Newswatch vs. Jimoh Ibrahim

Recourse to memory will show it is not often you see Nigerian editors running a newspaper/magazine as a successful commercial enterprise. Newswatch and its editors therefore deserve some credit for running their newsmagazine as an ongoing successful business concern for an unbroken 28 years until they were finally outwitted by Jimoh Ibrahim, a veteran of Nigeria brand of crude capitalism.

This feat is unmatched in the history of newspaper and magazine publication in Nigeria, The trend has always been either the collapse of editor-managed publications because of incompetence as business managers or as often the case, being outwitted by their more business savvy and ruthless partners.

And when the end finally came on May 5, 2011 for Newswatch, started in 1984 by the late Dele Giwa and the trio of Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese, and Yakubu Mohammed, it was as a victim of two factors: incompetence as business managers and the editors over-reliance on idealism as against pragmatism of their adversary whose sole objective as a ruthless capitalist is reducing the weak to servitude that the strong can continue to flourish.

Jimoh Ibrahim in fact claimed during the signing of memorandum of understanding that based on the reports submitted by members of his acquisition team, “the principal problem of the magazine was that of finance and therefore his new team would concentrate on the managerial aspect of the company”. Under the new arrangement, the backlog of seven months staff salary owed by the old out-going management will be paid by the new management while all debts being owed by the old management will also be paid by the new owner.

But Ibrahim failed to pay salaries as promised. He also did not show interest in expansion such as building of a new headquarters as recently claimed by Mohammed during the last court proceeding. But Ibrahim dared the ex-editors and rested the news magazine insisting it was “due for corporate surgery”.

But the truth is as told by Jimoh Ibrahim who now has all the aces it is no more in dispute that he offered N1billion for the control of 52% of Newswatch. It is a fact the ex-Newswatch editors/directors resigned after collecting mouth watering severance packages. Ray Ekpu has at least admitted collecting N79m with an outstanding of N30m Jimoh Ibrahim still held on to.

The law also seems to side with Jimoh Ibrahim. As Justice Okon Abang who dismissed the case of the Newswatch minority share holders has argued, “since the defendants who had resigned as directors are still claiming to have the right to declare a trade dispute, this is likely to affect the right of majority shareholders, and that gives the majority shareholders locus standi to bring the suit”.

But besides Ibrahim’s moral and judicial victories, I think it is fruitless fighting against a man that is always ready to fight with might and means and sometimes in public when anything impinges on his rights.

The other day when Sanusi, the CBN governor lumped his name together with those he claimed contributed to the collapse of many banks as a result of their non-performing’ loans, it would be recalled, Jimoh Ibrahim spent several millions of naira, close to the amount credited against his name on advertorial pages to tell the public that he was not indebted to Oceanic Bank or any bank for that matter.

When the senate made uncomplimentary remarks about airline operators after the crash of DANA Airline that killed 153, Ibrahim alone hit back at senators he claimed “know next to nothing about aviation but chose to pontificate”. “Just because we elected them”, he thundered, “does not mean they can just talk any how…Let them come to the industry and see if they can successfully manage one aircraft”.

I also expect my friend Ray Ekpu and his ex-editors to be wary of an adversary who admitted when he started secondary school, he was always the second last in his class. “There used to be 24 pupils in a class. I always got the 23rd position”, he recently told a reporter. Ibrahim today describes himself as a “corporate surgeon specializing in buying sick corporations”. But the available records indicate Ibrahim instead of surgery has often performed autopsy.

Ray Ekpu also seems to have ignored Ibrahim’s subtle threat who upon being criticized for closing down the Newswatch said: “When God got angry with the Israelites, he unleashed fire on them. I should be praised not criticized. …. I’m not unleashing fire but simply suspending the magazine.” Surely there must be a more subtle way for Ray Ekpu to collect his outstanding N30m without inviting the wrath of Ibrahim.

I cannot imagine how Ray Ekpu and his colleagues who were dazed by Jimoh Ibrahim’s N1billion will now see themselves as a match to a man who said “I am bigger than Richard Branson”, or who told the governor of his state after an encounter at the airport that “visiting a private aircraft without invitation, when he is not an airport official, is a security risk and amounts to conduct unbecoming of a governor.”

Above all, Ibrahim has little to lose in terms of reputation in spite scurrilous attack by his political, business and now media adversaries. For doing exactly what he knows how to do best – buy distressed companies that “are assets rich, which he then uses as collateral to borrow more money from banks”, he has been described as “the proverbial business pirate who destroys and kills any business he gets his hands on, while enriching himself”.

He has been libelled by enemies who alleged he diverted N35b aviation fund meant to support his now dead airlines to NICON Investment Limited claimed to be jointly owned 100% with his wife.

Jimoh Ibrahim’s envious enemies are not done; they wickedly alleged he converted N10 billion paid by the Accountant-General of the Federation to NICON Insurance Plc for the payment of pensioners to buy himself a Bombardier Challenger 625 private jet.

Ray Ekpu must note that with all the assaults from different directions, Ibrahim has continued to wax stronger.

The Newswatch editors have nothing to be ashamed of. They have done well for themselves when one remembers that after being out-witted by British and Nigerian business men that owned the Daily Times, Ernest Ikoli, the editor that gave the paper a character, died in a hotel room with no severance package or a roof over his head. We cannot say the same of Newswatch multi-millionaire former editors.

Uncle Sam Amuka Pemu aka ‘Sad Sam’ did not get much when he was outmanoeuvred out of The Punch by late business mogul- Aboderin after giving the paper a character. Dr Stanley Macebuh, my boss at The Guardian, gave the newspaper its character but got no severance package after late Alex Ibru, the paper’s financial backbone pushed him out accusing him of divided interest for allegedly selling sugar. Lade Bonuola, his successor did not fare any better; I’m aware he has no mansion in any of Lagos GRAs or anywhere in the country for that matter.

The ex-editors were given a bloody nose by a veteran operator in Nigeria economic jungle where there are no rules, where those who contributed to the collapse of government owned thriving business concerns such as airlines, hotels, banks’ turned-around, under government’s fraudulent privatization and commercialization programme. They took control with state money, and where, to quote Professor Bolaji Akinyemi my teacher, most Nigerian billionaires cannot account for the source of their wealth.

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