The former Chief Executive Officer GOTEL Communications, John Chiahemen, has debunked accusations that he absconded with the salaries of the workers, including the expatriate staff of the company.
GOTEL Communications, which has radio and television arms, is owned by the former Vice President and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 presidential elections, Atiku Abubakar.
The media group, based in Adamawa State, was run by Mr Chiahemen, a veteran international journalist and former Reuters correspondent, until he was removed in 2016 in circumstances he describes as “unceremonious.”
On Thursday last week, Atiku’s spokesperson, Paul Ibe, accused Mr Chiahemen, among other things, of bolting with the salaries of both local and expatriate workers and refused to make himself available to render an account.
Mr Ibe also accused Mr Chiahemen of “serious fiduciary infractions” uncovered by a visitation committee constituted to carry out a comprehensive audit of the company.
He said following the report of the audit committee, Mr Chiahemen refused to make himself available before a board meeting convened to enable him account for the huge resources put under his charge.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the funds dedicated to the payment of salaries of staff, both local and expatriates that were engaged by Chiahemen himself were made available to him. All those concerned are advised to contact Mr Chiahemen accordingly”, Mr Ibe said in various media reports.
Besides, he said a formal petition on the alleged breach of trust, fraud and misappropriation of funds against Mr Chiahemen was filed since December 14, 2016, at the Force Criminal Investigation Intelligence Department (FCIID – Interpol) for investigation.
False, malicious allegations?
However, in a reaction on Tuesday in Abuja, Mr Chiahemen dismissed the allegations against him as “false, malicious, and a carefully orchestrated attempt to tarnish my image.”
“I am talking with my lawyers with a view to seeking appropriate legal redress against the authors of the publication. The publication are part of an orchestrated campaign of calumny since 2016 aimed at damaging my hard-earned professional and personal reputation, character and to bring me into public odium, obloquy, infamy, scandal, scorn and contempt.
“This misrepresentation and falsehood have been propagated by GOTEL as far back as 2016 and has caused serious damage to my profession, reputation, character and solid reputation as a renowned and veteran international journalist with a track record spanning more than 40 years,” Mr Chiahemen said.
Contrary to Mr Ibe’s claim that Mr Chiahemen was given a “free hand by the founder and board of GOTEL Communications Ltd and GOTEL Africa Media Ltd to run the affairs of the companies,” he said, “funds meant for the payment of GOTEL staff salaries (local and expatriate) was not made available to me.”
“The allegation that funds meant for the payment of salaries of both local and expatriates staff of GOTEL were made available to me is not only false, but also malicious.
“For the record, I was not the Group Financial Director or Group Financial Controller of GOTEL. To be clear, funds dedicated to the payment of salaries of staff were not in my custody.
“The Group Financial Controller was the paymaster in all matters of funds relating to the GOTEL Africa Project. Payroll and operational funds were provided on a month-by-month basis, when they were, by the Financial Controller and my management merely disbursed them,” he said.
He said prior to his removal as the Managing Director, payment of salaries had already become difficult since mid-2015, with the Group Financial Controller blaming it on the downturn in Nigeria’s economy.
The deplorable condition, Mr Chiahemen said, prompted the GOTEL management not to renew the contracts of the international staff, while others opted to take a salary cut that would allow them to leave by the end of 2015.
He denied knowledge of any audit report indicting his former management or any invitation to answer questions in connection with the purported audit he described as “a vindictive charade” carried out after his removal.
“I have not been presented with or asked to respond to any queries relating to any audit while it was in progress or thereafter. I am not privy to the content of the speculated audit report or called upon to render an account,” he said.
“I did not ‘bolt and refuse to make myself available to account for the [alleged] huge resources put in my charge’. I was away on sick leave. The Chairman of the Board was notified of my trip and acknowledged my notification.
“I am unaware of any petition written to the FCIID (Interpol) against me as I have not been invited by any law enforcement agency on any of the false allegations levelled against my person.
“GOTEL management under me performed well within the resources that we had. The management under me was not “… long in promises and short in performance…” as alleged. All the achievements of my management were in spite of the lack of proper project funding,” he said.