New Nigerian Newspapers (NNN) used to be the pride of Northern Nigeria just like Nigerian Tribune in the South-west then. The newspaper outfit was been managed by the federal government since when it was established in 1966. But in 1996, it was on record that the 19 Northern States government agreed to take over the verbrated voice that must be reckoned with across the country from FG since the founder, Sir Ahmadu Bello of blessed memory, was from the region. Shortly after taken over from FG, the company began nosediving due to insufficient funding or inadequate commitment by majority of the states to fulfil their monthly pledge. So, the company eventually went into coma for three years before been revived and then reduced to a mere laptop as it now publish only online. In this interview with SHOLA OJO, the current Managing Director of the company, MALLAM TUKUR ABDULRAHMAN expressed optimism that the newspaper will hit the newsstands soon as there is concrete plan by the owners in this direction though may have to dispose some of its property as well as managing it through public private partnership. EXCERPT:
Sir, can you tell us the present state of NNN?
The New Nigerian Newspapers was on the agenda of Northern States Governors ‘Forum (NSGF) first former meeting after their inauguration last year. In that meeting, they decided to form a committee which was made up of some secretaries to the state government (about six of them) to take an indepth studies of NNN and come up with recommendations as well as with what they think the NSGF can do abo
But at their (NSGF) last meeting here in Kaduna in March or there about, the committee presented the report to them and the report offered them two suggestions; one is to outrightly liquidate the company that is, sell all its assets and offset the liabilities and if there is anything remaining, they will invest it in other legacy institutions of the late Sir Ahmadu Bello (the Sardauna of Sokoto) who was the initiator of many establishment in Northern Nigeria which NNN happened to be one.
The second option was to revive NNN with some modifications which was considered by the NSGF. I meant that was what the Northern governors agreed to go with. They agreed to revive the place by a way of taking stock of property of the company, see the ones they can dispose to raise funds to settle the liabilities. And then see how much they can invest in coming up with a new media outfit.
By new media outfit, they meant an outfit that can produce a newspaper of course that will strengthened it’s online edition and probably have an addition of an electronic media either radio or television or both. It was decided that okay, some of the assets particularly the landed property of the company should be sold and then the proceeds should be used in offsetting the liabilities of the company and investing in making the NNN to come up again as a formidable media outfit that will stand on its own.
So after the meeting, the committee of the SSGs that first work on these two proposals was mandated to continue to ensure that the decision reached at the last NSGF meeting were implemented. That committee has been meeting. Even last week, they held their meeting here in Kaduna to ensure that the decisions that were reached were implemented. Probably by the next meeting of the Northern governors, we will have more details; we will have progress report on how far they have gone.
So what has changed, what is NSGF doing on their own apart from setting off some of the landed property of the company to offset it’s liabilities and to continue with its publication?
The first thing is to raise funds. And to raise the funds like I have said repeatedly, they have to sell some of the property of the company since it has property in valued geographical setting across the country. It is not easy.
Any sign of seriousness and zeal as regarding the selection of property to be sold, have they commence the process?
Yes the process is on and that was why I told you that they have been meeting. They were basically meeting on the issues of NNN. Trying to take better inventory of the property, trying to itemize which ones will be conveniently sold without necessarily affecting the outlook of the newspaper’s organization, and trying to see the ones that are capable of bringing good money that can address the problem at hand. This I think may take a little while to come by. So I think it will be too early for anybody to expect that a drastic change could be seen but the committee is doing its best. They have invited me to two of their meetings and I knew they were making progress.
Peradventure the company reopens tomorrow, are there enough staff remaining on ground to power the newspaper outfit?
Yes. With this latest decision, the company will be modified. The staff strength would have to be looked into. You have to determine how many staff you need, what calibre of staff do you need, do you have them in the company at present, do you need more or less of what is on ground. All these will depend on the type of media outfit you want to put in place. For example, if you want to introduce television, certainly you will require more hands that have where whither in the electronic journalism. If you are continuing with printing of newspapers, you may required more competent hands to man the new machine that is, the state-of-the-art machines that will be put in place for the production of the newspaper.
So it is when you determine the nature of the new media outfit you are talking about and that is what will determine the number and caliber of staff you will hire.
Now, there used to be subvention from the 19 Northern state governors who are the owners of the company even though not all of them are faithful, is there any plan to continue giving subvention if the newspaper eventually gets back to newsstands?
In the event that decision is taken to make the company a business outfit, that will automatically means it will be run in such a way that it will sustain itself. There are lots of private media organizations in the country today and they are not doing bad because they don’t have subvention from anybody. So the same way those private media organizations are operating and sustaing themselves is the way NNN too will follow. Remember the owners are also considering public-private partnership. So if the private people come and invest their money, certainly the NNN will not be run as government outfit but it will rather be run as purely business outfit and that will answer the question of sustainability.
In Nigeria today, many of the so called media outfits are finding it difficult to pay salaries of their staff. But despite the present state of NNN, you are still striving to pay salaries of your staff once a while, how is this possible?
Well there is no magic attached to it except for the fact that the forefathers of the company had foresight. They put certain measures in place back then that is augmenting the company now. They established some things that will improve the revenue generation of NNN. For instance, there are number of landed property that are on rent. And once in a while, we collect the rent and use it to pay salary in this condition will found ourselves in.
The only seemingly magic, that is if you want to call it magic, was trying to explore certain areas that were not offer for such rent before. For instance our Lagos office which has been lying fallow for more than ten years until we came on board and decided not to allow it to rot away.
We need to pay bills; light, water, sanitation, environmental etc even when the building in questions is not in use. Then we felt a building like that in a strategically located geographical setting in place like Lagos should not be a liability at least let it vend for itself. So we went there and we decided to earmarked certain area and rent it out including some space without offices. We are getting some money from there and thank God, that has form part of what we have been using to alleviate the sufferings of our people.
There are people considered by many to be diehard-readers of NNN who cannot just wait to see the paper back on newsstand, is there any hope that the paper will come back with its impressive unique contents that made it readers happy?
Yes I thank them for been patient and loyal to NNN. You need to see number of subscribers of the online version of NNN. That shows that our readers are loyal and belief in credibility and originality which we are known for.
Ten years ago when we published a special edition to commemorate 40 years anniversary of NNN, there was somebody who wrote that the 40 years, in which we have been publishing, he has never means an edition. The editor as at that time sent reporters to him and interviewed him and was published in that special edition. So there are many others like that who are dedicated readers of the paper. We want to thank them very much because without them there wouldn’t have been NNN. We also want to assure them that eventually NNN will come on street and better in terms of content, texture and what have you than what they used to know.
What is your final words for the in-house staff who have been on standby all the while the travail may last?
Yes thank you for that important question. To our in-house staff, I will not be tired of thanking and commending them for their patience because it takes a lot of patience for someone to work in NNN and stay this far. So I’m commending them for their patience, understanding and resilient because that is what is given us hope as management that yes the NNN will still bounce back as we can all see that there are people who are very passionate about the place.
That has given us hope and encourage us to do more to strive to ensure that things are better in NNN. So we are thanking them and praying that very soon, things will come back to normal.
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