Pioneer owners of the troubled news magazine, Newswatch, said Thursday they were seeking broad support from the other shareholders to stand up against the magazine’s closure by majority partner, billionaire Jimoh Ibrahim.
Mr. Ibrahim announced an indefinite shut down of the nearly three-decade old magazine on Monday, shocking its readers and the co-owners of the flagship medium.
He was quoted as saying that Newswatch, distressed by years of financial uncertainty, needed a “corporate surgery”.
He said the decision had been approved by the majority 51 per cent shareholders which he controls.
The magazine’s initial owners, Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese, Yakubu Mohammed and Soji Akinrinade, said Mr. Ibrahim had violated the terms of his majority shareholding, and signaled they might seek to wrest control of the magazine from the businessman.
They said the decision was never discussed at the company’s board meeting, and they were shocked to read about it in the news media.
“These decisions break the spirit and letter of the understanding and agreement we had with Mr. Ibrahim concerning the future of our beloved Newswatch,” a statement signed by Messrs Ekpu, Agbese, Mohammed and Akinrinade, said. “We believe the decisions to be illegal and clearly counter-productive.”
The magazine’s long history of financial troubles saw it consistently waning in quality and circulation.
Backlogs of staff salaries went unpaid.
Mr. Ibrahim, already in ownership of the National Mirror Newspaper, and with interest in diverse business sectors, and at times straddling politics, bought over 51 per cent of Newswatch in May 2011, sidelining its pioneer four directors, who with late Dele Giwa, founded the magazine in 1985.
The move, was to “inject fresh fund” into the company, Messrs Ekpu, Agbese, Mohammed and Akinrinade said.
With interest in widening his business’ perimeters in the media sector, Mr. Ibrahim pledged to clear the magazine’s debt and reinvigorate the Newswatch brand, the former editors said.
They added, “The new capital injection was to move the magazine to the next level as we had conceived it. We thought Mr. Ibrahim believed in this too. He promised, in a public announcement to the staff of the company after the completion board meeting on May 5, 2011, that he would turn the company around by investing in a new printing press, building a new head office at 3 Billings Way, Oregun, improving on the technology already available at Newswatch and funding the company to enable the staff, particularly the editorial staff to do their work diligently and effectively.
“We are astonished that after nearly 15 months, Mr. Jimoh is now talking about “corporate surgery.” What exactly has been happening at Newswatch all this time then? What happened to the turn-around, which was to have been completed within one year by the new management?,” they said.
“The situation rapidly deteriorated instead, and a petition by the company’s staff indicates.
“The editorial department became incapacitated, the library collapsed with resource materials hardly available due to lack of fund.
“Reporters also found it difficult to get money to travel for stories.”
In the time, Mr. Ibrahim has unilaterally moved the corporate headquarters of Newswatch Communications Limited to the corporate headquarters of his Global Fleet conglomerate on Broad Street, Lagos Island.
The magazines former owners called for a reversal of the decisions and said they were “consulting the other stakeholders on the next steps to take to ensure Newswatch is not destroyed.”