By Dele Alake and Bayo Onanuga
Ordinarily, we consider it beneath us as well-bred media professionals to continue to engage in public spat with Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, a congenital blackmailer and hustler, especially in deference to ceasefire calls by well-meaning leaders and elders. The interventions followed our statement on Monday entitled “Obaigbena and His THISDAY/ARISE News’ Hypocritical Grandstanding On Public Morality”.
But we crave the indulgence of these well-meaning Nigerians to allow us respond to Obaigbena’s latest rambling, called a statement.
The largely diversionary composition was an attempt to deodorise his ethical problems.
Obaigbena tried to deflect attention from those pertinent issues we raised about ethics. There is nothing he said to creditably detract a jot from our accurate summation of his well-known perverse and ignoble approach to media practice over the years, a practice that continues to undermine the integrity of journalism profession in the country.
In his first statement attacking us, Obaigbena craftily attempted to mis-characterise as an attack on free speech, our principled stand against his blackmail to have Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu appear on Arise TV and its PDP sponsored Town Hall meetings.
In the second statement, he was still adamant that our candidate must attend his Town Hall debate, despite our stance that our candidate is already executing another communications strategy to reach the most important target: the Nigerian voters. We, repeat again: We will not make our candidate available to validate a scheme which, in the light of unassailable information at our disposal, is nothing but a racket by the Arise TV owner, designed to embarrass our candidate.
We now proceed to give a blow-by-blow response to Obaigbena’s latest very poor attempt at red-herring:
How laughable that Obaigbena is now denying he was not in EFCC custody for receiving illicit funds from National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki. He attempted to rationalise that the money received was compensation for losses incurred by newspaper proprietors following the clampdown by security agents. But he craftily glossed over the meat of the matter: the grave misconduct to have the funds paid into the bank account of Hydrocarbon, a shell company (obviously set up for money-laundering) to which Obaigbena was the sole signatory. Since NPAN has bank accounts, why was the money not transferred there directly?
Moreover, the petty lie in Obaigbena’s statement was punctured by the joint disclaimer issued on 12 December 2015 by Tribune, New Telegraph and People’s Daily in whose names he had collected money. The three newspapers said they did not receive a kobo.
His claim that he pocketed the chunk of the money received from Dasukigate as compensation for the alleged terrorist attack on his Abuja office is a laughable afterthought.
Rewriting June 12 story:
Contrary to Obaigbena’s lame attempt to rationalise his campaign against June 12 as action taken in furtherance of his membership of National Republican Convention (NRC), nothing can be further from the truth. His long story about sitting close to MKO Abiola on a London-Johannesburg flight begs the questions. He craftily sidestepped the issue of being recruited by the military regime to go on CNN to unconscionably declare “Abiola did not win any election”, shortly after NEC suspended the announcement of June 12 results. That dirty campaign was to prepare the grounds for the eventual annulment on June 23 of the election. If Obaigbena was pro-democracy as he falsely claims, why did he take up media consultancy work to Ernest Shonekan, the head of the Interim National Government, cobbled together by the junta to legitimise the illegality.
South African/London fiascos:
Obaigbena also tried to downplay the gravity of his misadventure in South Africa for which he had to flee, abandoning his office equipment and furniture till today. On one hand, he lied that it was President Nelson Mandela who asked that he set up the newspaper in South Africa because the dominant newspapers in the country were owned by the white establishment. On the other hand, he claimed that the same white establishment frustrated his venture. He forgot that when he floated ThisDay South Africa in 2003-4, a black President was in power!
Contrary to claims that he met a hostile environment, his habitual unethical practices gave him out. His business model of funding his newspapers and a champagne lifestyle from proceeds of blackmail rackets fell flat in South Africa where rules of a good society are rigidly enforced. To deceive advertisers, he inflated his circulation figures which the regulatory agency frowned at. Also, he owed printers and his workers. Gale of complaints against the “carpetbagger from Nigeria” soon reached the authorities and one official was quoted as famously saying, “You call yourself Thisday, very soon it will become That-day”. The prophecy came to pass with chilling accuracy soon after.
On his misadventure in London, Obaigbena disingenuously put it down to Forex crisis as if it happened this year or last year. The details of the judgment by the presiding judge were damning enough: Obaigbena lacks the personal honour and integrity to run any decent company.
His claim that his seven-year directorship ban has been appealed is not the full story. He already lost one appeal at the Chancery in August.
Payment of salaries/pension:
Obaigbena tried to deflect his chronic indebtedness as something common in the media industry. It is an affliction peculiar to THISDAY/Arise which purports to make lots of money (as reflected by bumper advert patronage) but curiously still fails to pay workers as and when due. Even when the economy was relatively “good”, Obaigbena never paid workers regularly. His popular saying to staff, as well known in the industry, is that: “THISDAY/Arise ID card alone is your meal ticket”.
Such corrupt philosophy underlies the unethical practices in media companies run by Obaigbena.
A classic illustration of the untold hardship and dehumanization of his workers was provided by Mr. Paul Ibe, who is now the Special Adviser on Media to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
Obaigbena tricked Ibe to South Africa with mouth-watering offers. But Ibe ended up enduring hunger there before finding his way back to Nigeria. Following a suit filed at the National Industrial Court in 2011 (suit no NICN/ABJ/26/2011), Mr. Ibe was awarded damages against Obaigbena for backlog of salaries, non-remittance of taxes and pension deducted from his wages over the years and outstanding entitlement. Tens of other staff of Thisday have died due to lack of money for medical care while awaiting Obaigbena to pay them their entitlements.
Open partisanship/Mefy racket:
We observe too that Obaigbena disingenuously sidestepped the questions raised about employing the services of Dr Reuben Abati, a card-carrying member of PDP as anchor person on Arise TV, as well as Obaigbena’s multi-million Naira consultancy role in the ill-fated attempt by a sitting Central Bank governor, Godwin Emefiele to compete for APC’ presidential ticket.
These are weighty moral issues Obaigbena, with all his resourceful facilities to lie and dissemble, could not defend.
Again, we challenge him to deny if Abati wasn’t the running-mate of Senator Buruji Kashamu on PDP’s platform in the governorship contest in Ogun in 2019. Kashamu was a wanted drug lord in the US. Of course, the same Abati, who never allows any opportunity to pass without attacking Asiwaju Tinubu daily, would have been one of those Obaigbena would have lined up at his dubious Town Hall meetings to “interrogate” Tinubu! Such shameless, unethical practice!
Further, while pontificating on public morality, Obaigbena conveniently ignored the perversity of collecting hundreds of millions as “media consultant” to Godwin Emefiele, the occupant of a critical public office from which utmost sobriety and non-partisanship is expected. Through patronizing reportage in THISDAY/Arise, Emefiele was egged on to openly descend into the political arena and bid for the presidential ticket of APC in its last primaries in what is now commonly called the “Mefy racket”.
This has antecedents: Obaigbena was also “consultant” to President Jonathan as he was to Chief Ernest Shonekan. Whatever happened to journalism ethics?
The culture of media merchandising:
In a futile attempt to burnish his image, Obaigbena resorted to dropping the names of U.S. and UK leaders who had attended events staged by him. Dropping the names and pictures of these former Western leaders who attended paid-for-appearance ThisDay events as if they attended when serving in office, is another Obaigbena’s vainglorious clout chasing scheme to scam the public. He failed to disclose that the high-profile personalities who delivered keynote addresses at such events were handsomely paid from money he collected through media blackmail from captains of industries notably bank chiefs. To con the outside world, Obaigbena had boasted in an interview with New York Times that he had corporate fortune of $100m accruing to his company annually. But later, tax officials in Lagos could not reconcile those bogus claims with his tax records and non-remittance of taxes deducted from workers. It was so easy to expose his fake lifestyle.
Since Nduka Obaigbena introduced his blackmail and extortionist brand of journalism into Nigeria, generation of Bank CEOs, company Chief Executives, politicians and Governors from 1999 have suffered in silence, seeking liberation from oppressive journalism by intimidation. In 2009, Nduka Obaigbena raided Niger Delta states with his Thisday Entertainment’s packaged Niger-Delta Peace Concert. He coerced the Niger-Delta Governors then to contribute hundreds of millions of Naira with a promise to bring A-list pop stars such as Jay-Z and Beyonce to perform. After collecting the money, the promised superstars didn’t show up. One of the governors was at the airport till almost midnight waiting to receive the superstars. These governors complained and suffered in silence because they were afraid of Nduka and his Thisday Newspaper which he has turned to instrument of oppression.
We took notice of Reuben Abati’s ramblings on Arise TV on his Wednesday Morning Show where he laboured in vain to defend his despicable record and perversions. Abati queried our statement that he is a registered member of PDP.
The query is rather for him. How did he become a deputy governorship candidate to the Late Senator Buruji Kashamu in 2019 without a membership of PDP as required by law?
We really do not expect much from Abati. He is a known pathological liar, who has lived on lies and deceit all his professional life. While he has successfully created the image of a conscientious public intellectual over the years, the fact is that he is a morally bankrupt man who has no scruples in selling his soul to the devil as long as money is involved.
Abati has very odious reputation within the corporate and political circles as “anything goes newspaper columnist” as long as the money is right.