Punch Nigeria Limited has suspended its membership of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) over the controversy generated by the N120million allegedly paid to the association by former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd).
Qed.ng had exclusively reported on Sunday, December 13, 2015 that Punch rejected a N10 million compensation proposed by NPAN President, Nduka Obaigbena.
The company communicated the decision to withdraw from NPAN in a letter dated Thursday, December 17, 2015 and signed by its Chairman, Mr. Wale Aboderin.
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.”
Obaigbena had confessed in a recent letter to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that he received N120million from Dasuki, in his capacity as NPAN President on behalf of “12 newspapers who demanded compensation for the brutal and unlawful seizure of newspapers and stoppage of circulation by armed soldiers in Abuja and several cities”.
His ThisDay got an additional N550 million as compensation for Boko Haram attacks on the newspaper’s offices in Abuja and Kaduna in 2012.
Some of the newspapers he named as beneficiaries have denied collecting any money from NPAN.