The debacle over the suspension of the magazine continues

The Nigerian Press Council, on Tuesday in Abuja, expressed concern over the reported suspension of the production of Newswatch Magazine.

A statement signed Bayo Atoyebi, the Executive Secretary of the council, said that although the magazine was a going business concern, it had established itself as a credible public trust.

?Its covenant with the people as a news purveyor, critical and trusted public information source should be respected,?? he said. ?The council shares the exasperation of the journalists and readers who had hoped for a rejuvenated  magazine with the entry of a new holding, but it now appears that a death knell has hit one of the nation?s flagship magazines.?

Atoyebi appealed to the parties involved in the crisis to come to a compromise and work together for the survival of the magazine. ?We are compelled to appeal to all the parties, the owners, directors and the workers to allow the aura of the legacy of the magazine to remain and address the issue of owed salaries and allowances,? he said.

Jimoh Ibrahim, the new majority stakeholder of the magazine had announced the suspension of the publication to allow for a ?turn around?; a development that aroused the ire of other partners. Founders: Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese, Yakubu Mohammed and Soji Akinrinade expressed the fear that Ibrahim?s action was tantamount to outright ownership and possibly a step to close the company. ?We, and the other eight investors in the company who together hold 49 per cent equity, were greatly shocked to learn of the major decision affecting the future of the company and its loyal staff who have remained committed to the company through the most trying times,? said Ekpu while addressing a press conference last week.

However, Ibrahim has denounced the allegations, saying that the suspension of publication is necessary to achieve the restructuring plans. ?Let it be on record that they are minority shareholders in the company. Ray has just two percent; Dan holds half percent; Yakubu has one percent while Soji holds half percent,? he said. ?They have exchanged their previous shares for cash. They have been fully paid off. I paid Ray N79 million; Dan and Yakubu collected N76 million each while Soji was paid N68 million. Going by the sales agreement, shares of the company amounting to 89 percent belong to me. I own 89 percent of the shares that were unsubscribed after the shares restructuring. I own 89 percent of Newswatch. When we took over, they owed staff eight months unpaid salaries. We cleared everything. They should be happy with this.

Now, the restructuring of the company is still on-going. Part of it is to pull down the Oregun premises and rebuild it into a world class complex with a printing press. That was why we are moving the staff to Energy House. We are turn-around experts and we will successfully complete the process. The situation at Newswatch Magazine is very bad. They generate less than N1 million monthly and spends about N3.5million weekly for production and another N5 million monthly for salaries. We have invested N510 million into the company. The magazine has not generated N20 million in the last 15 months.

The company has over N1 billion liability when we took over. The only asset it has is the premises in Oregun. Another problem with the company is that majority of the staff are very old people. We discovered that they have lost touch with modern journalism. Most of them can?t use modern journalism tools. We need to sack about 60 per cent of the work force there. Most of them will be exposed when we move them to the headquarters. That is why they are afraid of moving to Energy House.?

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