The Punch has announced the temporary withdrawal of its membership from the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria, NPAN, following integrity crisis rocking the leadership of the association.
NPAN’s chairman Nduka Obaigbena(publisher of ThisDay) had said he received N120 million in March 2015 on behalf of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and 12 newspapers who asked to be compensated for the “unlawful seizure and stoppage of circulation by armed soldiers in Abuja and several cities.”
Some of the newspapers had however denied receiving a dime from Obaigbena. The N12Om Obaigbena received also turned out to be part of the $2bn meant for the procurement of ammunition in the onslaught against Boko Haram but diverted by ex-National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki under the supervision of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
In a letter to NPAN and signed by its Chairman, Mr. Wale Aboderin, The Punch said the association’s integrity has been compromised and the actions of its leadership in the scandal ran foul of the paper’s moral standards.
The letter reads: “After a careful review of recent, and still unfolding, developments, Punch Nigeria Limited is suspending its membership of the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria until further notice. This suspension takes effect immediately.
“The public will recall the criminal charges levelled against a former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, and several other alleged accomplices. These charges border on the diversion of public funds, totalling $2.1 billion, allocated for the purchase of arms to prosecute the war against terrorism.
“The revelations indicate that the sum of N120 million was disbursed in murky circumstances to some member-companies of NPAN, ostensibly as compensation for the losses they incurred in June 2014 when armed soldiers seized newspapers and newspaper distribution vans.
“The source of this money and the manner of its receipt, allegedly through a company called General Hydrocarbons, which is unknown to NPAN, have raised public concerns about the integrity of the Press in Nigeria. The unfolding scandal has equally cast a shadow on the reputation of the mass media.
“At PUNCH, we have always held that state-sponsored attacks against the media should be challenged in the open, boldly and vigorously. It was for this reason that we instituted an action against the Federal Government at the Federal High Court, Lagos, on June 13, 1994. Among other reliefs, the company sought compensation for the June 11, 1994 invasion of our premises by a combined team of policemen and State Security Service agents who shut down our operations and detained our staff. Suffice to say that the case is currently at the Supreme Court where the Federal Government is seeking to overturn the judgment of Justice T.A. Odunowo, who declared the invasion illegal and awarded PUNCH the sum of N25m in damages.
“Our long-held position is that the relationship between an independent press association and the government should be properly defined to preserve, at all times, the independence of the press and the sacred duty of the mass media as the watchdog of society. This informed our decision to promptly refuse to file any backdoor claim for compensation for the losses we incurred during the military assault of June 2014.
“PUNCH’s reputation, integrity, independence and high ethical standards are well known. Our readers trust their newspaper and believe that our editorial content is not influenced by pecuniary, political or personal interests. PUNCH remains committed to the vision of its founding fathers and the best traditions of a free press. We believe in an independent and unfettered mass media, trusted by the public and all stakeholders. We have sustained losses, suffered closures and endured privations in the past for our beliefs. We have remained, and will remain, steadfast in the defence of the ideals of responsible journalism; hence, our decision.
“We reiterate the need to rebuild and refocus the NPAN as a vibrant, independent business association and pressure group, funded only by its member-organisations. We will ONLY reconsider our withdrawal from NPAN when the critical issues which we, and other concerned stakeholders, have raised are addressed.”