BY SHAMAN MOMOH
Chief Nduka Obaigbena is at it again.
The ebullient publisher of ThisDay Newspapers (founded in 1995), the newspaper that changed the face of newspaper publishing in Nigeria, has had his AriseTV channel shut down in the UK over an alleged £3m pounds debt, as reported by TNS.
For those who have been following Prince Nduka’s career, this is just the latest in a long line of underhanded activities that tend to start well and end disastrously.
The South African outlet of his ThisDay newspaper started pretty well and soon dove into troubled waters. Claims and counter claims of non-payment of staff and suppliers were rife. The newspaper would eventually shut down, although it should be said that it is believed in some quarters that he was forced out of the SA market by some newspaper proprietors who may have been threatened by Chief Nduka’s braggadocio.
And then there was the ThisDay Music Festival. The first one held in 2006, with Beyonce and Jay Z in attendance. There were lucky they got paid as many others claimed they were not, or at least had their payments delayed. Saville Row impresario, Ozwald Boateng, was at the 2008 edition of the ThisDay Africa Rising Festival. He is said to have bitterly complained to anyone that listened how embarrassed he was that he had to eventually put on his show at almost 3am and his models were locked out of their hotel rooms due to non-payment of their bills. It is also alleged that he once got Africa’s first Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, locked out of his room at the Waldof Astoria where he had put the famed dramatist up for an event.
Legendary are the tales of Obaigbena owing staff salaries or just about anybody who provides any of his enterprises with services of any kind. In fact, the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) has had to picket his ThisDay Newspapers many times over non-payment of staff salaries. It is rumoured that when journalists voice concerns about non-payment of their salaries, Obaigbena would gaze at them from above the rim of his glasses, shake his rather massive head and wonder: “Why are you asking me about salaries? I have given you pages in a newspaper as big as ThisDay, if you do not know what to do with it, that is your problem. Stop bothering me.“
But you discountenance ‘The Duke’ at your own risk. He is a man of ideas, and means. No other journalist (if one can call him that) or newspaper publisher has floated as many ideas as the Delta prince: Music festivals, fashion festivals, awards etc. He has brought past presidents (Gorge Bush and Bill Clinton), past governor and Hollywood A-lister (Arnold Schwarzenegger), celebrities (Beyonce, Jay Z, Chris Brown, Snoop Dogg etc).
And clearly, no one in the media has the kind of connections that he can boast of with the political class. No newspaper has supplied people into public service as ThisDay. Working at ThisDay is always a guaranteed career path towards public service. Tunji Bello, Segun Adeniyi, Moses Jolayemi, Duro Meseko, Yusuf Olaniyonu and many others.
It thus seems though that his political powers have waned recently, which shouldn’t be surprising as Nigeria’s new president famously belongs to no one and everyone.
And this might have something to do with N670m which was allegedly handed over to Obaigbena in his capacity as Chairman of Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria, NPAN to share with other newspaper owners over alleged confiscation and destruction of editions of their newspapers by the Goodluck Jonathan administration. The Buhari administration is now probing that engagement as part of the #DasukiGate investigations, and Obaigbena is rumoured to be residing abroad currently. Very convenient.
So, AriseTV is shut; the London and New York offices are closed. There’s nothing festive about all the festivals he organises right now. He isn’t awarding anybody anything anytime soon. Unless he has a dossier filled with the dirtiest secrets in town on Buhari, he’s not going to get any joy from the present administration. All ThisDay journalists should feel free to resign en masse and he would fill the papers himself. Daily.
But whatever you do, don’t count Nduka Obaigbena out. Never count Nduka Obaigbena out.