Numerous staff accuse Mr. Ibrahim of high-handedness.
The media empire of controversial businessman, Jimoh Ibrahim, appears to be in crisis as staff leave his two print platforms, National Mirror and Newswatch, while accusing the owner of high handedness and improper administration.
The exit is more in National Mirror as several management and key editorial staff leave the company in droves, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt. Newswatch recently started daily production after it was acquired by Mr. Ibrahim from its previous owners. It was formerly a weekly magazine.
Sources at the National Mirror told PREMIUM TIMES that the exits, as well as resignations, are a result of the high-handed attitude of Mr. Ibrahim, the Chief Executive Officer of Global Media Mirror, publisher of the newspaper.
But in a swift rebuttal, Mr. Ibrahim told PREMIUM TIMES that all the allegations against him were unfounded, adding that it was normal for people to leave an organization because they won’t “work here forever.”
Mr. Ibrahim is also the publisher of Newswatch newspapers.
“I don’t know anything about those who are leaving National Mirror. Is Mirror not published? So don’t ask that question. What do I know about somebody leaving or not somebody not leaving,” Mr. Ibrahim said.
A ‘HIGH-HANDED’ BOSS
Multiple sources at National Mirror newspaper told PREMIUM TIMES that the “crisis” at the organization was due to the “seeming desecration of the media profession and journalists” by Mr. Ibrahim, a lawyer, and the “subtle but effective resistance by the staff.”
“It first started with Newswatch Daily when Mr. Ibrahim fired a reporter and the features editor of Newswatch Daily for publishing an article on T.B Joshua, his ex-ally but now a foe. That was in June,” a source at the paper said.
“In August, he unilaterally fired the ED (Executive Director) Publications of Newswatch, Femi Ige, for approving a photo on cover in which (Wole) Olanipekun, SAN, appeared. Olanipekun is in Mr. Ibrahim’s black books having defended ex Air Nigeria staff against him.
“It didn’t matter that Ige was not even at work when the photo was used. He had determined to sack Ige based on spurious rumours sent to Mr. Ibrahim about the ED. He consciously encourages subordinates to send sms about their superiors and he often gives damning verdicts based on unsubstantiated messages sent to him,” the source added.
Matters got to a head at the end of last August, it was learnt, when Mr. Ibrahim summoned the management of both Mirror and Newswatch and issued a series of orders: Managing Directors can no longer be Editor in Chief; editors are now autonomous; managing directors and editors could no longer travel outside their stations without his written permission, five days to the trip; and annual leaves must be taken at a go, and no more in splits.
Furthermore, Seyi Fasugba, then editor of the Daily Mirror, was demoted to the Sunday Editor. Bolaji Tunji was moved in the opposite direction.
“It had become obvious that Mr. Ibrahim wants to play the role of Editor in Chief himself, clearing stories, approving headlines and determining cover stories,” a former employee who preferred not to be named said.
“The first time he played that role for Newswatch Daily, misleading them that Obama would visit Jonathan, in August. That embarrassing lead story, dictated by Mr. Ibrahim, turned out to be false.
“Seeing the bad hand writing on the wall, Steve (Ayorinde), the MD, applied for his vacation in full and travelled out. In his stead, an AGM from Global Fleet Oil and Gas, was appointed to act as CEO, without any media experience. Mr. Ibrahim himself played the role of Editor in Chief, often putting his stories and photos on cover, while sales plummeted.”
On return from his annual leave in November, Mr. Ayorinde tendered his resignation.
A wave of resignations followed in quick successions.
Mr. Tunji, the promoted Daily Editor, resigned from his post and moved to the newly established The Telegraph, believed to be owned by politician and businessman, Orji Kalu.
“Bolaji practically emptied the Mirror Newsroom as he took with him the Deputy Editor (Politics), Production Editor, Circulation Manager, and several others. Unlike Steve, Bolaji did not dignify Mr. Ibrahim with an exit visit, he merely sent him a text message,” a source at the National Mirror said.
Other members of staff who also left include Frank Oboh, Head of Graphics; Denrele Adeniyi, Arts Editor; Biodun Adewunmi, Head of Admin; Demola Ishola, Head of Group Audit; and Isioma Madike, an award winning investigative reporter, amongst others.
“For a paper that has produced the highest number of award-winners in d last two years (9 award winners at the December’s Nigeria Media Merit Award out of an unprecedented 22 nominations) the journalists realized they’d be better off elsewhere, inspite of the promise of free return tickets to London and 1,000 pounds for every award-winner.
“Three of them have since resigned (two left for The Nation and one for Telegraph). More are said to be preparing to exit in January.
“It’s a clear case of journalists rejecting the harsh, inhuman and crude manner that Mr. Ibrahim uses in running all his companies,” the source added.
The exits of key editors left Mr. Ibrahim scrambling for replacements as he promptly reinstated Mr. Fasugba to his former position as the Daily Editor.
Also, Kafilat Ogbara, a former staff of the Nigeria Television Authority, NTA, was appointed as Managing Director, replacing Mr. Ayorinde.
Before her appointment, Mrs. Ogbara, a lawyer and politician, served as a Special Assistant to Akinwunmi Adesina, Nigeria’s Agriculture Minister.
Despite the appointments, the Mirror newsroom is still an atmosphere pervaded by fear and uncertainty, PREMIUM TIMES, has learnt.
For instance, at the group staff party last December, Mr. Ibrahim reportedly told all his CEOs to prepare and submit their handover notes to him before the end of January.
THE BOSS RESPONDS
The National Mirror began as a weekly in December 2010 before becoming a daily newspaper a year later.
The latest exits from the company, however, threaten to shake the company’s foundation.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted him, Mr. Ibrahim brushed aside all the claims.
“What is your business about how I run my paper? Is it a government company? You are a journalist, what type of question are you asking me? You should ask intelligent question,” said a furious Mr. Ibrahim, when asked about the exodus of his top management staff and key editors.
“What is your business about how I run the paper? Is the paper one day old? Is it two day old? How old is your own Premium Times? This paper has been in existence for many years, so what is wrong with people leaving and people coming in? Are new people not coming in?”
Mr. Ibrahim insisted that the number of people who had left his employ are insignificant compared to the 485 strong workforce of his media empire.
“If somebody is from the paper and he is appointed MD in another paper, if you are the one will you not leave? If you are editor of PREMIUM TIMES and I appoint you MD of Mirror, will you not run here?”
“Bolaji left and went to become MD in another paper, with my approval, what is wrong in that? I approved it, he’s going to be the MD of Telegraph, what is bad in that? That’s promotion,” Mr. Ibrahim added.
Mr. Ibrahim also insisted that the people who had resigned from his company were merely leaving for greener pastures.
“Anybody can leave in graphics. Those are technical people. He didn’t go to paper,” he said in reaction to Mr. Oboh, his erstwhile Head of Graphics, who had also left.
“He is working in another company now. So what is wrong if he had a better salary? Is it a crime? How many people have left First Bank in the last one year?”
Mr. Ibrahim’s pronouncement that editors get a written permission from him before travelling out of their bases may have stemmed from an unfortunate incident last year. Three managers of his Energy Group travelling from Port Harcourt to Lagos en route Dubai, were involved in a ghastly motor accident.
But Mr. Ibrahim said that the permission to travel and other similar directives were company policies and however he decides to run his companies was his “business.”
“If an editor travels from Lagos to Kano and he dies on the road, who will the family meet? It is a written permission before you travel outside Lagos. If you are working in Chevron in Lagos… If you are working as manager of First Bank in Lagos and you want to travel to Kaduna, won’t you get permission?
“So what gives journalists the right to travel from one state to another without permission? If the journalist dies on the road who will the family come and ask for compensation,” he added.
“Mirror is a private enterprise, not a government company. It’s not quoted in the stock market. So that’s private affair of the company,” Mr. Ibrahim said.
“If you write a wrong story, you write something to destroy somebody and it’s not true, what do we do? And the person takes you to court and gets damages against you.
“Say for instance now you write story, now you are confirming from me. Now you don’t confirm the story, you go and write it and they sue us to court and they get judgment against us, I will pay damages. What do you do to the reporter? You promote him? Are reporters above firing?” Mr. Ibrahim added.
Mr. Ibrahim further said that he only fired staff members who had sought to bring his organization into disrepute.
“There is a case of somebody we sacked. And after we sacked him he still used his identity card to book appointment with a governor. And the governor called me that he has not seen the (story). So what do I do with that person? We have sacked you, you have gone. You still used your identity card to go and interview the governor. And governor gives you money.
“And then governor wait for the interview to be published, he called the publisher where is my interview? I said who interview you? The governor was waiting for a five page story to be published on him and the man disappeared with the money. And this is an executive director. This is not ordinary reporter.”
He also defended his management style, insisting it was a way of sustaining young companies.
“You should not allow these things otherwise the company will die. You know journalism, papers die easily. Look at Tribune, a 69-year-old paper, we are the one printing it for them. They don’t have machine to print. Look at Thisday, we are the ones printing it. So we must all work to make sure that newspaper stabilizes,” Mr. Ibrahim said.