NUNC DIMITTIS FOR THE CHAMPION?
By Anthony Opara
On Thursday I passed by Champion Newspapers at Ilasamaja, Lagos and the once bubbling newspaper house was in pitch darkness. I was worried and called a former colleague who I believed was still plying his trade at the Newspaper. In summary he told me that the newspaper that was once the voice of south eastern Nigeria was now a shadow of itself with the proprietor Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu owing workers over thirty months salaries and allowances.
Apparently the Publisher, an Engineer and Chairman of Hardel and Enic Engineering Company had lost interest in the newspaper business but weary of closing shop because his first daughter Ms Nwadiuto has for the past four years been Managing Director of the group after the exit of Ugo Onuoha. Apparently lacking in business acumen to run a newspaper chain, she ran the paper aground with bills mounting every month with the paper coming out only when some advertisers paid for some editions.
This was after Chief Iwuanyanwu, a chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had sold the paper and informed the union that he will provide about three hundred Million Naira to settle at least half of their salaries and allowances. He reneged on this promise arguing that he didn’t realize the level of his indebtedness after selling the Champion Newspaper compound at Ilasamaja. He had promised that since his daughter was interested in publishing, he would buy her another property to run a newspaper business and staff who were interested in remaining will join her at the new place. As I write, the main office complex is without power and few staff work at the back of the building when advert money is raised to publish for a day or two depending on how much that comes in.
Octogenarian Chief Henry the pioneer Managing Director of the paper set the stage for what the paper has become. Chief Odukomaiya, broke even in the first year of the newspaper but this was at the risk of the workers who were the least paid in the industry then. What drove the workers many of who came from the defunct Statesman Newspaper owned by the Imo State government saw Champion as a patriotic duty to the East as the paper became the only national daily that spoke out for the marginalization of igbo people. The Publisher on his part used the paper to feather his political and business nest. Chief Iwuanyanwu is a man of Timber and Calibre both literary and figuratively but lacks in political sagacity as one cannot point out what he has done for igbo people in spite of his use of his newspaper empire to support whatever political association he joins. While politics may have lined his pocket, it has done nothing for him for his followers. I am not sure the Chief can win his ward in a keen contest and this may be why he hasn’t contested for any position in his many years sojourn in politics.
The Chief sits on the board of several companies including the National Lottery Nig Limited he appears to run from pillar to post when it comes to finance. During the Otokoto saga, the killers of the little Anthony whose death sparked off riots in the Imo state Capital and led to the destruction of houses and business concerns of all those accused of having a hand in the armed robbery and kidnapping that was the order of the day tried to drag the name of the Chief into the fray saying that he was their godfather. The accusation failed in the face of lack of evidence in the well-known trials that led to the death sentence of some of the major actors including Chief Unogu aka Otokoto, the brain behind the killings and kidnapping, one of his sons was also found guilty and shot at the stake in Owerri.
I consider the fate of Champion Newspaper as a betrayal of trust. Though he put down the money to give birth to the paper, it appeared at some time that he held it in trust for ndi igbo. But for the Sun Newspaper owned by former Abia Governor, Orji Uzor kalu, no oufit represents the voice of ndi igbo even as many of their brilliant minds work in other newspapers. A paper that was edited at some point by the likes of Emma Agu and Ibe Njoku ought not to be allowed to die.
Investigations by Difference Newspapers indicate that what is now being referred to as the death of the Newspaper began in the era of Emma Agu, as Managing Director in the 1990’s. Ex staffers of the company said Emma Agu ran the paper as clannish enterprise where people were favoured not for their productivity but their loyalty to the management defined as Emma and his clique of bootlickers. Ex staffers spoke of how they were denied opportunities because they refused to kow tow to the clique of cabal if you may. Others said the cabal who were mostly not well educated but attended journalism training rather than universities were favoured by the Cabal from Imo Newspapers were required qualification was Nigerian Institute of Journalism or Times Journalism Institute. There were others who said this was not the case but favouritsim which reigned supreme during Emma Agu’s tenure.
Emma Agu left when he was appointed Presidential spokesman for Chief Ernest Shonekan when he was appointed head of the Interim National Government which was short lived as General Sani Abacha kicked him out and took after the infamous step aside by the gap tooted General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. Ugo Onuoha described by ex staffers and even those still in the employment of the newspaper as a thorough professional inherited a much abused and financially constrained newspaper even as he sought to diversify the newspaper. It was during his tenure that Champion experimented with printing from Owerri and also created another title to operate from Owerri to also service Chief Iwuanyanwu’s political interest. All these attempts failed before Dr Nwadiuto Iwuanyanwu the first daughter who was Execuutive Director took the reigns of power until now that the paper is a shadow of herself.