Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Thisday Newspapers Group, Prince Nduka Obaigbena, has written to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), explaining his role in the controversial payments made to media organisations by the office of the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Ibrahim Dasuki (retd).
Operatives of the EFCC, investigating alleged diversion of $2.1 billion meant for the procurement of arms had accused Thisday publisher and owner of Arise Television, Obaigbena, of receiving at least N650 million from the former NSA.
But in a letter dated December 30, 2015 and at the request of the EFCC boss, Obaigbena provided clarifications on a total of N670 million received by General Hydrocarbons Ltd on behalf of Thisday Newspapers Group and the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN).
According to the breakdown of the sum, N550 million was compensation to Thisday Newspapers Group for the bombing of its Abuja office by the Boko Haram sect, while N120 million was for the members of NPAN, whose newspapers were confiscated by military authorities.
On the use of the General Hydrocarbons Ltd to receive the payments, Obaigbena explained that the company was set up as the power supply, diesel and fuel logistics arm of the Thisday Newspapers Group.
He said former President Goodluck Jonathan made it clear that he did not want to create a precedent by paying Thisday compensation, considering that the nation had several victims of Boko Haram bombings around the country.
Obaigbena clarified that once payment was approved for the reconstruction of the United Nations buildings in Abuja, continued refusal or reluctance to pay Thisday became tenuous, as the company was the next institution bombed after the UN and Police Headquarters buildings, which were then being reconstructed by the Federal Government.
Part of the letter reads:
“When the ONSA (Office of the National Security Adviser) said that they had approval to pay us, but would rather not set a precedent by paying THISDAY directly, we nominated a member company of the THISDAY Newspapers Group, called General Hydrocarbons Ltd., to receive the payments on behalf of the group of companies, given that the assets of General Hydrocarbons Ltd – mainly generators – were also destroyed in the bombings;
“We did ask our insurance consortium to pay compensation but they said we were not covered for war and or terrorism risk. Until that time, we never knew we needed war or terrorism insurance in Nigeria as the government had not officially declared war. With the power of hindsight, we now know better.
“We simply used the compensation funds to defray some 30 per cent of the N1.7 billion we already paid to 3rd party printers for services in lieu of the Abuja press, while we went to our banks for refinancing printing presses, computer-to-plate and other facilities.”
On why ONSA classified the payment as “Energy Consultancy,” he said, Thisday did not know and could not determine why and how security and intelligence agencies classify their payments.
“General Hydrocarbons Ltd did not engage in ‘energy consultancy’ – whatever that means – with the Federal Government and or ONSA. They simply acted in agency collecting approved payments for and on behalf of THISDAY Newspapers Group and the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) – to which the newspapers group belongs,” he said.
On why ONSA paid General Hydrocarbons Ltd and not directly to the account of NPAN, he said: “We did supply the account of NPAN to the Federal Government through the ONSA once we agreed the N120, 000, 000 compensation for member newspapers…”