer, Lady Maiden Ibru, spoke in favour of the association dropping the demand for compensation, “but because some members wanted to seek redress in court, it was decided to pursue a civil resolution of the matter”.
“The Federal Government and NPAN agreed to settle the matter out of court. In consequence of this, members were requested to submit a statement of their losses for consideration.”
The statement said the claims by all active members were between a few hundred thousand and hundreds of millions of naira, but that with no way to verify the claims, NPAN accepted “a flat rate of N10 million to each of the 12 media houses affected. The total amount came to N120 million”.
“Having suffered a lot of harassment during the military era, with some cases still winding their way through our courts, members agreed to a reasonable settlement over prolonged confrontation”.
Most members collected the compensation in good faith, the statement said, while cheques for The Guardian, Tribune and Peoples Daily, are still at the NPAN Secretariat.
“Member-newspapers that received money could not have any suspicion why it was paid from the office of the former National Security Adviser since the onslaught on newspapers was carried out by the security forces over which the office of the NSA, to some extent, superintended.”
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