Reliable Delta State sources have informed SaharaReporters that publications of the Independent Newspapers Limited, which returned to the newsstands on February 22 after a hiatus of nearly five months, are being funded by the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC), a government agency.
The newspaper group is owned by former Delta State governor, James Ibori, who is in jail in the United Kingdom.
The newspapers were shut down following an industrial action embarked upon by the company’s workers to back their demands for over 16 months of unpaid wages.
The company, which publishes Daily Independent, Independent on Saturday and Independent on Sunday, had been gasping for survival for about nine years. When the strike began in October 2015, many people feared that the company would finally fold up.
The strike was officially called on February 1 2016. Its end was marked by the sack of over 100 members of staff for the role they were perceived to have played during the strike. While it lasted, the Ted Iwere-led management of the company started refurbishing the company's premises, sparking speculation that a television and radio arm of the company would soon come into operation.
According to our sources, DESOPADEC provided the funds with which laid off workers were paid. DESOPADEC’s intervention in the financial crisis that has been rocking the 14- year old newspaper since 2007 and which led to the initial ouster of Iwere as the Executive Director in 2009, started last year with the appointment of Olorogun Williams Makinde as Managing Director of DESOPADEC.
Makinde, said the sources, became a member of Independent Newspaper Limited board of directors mid-2013 during an internal crisis that led to the compulsory retirement of such high-ranking editorial staff as Akpandem James, Ikechukwu Amaechi, Olumide Iyanda and Oguwike Nwachuku
Makinde’s name was, however, taken off the newspaper's masthead as a member of the board immediately he got the appointment at DESOPADEC. But he still attends meetings of the board.
“When the board, chaired by a politician who, last year, sought to be Bornu State governor on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), met in September 2015 to persuade workers not to go on strike, Makinde attended,” one of the sources said. “He came very late, though.”
Makinde, who is said to have owed his appointment to Ibori's influence, sources maintained, reached an agreement with Iwere to keep the flagging titles afloat by providing funding through generous advert patronage. A key element in this plan is a monthly pull-out of four pages.
“This will be done in the form of pull-outs once every month. This will amount to N10 million monthly. The plan is to get it to run for one year and get it renewed. As I speak with you, more than half of the money for one year has been paid to Independent upfront. The money was what was used to pay the sacked workers and buy materials needed to kick-start production of the newspaper," said a top source.
Makinde is now being described as a new investor, said sources. “If you hear people saying that there is a new investor, they are referring to the money that Makinde is diverting to the company. No other person has invested a dime," a source declared.
Staff who escaped being sacked have been told that they will be paid the backlog of salaries and allowances in March and June 2016. They have also been promised a 50 percent salary increase.
Meanwhile, the company has employed a Chief Operating Officer, Gopal Krishna, an Indian, who is said to earn N1 million monthly in addition to a tastefully furnished official apartment in a plush part of Ikeja. Other perks of his new office include return tickets to India with his family whenever he is on vacation with his wife anytime. Before bagging his current job, the Indian and his wife were said to have been out of work and were about to be evicted from the apartment he was given by his previous employers.
Curiously, though, Krishna's name is not included in the list of the management staff of the company.