What state agents call a routine check the media put down to a blizzard—just because it re-opened old wounds
By Elijah Olusegun
The EFCC knew it was spoiling for war when its operatives visited, according to the commission, the Sun headquarters in Lagos last week. The bad blood between the NPAN and the commission’s boss Ibrahim Magu was never thought a big if when the alleged raid was put together.
It was just media magnate Orji Kalu, the Sun owner, against the commission—and both have been in court for ten years—over allegations of corruption.
But the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria butted in bigly, and published on Monday an advertorial in the Leadership and ThisDay rapping the EFCC, and screaming media repression.
Orji has made no statement though.
And since the raid, denials, blood-and-thunder stories have been flowing from all the parties involved.
“For one gruelling hour, EFCC operatives subjected our staff to crude intimidation, psychological and emotional trauma, even as some of the men accused our organization of publishing pro-Biafra, Boko Haram and Niger Delta militant stories, as they surveyed our premises,” the Sun management wrote in a press release.
The EFCC said on Monday it was all a big, fat made-up story.
“No staff of the media outfit was molested or intimidated for the few minutes that operatives of the Commission spent on the premises of the company,” said Wilson Uwujaren, EFCC’s spokesperson.
“There was no reason to molest anybody as the commission has always related professionally with the publishing outfit.”
All these claims and counter-claims might just be red herrings.
Nigerians, however, haven’t forgotten the recent history of ThisDay, the Leadership, the NPAN, its chairman Nduka Obaigbena and the commission.
It all that dates back to 2015. Magu, as the commission’s new helmsman then, had wanted to impress his boss President Muhammadu Buhari in the sweep that followed the $2.1 billion Dasukigate scandal that rocked the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
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Some of the paper trails led the EFCC to the Nigerian media—the editors guild, the NPAN, Obaigbena, and others. Obaigbena’s General Hydrocarbons Ltd received the media largesse. Part of the N790 million ex-NSA Sambo Dasuki gifted the industry was shared by the NPAN at the Leadership headquarters in Abuja, under the chairmanship of ThisDay’s owner Obaigbena. The Sun and 11 other media giants got N120 million. The Nigeria Guild of Editors standing on their moral high ground to call for a probe of the arms scandal also got a lump sum: N50 million for their Lagos secretariat building.
Only the Punch, the Guardian, and four other newspapers, including the Tribune, the Peoples Daily. the Daily Telegraph, and the Daily Independent denied partaking of the booty.
According to Obaigbena’s account while in EFCC cage, Dasuki gave them the money as compensation for a Boko Haram’s attack on his company and other media houses in 2014. But the NPAN said the compesatiom was for a military clampdown on the media about that time. And all the pay-outs were made in the run-up to the 2015 election.
It was a golden-handcuff well deserved, anyway.
“There is simply no nexus between payments made for compensation, to us victims of terrorism as well as to newspapers in compensation for an unprovoked attack on free speech, and any arms purchase budget,” Obaigbena argued in a statement to the EFCC.
As the bubble burst, and NPAN couldn’t help naming names, the Sun went public, and returned its share of N10 million to NPAN’s secretariat. The EFCC asked Obaigbena and others to also return their millions.
They all did—no doubt with penned up anger and spleen for Magu.
Uwujaren said the animosity is playing out now.
“It is no secret that some NPAN members are yet to forgive the Commission for the money recovered from them in the course of the ONSA investigation,” he said.
Indeed, it cuts both ways.
Magu, the Sun said, is also stewing because it published a story of how his wife is stacking up choice assets in Dubai.
But the EFCC said that was a lame excuse. And it was personal.
“Magu is pursuing that option in his private capacity and his lawyer, Wahab Shittu, did write the Sun and his letter was widely published in the media on March 31, 2017.”
The two sides, the big news and Magu, are not only fighting media and legal wars; there’s also a war of attrition raging on the inside between Obaigbena and the EFCC boss.
For frisking ThisDay’s owner last year, Magu stepped on toes. And one of those hurt was Abba Kyari. The CoS to Buhari was formerly a chairman of the media giant’s editorial board. And the bond is still strong.
It was Kyari who cleared Obaigbena of the no-fly embargo Magu placed on him. State agents, last year, told unwary Onaigbena at the airport he could not leave the country . A phone call to his former chairman now at Aso Rock froze the order right away.
And unofficial reports from the Villa have said the Onaigbena case is among others Kyari will ensure he wears out Magu on the Senate confirmation of the EFCC chairman.
Magu has been rejected twice by the upper chamber as the commission substantive chairman. The intrigue by power players surrounding his rejection goes deeper than mere nay-saying
But the commission has stated no individual—Obaigbena or the NPAN—can loom larger than Nigeria. In the on-going realpolitik between the anti-corruption fighter and an allegedly corrupt media clique, the statement might not be entirely true.
There are wheels within wheels.