28 March 2011

Nigeria: As the Anosikes Battle for Daily Times

Owners of Daily Times Nigeria Plc, the Anosike brothers - Fidelis and Noel - continues to do battle, both inside and outside the court, to keep their integrity intact and retain their company.

They have, at different times in the past, seen in pitched battles against defunct Hallmark Bank, Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Senator Ikechukwu Obiora, and several others.

Latest events are having them doing battle in the courts. As a matter of fact, the duo will appear before a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos to be arraigned for criminal conduct.

Last Thursday, March 24, the brothers failed in their application to have the court strike out the charge preferred against them by the Federal Government. The Federal Government had taken them to court for the stealing of over N3billion worth of properties belonging to Daily Times of Nigeria (DTN) Plc.

Government was prosecuting the brothers, their company, Folio Communication, and one Gogo Kurubo, before the court for criminal conspiracy over the purchase of Daily Times of Nigeria Plc in 2006. The trio was being prosecuted before Justice Pat Ajoku.

Daily Times used to be the standard bearer of Nigerian print journalism, which at a time had up to 22 publications in its stable, and estates both in Nigeria and London.

When the case came up for hearing on last Thursday, lawyer to the accused persons, Norrison Quakers, had drawn attention of the court to an order made by another judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Charles Archibong, who struck out the charge. Quakers therefore urged Justice Ajoku to uphold the ruling of Justice Archibong's ruling by striking out charge.

Prosecuting counsel, Akin Akinlewe, however confirmed the development, but said he had filed a motion before Justice Archibong to set aside the order because it is unconstitutional as the order was given without jurisdiction.

Akintewe noted further that rather than the accused filing an appeal against the decision of Justice Ajoku to go on with the case, he went before another Federal High Court to obtain an order in respect of a charge sheet that is before the same court.

In a short ruling therefore, Justice Ajoku said, "I have considered that submission of the counsel and I can only state that the matter is for arraignment." He had adjourned the case for April 19 for arraignment.

Mid April last year, the continuing ruin of the one-time flagship of Nigerian journalism took another dimension in the form of a court restraint on the Anosike brothers and their company, Folio Communications Limited, together with their agents, from tampering with assets of DTN situated at Plot G1, 6, 11, and 12 at the company's estate, Ashagbon Close, Off Adeniyi Jones, Ikeja.

The order, which came off an experte application filed by Daily Times and DSV Limited, was given by Justice Okon Abang of Federal High Court, Lagos. In the order, the court restrained first and second defendants, Mikino International Limited, Citco from encroaching, trespassing, or taking possession of the assets and properties of Daily Times in the said location, pending the determination of the motion on notice before it, for interlocutory injunction.

The court also restrained Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice and his agents from recognising, approving, registering and perfecting or granting of consent to any purported sale assignment or transfer of Daily Times titles, rights and interests in the said property.

The other phase of the company's demise took place about a month ago, Tuesday, March 23 precisely, when Justice Lawan Gumi of a Lagos High Court cleared Senator Ikechukwu Obiora from being investigated by the Inspector General of Police (IG). The clearance was a decision, which vacated its earlier leave granted the IG to investigate Obiora over an alleged issuance of dud cheques to Folio Communications Limited (FCL), the major shareholder of DTN.

In a press release then, the General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Paddy Ezeala, had given notice of intention to appeal the ruling of the court in a suit against Senator Ikechukwu Obiora.

"We are appealing the vacation of the order as there is ample information to prove that the issuance of the dud cheques by Senator Obiora was premeditated and aimed at unsettling management. If anything, it is Senator Ikechukwu Obiora that has exploited his position as Senator of the Federal Republic to suppress information on the matter. A clear case of the tyranny of the privileged."

According to Ezeala, their organisation represents "responsible and responsive corporate entities made up of law abiding citizens and believe that nobody is above the law."

He indicated their appreciation of the judiciary in which their faith has remained unswerving. He stated further that they firmly believed that in due course, the veracity of their claims would be made manifest to the general public.

Folio had asked the court to order the IG to investigate the senator for allegedly buying its properties with dud cheques and using his power and influence as a serving senator to stop all complaints made to the Nigerian police from being acted upon.

Since its sale, the company has gone through a lot of challenges. Perhaps its greatest challenge has been that of payment of salaries of staff laid off during the closure of the company in 2007.

There was however a round of payment for journalists who worked for the company from 2006 to 2007 in 2008 at the Iyalla Close office of the NUJ in Lagos State. But most painful to many staff, they were not paid. They complained to the union and were asked to write applications to indicate their non-payment, which they did. But most painfully, when another round of payments occurred in January last year, they were still not paid. And at each occasion, former employees had claimed that all attempts to reach Anosike proved abortive.

However, when Lagos NUJ was contacted on the matter last, an official assured members that the union was doing all within its power to see that all journalists were paid. Unfortunately, that was not to be up till today.

It is however instructive to note that the management of Folio Communications has often in the past given notice of actions to revive the company and all have failed to bear fruit. The latest took place on February last year, when Sol 90, a world acclaimed newspaper consultancy firm that has portfolio across six continents of the world, gave notice of reviving the company.

The renowned newspaper consultants promised to bring their professional touch to bear on the defunct media giant as an added portfolio. They promised to revive and re-invigorate its titles to compete favourably in the Nigerian newspaper market, both locally and internationally.

The group, represented by its Managing Director, Alejandro Santos, in a chat with journalists, said they were poised to making a new, fresh, and modern product out of the Daily Times titles while still keeping its age-long traditions.

"We want to make a new, fresh, modern product but keeping the tradition of the Daily Times of the last 85 years. We are not going to forget the heritage of the past," Alejandro had enthused.

Sol 90 is reputed for creating and delivering editorial content, which they have done with some renowned newspaper titles all over the world.

The company had in the past revived and reworked many influential brands around the world, which include the London Independent and Independent on Saturday, Daily Mirror and web edition of Daily Mirror to name but a few newspapers they have been able to turn their fortunes around.

The Barcelona-based newspaper consultants described the Nigerian newspaper industry as challenging but exciting. "It is our pleasure to be working in the Nigerian market," Alejandro said.

Folio bought over the shareholding of DTN in June, eight years ago, under an agreement between it and the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), a body created by the Federal Government for the transference of its many public utilities into private hands, with its policy of privatisation.

Government, through the policy was claiming that it (government) had no business in business.

On his part, Anosike had, during a conference before the last payment Daily Times explained that the company was in the middle of plans to re-launch some of its titles, which would be floated by June 2010, as part of activities to mark the 85th anniversary of the Daily Times.

He also explained that the company had acquired two new printing presses in its attempt to return to the newsstands as a contemporary media conglomerate.

However, the major fear of most of the unpaid journalists then was that Anosike might not really be interested in settling the salary issue conclusively. They had speculated that he might well be tactically clearing grounds to generate enough goodwill with which to make his money-spilling publication, First October, available at newsstands in readiness to heralding Nigeria's 50th anniversary.

The trials of Daily Times have been a matter of serious concern to many former executives and workers of the company.

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