By Dele Alake and Bayo Onanuga
It is laughably tragic that the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of THISDAY and Arise News Television, Mr Nduka Obaigbena has the temerity to pretend to be a guardian of public morality in contemporary Nigerian media practice.
The fact that this character is an unscrupulous hustler and blackmailer who has done tremendous damage to the journalism profession in the country, is well known within and beyond the profession.
Hiding under his media houses so-called Boards of Editors, Obaigbena, who is one of the most irresponsible media owners in the country, with scant regard for corporate good governance and ethics, issued a statement Monday accusing the All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) Director of Media and Publicity, Mr Bayo Onanuga; and Adviser, Media and Communication, Mr Dele Alake of attempting to silence independent media and bully the press ahead of next year’s general election.
This allegation is baseless.
The statement published on the front page of THISDAY is illustrative of the penchant of the two media houses under Obaigbena’s corrupting influence to peddle falsehood and engage in brazen political partisanship, contrary to the ethics of journalism practice.
It is instructive that Obaigbena’s media group is isolated in making this frivolous allegation against the duo. Not only does THISDAY newspaper publish unfounded rumours masquerading as truth, many of its columnists substitute vile and vulgar abuse for sound logic and informed analyses while its television anchors heckle and harass their guests, particularly those of the APC in their jaundiced, flagrantly unprofessional programmes.
We recall that both THISDAY and ARISE Television sought to bully and compel the APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, into attending its Town Hall meetings with presidential candidates, despite the media team’s explanation that it would not attend such programmes organised in a haphazard and uncoordinated manner by individual media houses.
Each candidate’s campaign team has the right to adopt its own strategies for reaching out to and interacting with Nigerians. As we have repeatedly said, the Tinubu campaign will not succumb to the blackmail, intimidation and harassment of Obaigbena and his media group.
THISDAY’s attempt in the said statement to justify its false news report on the purported death of one Mueez Adegboyega Akande and the attempt to insinuate mischievously that he died in suspicious circumstances failed abysmally. Rather than apologise for this professional lapse, it resorts to tendentious rationalisations. Its futile attempt to link Asiwaju Tinubu to a drug case in the United States, even when as far back as 2003, the United States government had categorically stated that the candidate has no criminal records in that country, shows the depths of mischief the newspaper is willing to descend in its bid to bring down the APC candidate at all costs. This campaign of calumny is doomed to fail as it always has.
Our candidate is focused and will not be distracted by this diversionary tactics to throw mud at him simply because he is the obvious front runner in this race and some believe that the only way to stop him is to peddle falsehood against him.
While pretending to be a public trust, THISDAY and ARISE descend into the political arena by publishing lies in a way that does such a great disservice to journalism. Last month the paper was sanctioned by NBC (National Broadcasting Commission) over a fake report that INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) had ordered a probe of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, over the platforms’ equally fake narrative about our candidate.
Obaigbena tries to cast aspersion on the professional and personal integrity of Alake and Onanuga. They stand on a higher moral and professional pedestal than he can ever aspire to. It is astonishing that a man like Obaigbena can even pretend to be protecting public morality and the public interest. How does this media owner run his media outfits? He is notorious for not paying the salaries of his staff or fulfilling his pensions’ obligations, forcing most of the journalists in his stable to resort to the most unethical practices to survive. This model of media practice, which he exported to South Africa in 2003-2004, failed spectacularly as he had to flee that country as a result of his unethical business practices. His short-lived THISDAY left unpaid debts to staff and the printers and the South African tax office.
He exported the same irresponsible business practice to the United Kingdom where he operated his Arise TV as a registered company since 2012. In 2021, judge Raquel Agnello disqualified Obaigbena from serving as a company director in the UK for seven years; in a case brought by the official receiver of the Insolvency Office in the country.
The application for disqualification was made under Section 6 of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 and arose from the compulsory liquidation of Arise Networks Ltd of which Obaigbena was the sole director since its incorporation.
According to the judgment, the company by 2016 had garnered a total debt of £25,671,167, which included debt to trade creditors and staff, estimated at £5,850,730.
Judge Agnello found Obaigbena’s conduct as sole director of Arise TV to be unfit and that the company had continued to trade despite “complete uncertainty” about its funding.
In Nigeria, Obaigbena is notorious for owing his staff their salaries. He is also notorious for owning newsprint suppliers for years without payment. This sharp practice led to the ill-health of one of his suppliers, Afilaka, who suffered massive stroke.
While Alake and Onanuga, were known to have endangered their lives in the struggle against military dictatorship and the enthronement of the democracy we enjoy today, Obaigbena was known to have collected substantial sums of money from the military junta to campaign against the 12th June 1993 elections, widely acknowledged as the freest and fairest polls in the country’s history. He even featured on the CNN to justify the annulment of the election and the continuation of military dictatorship. Yet, this man dares to preach on public morality and the national interest. He even claims that Alake and Onanuga are envious of him! How preposterous!! What is there to be envious from a man whose business practices and personal lifestyle offend every known decency. Alake and Onanuga can never be jealous of a man uses extortion, subterfuge, and cheap blackmail as his working capital. Here is a publisher who deployed his media group in aid of the immoral and illegal presidential ambition of a sitting Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria even when this flagrantly violated and threatened the integrity of that critical institution.
It is absurd when Obaigbena uses his media outfits to push the false narrative of Tinubu’s link with narcotics in the United States, when a member of his Board of Editors and Arise TV anchor, Dr Reuben Abati, was a running mate in 2019 to the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ogun State, the late Senator Buruji Kashamu; a man who had been indicted for narcotics trafficking in the US and was a fugitive from the laws of that country until his death. The same Abati remains a card carrying member of the PDP and yet, shamelessly pontificates and postures on Arise TV as a dispassionate analyst.
Lest it be forgotten, Abati was Media Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan and was detained by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in 2015 for reportedly collecting N500 million from ex – National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.) purportedly on behalf of the media.
Obaigbena himself was detained for weeks and made to refund N600 million by the EFCC, which was part of the diverted funds for arms purchase for the Nigerian military under Jonathan. Obaigbena as president of Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria also collected millions of Naira meant as compensation for the media owners whose papers were seized by overzealous security agents during the Jonathan presidency. Many newspapers reported that they did not get the money.
It is a sad commentary on the state of the Nigerian media that a man with no moral scruples whatsoever like Obaigbena will boldly pose as a publisher who can preach morality to others.
Here is a man who has done such grave damage to media practice in Nigeria, posturing as defender of free speech.
Unless media practitioners begin to treat him like the plague and cancer he constitutes to the industry, the future of the industry will be endangered.
It is well known that many private sector corporate executives pay him huge sums of money as retainership to avoid being blackmailed by him. It is also a pity that many of the journalists who work as his employees pose as self-righteous saints who criticise others and keep mum on the unhidden moral deficits and shenanigans of their boss
Issued by Dele Alake and Bayo Onanuga on behalf of the APC PCC Media and Communication Directorate