Wednesday , June 9 2021

The Nigerian OBSERVER @ 53: Challenges And Opportunities

The Bendel Newspapers Company Limited (BNCL), publishers of the Observer Titles celebrates her 53 years of existence today.

The Company was established by Late Brigadier General Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia on May 29, 1968 during his tenure as the then Midwest State.

It was one of the first major attempts to set up a government owned newspaper after independence in 1960
Government involvement in setting up media establishment became pronounced with Nigeria independence and subsequently becoming a republic in 1963 with its import of politics in a clearer term.

After independence in 1960, the federal government came up with the MORNING AND SUNDAY POST and NEW NIGERIA which grew out of the defunct CITIZEN. The western Region government also established DAILY SKETCH and SUNDAY SKETCH in 1964, while the Midwestern State government set up the Midwest Newspapers Corporation under an edit of December 2, 1967 to produce THE Nigerian OBSERVER newspapers which was first published on May 29, 1968.

The idea of publishing a government owned Newspaper in the state was first conceived by Colonel Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia’s predecessor, Governor David Ejoor while in office.

The name of the paper originally planned for the state was “Midwestern Nigeria Sentinel” which was to be a weekly newspaper. The plan to set it up did not materialize before Colonel Ogbemudia was posted to take over as Governor of the then Midwest State.

Within a brief period of conception, ogbemudia invited Mr Abiodun Aloba in 1967, whom he entrusted the task of helping to set up a state-owned newspaper. Mr Aloba later became the pioneer General Manager of The Nigerian OBSERVER. He had come from Lagos on holiday to Benin City to see his relations. On his way back to Lagos, he was held back by some soldiers, who told him the Military Governor wanted to see him.

On meeting the Governor, after a brief on the proposal, Aloba was taken to several locations in Benin City with a view of choosing a befitting location for the newspaper company.

However, after much search, the governor personally zeroed in on the present site, No. 24 Airport Road, then No. 18 Airport Road; a site which originally belonged to the Nigerian Police Force.

Today, The Nigerian OBSERVER remains the longest surviving government owned newspaper in the country after series of re-launching and re-designing to meet industry standard.

The Nigerian OBSERVER in 1972 was circulating about 95,000 copies of its editions daily, a number which today has reduced to less than 1000.

Late Fred Opubor, a one time chairman of the company’s Board of Directors blamed the fall in circulation of government owned newspapers on interference on editorial policy.

The Nigerian OBSERVER was a child of political necessity published as a document for daily circulation that would inform the public on activities of government of the then Midwestern State Fifty-three years after establishment, The Nigerian OBSERVER has to its credit, three editions: Daily, The Sunday OBSERVER and The Weekend OBSERVER on October 6, 1990.

While the Sunday OBSERVER was established on October 27,1968, the Sporting OBSERVER (now defunct) was established in 1974 and the Weekend OBSERVER in October 6,1990.

As at the 4th anniversary of the establishment of the corporation, the daily circulation of The Nigeria OBSERVER throughout the then 12 states of the federation has risen to 95,000, while The Sunday OBSERVER maintained a steady circulation n of 180,000 copies weekly.

Following the creation of Edo and Delta States from the then Bendel State in 1991, and subsequently sharing of assets and liabilities by the two states. Edo retained Bendel Newspapers Company Limited (BNCL).

The government of Delta State, on its part, set up Delta Printing Press on August 8, 1994 to produce a state owned newspaper.
The newspaper which was later known as THE POINTER first appeared on the news stand in October 25, 1994.

It was set up basically to accommodate staff of the Bendel Newspaper Company Limited who were displaced from the company following the sharing of assets and liabilities by the two states. It was also a newspaper meant to project Delta state with its people to the outside world, as well as bring the world closer to Delta people.

The publication which started as weekly newspaper that was published every Sunday later added Thursdays and Saturdays (weekend) editions while it is presently a daily publication.

The basis for establishing THE POINTER newspaper was developmental journalism and grass root enlightenment, specifically patterned along the line of regional newspaper.

Within the first decade of its existence, the name Midwest Newspaper Corporation was subjected to geo-political changes that affected the political structure at the federal level.

Firstly, it was Midwest Mass Communication Corporation and following the creation of more states, including Bendel from the defunct Midwest State, the corporation’s name was changed to Bendel Newspapers Corporation.

After several reforms, in January 1, 1989, in a bid to accentuate its news value and determination, the corporation’s name was changed to Bendel Newspapers Company Limited (BNCL), a name which is retained till date.

The decision to change the name was taken at management level as a means to deliberately strip the company of all elements that made it a parastatal. It was subsequently registered under the Company Allied Matters Act.

Despite the change in the legal status of the company, it is today still owned by government which retained every element of control and management.

At the inception of Midwest Newspapers Corporation in 1968, the then governor of the state, Colonel Ogbemudia observed that if The Nigerian OBSERVER publication is to discharge its sacred function effectively and efficiently too, it should be free from government control as to what it should write and not write. It should be free to criticize any aspect of government policy which it considered worthy of criticism in public.

Nevertheless, The OBSERVER Newspapers thrived in the face of challenges and competitions from privately owned newspapers, to emerge as the longest surviving government owned newspaper in the country.

The newspaper also had its fair share of unfavorable moments, both during the military regime and civilian government.

A case in point was the case between one Mr. Amakiri Minere (now late) and the then River State governor, Alfred Diette Spiff (now a traditional ruler in Rivers State) in July 1973. Amakiri was the River State correspondent of the Benin –Based The Nigerian OBSERVER. He wrote about an impending Teachers’ strike in River state and had it published on the Military Governor’s birthday anniversary. Diette Spiff felt insulted about the reportage and saw it as well calculated news to embarrass his personality.

The governor’s ADC, ASP Ralph Micheal Iwowari intervened to pacify his paymaster (Diette) and sent for the reporter. Ignorantly, the reporter appeared at the gate of the governor’s house and was received and detained by soldiers until further orders. The governor ordered and supervised the soldiers shaving of Amakiri’s head with a broken bottle and caned 24 times publicly.

There was public outcry over the insult and injury caused Amakiri by Governor Diette Spiff and his aides to the extent that Amakiri’s case is today a case study in any discuss on Press Freedom both in Nigeria and beyond.

In July 22, 1993, General Ibrahim Babagida closed The N igerian OBSERVER newspapers and some other national newspapers for their reportage on the June 12 crisis which he considered as a criticism against his administration.

Aside these, in the 1980s, the Newspaper house began to experience some difficulties principally among which was declined readers into the hands of privately owned newspaper until recently when the Editorial appeal was reignited by a vibrant youthful journalist, Mr. Eddy Akpomera. The daily product won back a high number of readers and advertisers who appreciated quality product.

Prior to this period, situation became worse when the then Military Administrator of Edo State, Group Captain Baba Adamu Iyam introduced self- sustenance policy where BNCL and other parastatals were asked to fend for themselves through a Self- Sustenance. Workers of the company started going on incessant strikes as management could not afford workers’ salaries.

This ugly experience continued until Governor Lucky Nosakhare Igbinedion came to the aid of the company. He cleared off the company’s backlog of 13 months’ salary arrears and employed the services of consultants made up of the duo of Emeka Ogbeide and Orobosa Omo-Ojo who revived the company and put it back on a sound footing.

On the note of advancing the newspaper house, Edo state Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki after paying an unscheduled visit to The Nigerian OBSERVER, revealed his intention of revamping the state owned media, including The Nigerian OBSERVER with the installation of a state of the art Printing Machine.

However, it is on record that the 53 years old Newspaper produced notable journalists some of who made marks in journalism profession, including Mrs. Adekumbi Ero, Nosa Igiebor of TELL magazine, Osa Director, Emma Niboro, Nduka Obaiggbena, publishers of THIS DAY Newspaper.

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