For the Record: MANAGING DIRECTOR OF NEWS AGENCY OF NIGERIA,BAYO ONANUGA REACTS TO ALLEGATION OF COMPANY FUNDS DIVERSION FOR HIS PERSONAL USE
The descriptions are the most uncharitable, most wicked about my three-year tenure. I met the agency almost comatose and I ran it with financial prudence, denying myself and my office of my entitlements, brutally cutting costs, all to ensure that it survives and fulfils the mandate for which it was set up 43 years ago.
AGENCY IN DARKNESS:
I recall my first day in NAN Headquarters on 25 MAY 2016. I was surprised when the lights were switched off at 10.am. I was told power supply would return at 2pm. I learnt this had been the practice for some years, because the agency did not have money to buy diesel. I found this strange in a news agency that ought to run with 24 hour power supply. I provided N250, 000 of my own money to the Technical Department to buy diesel and decreed that on no account must the agency be in darkness from 8am till 8pm daily. This was sustained all through my three years.
I embarked on cost-cutting measures, cutting allowances for the MD and other managers. I suspended burial and marriage grants later ruled as illegal by the Federal Government. I slashed the N200,000 imprest meant for my office to N50,000. I declined collecting DTA due to me when I made official trips to Lagos. The imprest was paid irregularly, even after the vast reduction from the N200,000 officially earmarked, thus making me spend personal funds for official duties. I regularly joked I must be NAN’s most austere CEO.
Still as part of cost saving, I sometimes elected to travel economy class on few occasions I went on foreign trips, the latest being a fact-finding mission to Abidjan about the agency’s property. While I beseech God to forgive my traducers, I have taken steps to seek legal remedy.
I will now respond to the allegations raised by the petitioners, along with the ones made by the faceless group, signed by a non-existing NAN staff, called Idris Bala.
APPOINTMENT OF SA:
Momoh: My predecessor had three SAs, one of whom I inherited. Then I appointed Momoh, being a long serving staff, who started in editorial and had run the agency’s subsidiary company, NAN Bizcom , before ending his career as director of administration.
My second assistant, was Mr Joe Bankole, who also had spent long years in the agency and was specifically retained to help in the re-engineering of the Multimedia unit of the agency. The agency had invested a lot of money in training Bankole.
Both were paid by government on downgraded level from 17 to 16. Bankole was fired last year after failing to organise the 40th anniversary of the agency.But why did unions wait till this moment to kick against Momoh?
NANBizcom was set up as a limited liability company. The auditing of the accounts up till 2017 has been done. We are in the process of auditing the accounts for 2018 and are still owing the auditors for 2015-2017 audit, done under my watch. The Federal Auditors have perused our books before and not once was it raised that the income of NANBIZCOM should go into TSA.
NAN BIZCOM has accounts with Access Bank and Zenith Bank and is dependent on income from training and commercialisation of some of NAN assets, such as the Media Centre in Lagos. In 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, the last two years under my stewardship, the total turnover generated by the company was as follows: 2017 – N14,666,100. 2016 – N13,760,158. 2015- N12,341,260 2014- N 24,947,840
Please note that the figures are not reflective of the monthly costs incurred in running, most especially the Media Centre in Lagos.
We are in the process of re-organising the company for better performance. Its key asset, Media Centre in Lagos has just been renovated. It was done by direct labour at a cost of about N7million. We got a quote of N22million from a contractor before my management decided to adopt direct labour. (I attach some photos)
I am not aware that the income accruing to NAN Bizcom, a limited liability company, should be paid into TSA, as being alleged. It is simply wicked to accuse me of diverting the income to my personal use. The audited accounts will clear all issues around this.
AUCTIONING OF VEHICLES:
I inherited a lot of KIA vehicles guzzling money for repairs. It was in realisation of this that we requested for new vehicles under the Presidential Intervention Fund to replace them. I bought one of the auctioned cars: the six year-old car attached to me.
Other vehicles were sold to the managers and those who expressed interest, including one of the drivers in Lagos. Due process was followed in the disposal of the vehicles, including approval of the Ministry of Works and an advert for auctioning placed by an official auctioneer. All records are available.
INTIMIDATION VIA CONSULTANTS:
I really do not understand what they meant that I was using consultants to intimidate staff. First of all, I ran an open office all through my three years. Staff were free to seek audience with me. Last year, I called in retired directors to set the tests for promotion in all departments. Could these be the consultants they were complaining about?
One of the signatories to the petition, Suleman failed the last promotion exam. He wanted me to promote him, nevertheless. I refused. He now wants a pound of flesh. As far as I know, all those who passed the tests were promoted. We also promoted those who fell on the borderline. Allegation of intimidation is baseless.
In the unionists rush to crucify Bayo Onanuga, their accusation Number 5 was disjointed. I could not therefore figure out what they were alleging. Suffice it to say that the Intervention fund for the election was used strictly for the purposes for which the fund was released. Fifteen Peugeot cars approved by government were bought directly from Peugeot Automobile after a waiver from BPP and approval of Federal Executive Council (FEC). 100 quality HP laptops were bought and 150 ipads and Samsung tabs were also bought as approved by BPP. All were distributed to reporters, editors and some members of staff in other departments. The records are there in the store.
Also Galaxy Backbone, a government agency which is our internet service provider was invited to upgrade NAN bandwidth as approved by Mr. President. Abuja headquarters which previously had 5 MBPS up and down was upgraded to 30 MBPS and Lagos with 1 MBPS was upgraded to 10 MBPS up and down. Galaxy Backbone can confirm. NAN SMS platform was also expanded. The books are always open to independent investigation. We welcome ICPC and EFCC.
TERMINATION/SUSPENSION OF STAFF
The appointments of two members of staff were terminated because they wrote fake stories. It is a capital offence in journalism for an officer to sit down in the comfort of his room to concoct stories. Five other officers, at various times, were suspended for similar offences. They were duly queried but Management was not satisfied with the explanation as their offences put the Federal Government and NAN in serious disrepute.Three persons suspended in 2017, two of them, deputy directors, wrote a spurious story that the Federal Government had increased fees in tertiary schools, quoting a fake press release credited to an ASUU chairman in the University of Ibadan. The man denied issuing the press statement. NAN retracted the story and wrote a letter of apology to the ASUU official.
Due process was followed in the actions taken by management. Left to the petitioners, I should not discipline staff who crossed the yellow and red lines, including committing the capital offence of writing fake news.
NAN 40th ANNIVERSARY:
The 40th Anniversary of NAN was planned to hold in October last year but the organising committee made a shabby arrangement. The Board of Directors asked us to suspend the celebration. The donors were informed.
All the donations, about N5million were kept with NAN BIZCOM as they were not revenue that should go into TSA.For now, the money has been borrowed to renovate the NAN Media Centre in Lagos, believing the centre will make the money back. ( I attach the photos of the media centre, before and after our renovation)
N500M LIBEL SUIT
At this moment, there is no such libel suit against the agency. It exists in the imagination of the petitioners.
The faceless group that calls itself CONCERN(SIC) STAFF OF NAN, accused me of sabotage, alleging that my PMNEWS breaks news before NAN. This is again groundless. PMNEWS subscribes to NAN and had been a subscriber for many years. PMNEWS also gets its news from a variety of sources.
The accusation is surprising and self-indicting to the faceless petitioners. NAN should break news as a news agency, not the other way round. Besides, I am neither the editor-in-chief or reporter-in-chief of NAN and only help occasionally when stories are badly written. But I thank the group for raising this matter.
Since my arrival in 2016, one unending campaign that I have waged was to get NAN journalists report news instantaneously. Subscribers complain constantly about shoddily written and edited stories. They complain about late news. More often NAN reports news five, six hours, even at 10 hours, after the event and when we do report, our stories compare poorly to the ones written by subscribers we serve. I had issued many queries. I had conducted many grammar clinics and brought in experts to help out. I appointed an Ombudsman. The efforts have not made the impact I wanted as the shoddiness continues.
This I must say is at the heart of the agency’s problems. Many editorial staffers of NAN are simply not qualified to be in the newsroom, a problem caused by compromised recruitment of the past. And because of the poor quality of news they produce, the agency is unable to attract many subscribers, especially outside the country. Subscribers to the agency’s SMS news alerts would have come across the shameful errors made by the journalists on a daily basis. Some NAN journalists can’t write correctly ‘Muhammadu Buhari’ or ‘Yemi Osinbajo’. Ignorance and incompetence, are so deep seated, so palpable.
OFFICIAL INJUSTICE AND IMPUNITY:
They got their facts wrong. The editorial chiefs, who I suspect, wrote the second faceless petition, want vehicles personally allocated them, against the government rules. We do not even have such luxury now. Vehicles are now in the pool.
RECRUITMENT/NAN AS A FAMILY BUSINESS:
I have only conducted one recruitment exercise since I joined NAN. An approval was given by the government for the employment of 52 persons, as replacement for departed staff. An examination was conducted and the best were recruited. To use Trumpian language, NAN had never before assembled
such high quality recruits in one fell swoop, in its recent history. Management is today proud of the quality of staff employed. They are the future of NAN. I do not regret engaging them.
Last year, a decision was taken to review allowances paid to corps members, IT Students and my official driver. The allowances have been in place for more than six years.I had no nephew that came to serve in NAN.
In all, I see the petitions as an attempt to rubbish the good work I have done in the agency. I am ready for a probe. The EFCC or ICPC should be invited to check the records. Since I assumed duty as Managing Director, I have never dipped my hands into the Agency’s coffers. I have demonstrated financial discipline by reducing waste, all because I believe the agency must survive first to fulfil its core business of news gathering and distribution.
All the past three years, the unions have never accused me of financial impropriety. It is painful that at the end of my tenure, they suddenly cooked up the malicious and actionable allegations. All records are available to support my submission and I hope the signatories to the petition will be ready to defend their libellous allegations.
The lies are designed to block my re-appointment. I wish them good luck. I believe the petitioners are afraid of impending reforms in the Agency and are doing everything possible to thwart efforts to make NAN compete favourably with its peers. I attach a summary of my achievements the past three years. I also suggest that the Honourable Minister call the signatories to a meeting on Monday, to discuss the allegations. I need to confront them face-to-face.