Over 102 workers die, some bedridden, homeless, hungry

From Sola Ojo, Kaduna


•NNN main office


No retreat, no surrender, a martial arts movie directed by Corey Yuen in 1985 best describes the current position of the angry retired and sacked staff of the New Nigerian Newspapers (NNN) with headquarters in Kaduna. They have drown the battle line because their retirement and other financial entitlements have not been paid even when some assets of the company within and outside Kaduna have been sold to address the situation.


One of the union leaders in NNN, Comrade Nicholas Dekera, while speaking to newsmen on the sideline of a peaceful protest a few weeks ago, lamented that the committee that turned deaf ears to the directive of the northern governors to pay workers went ahead to spend N200 million on contractors and other unexplainable expenditures.


As a result of long waiting, Dekera lamented that “102 of our members have died while waiting for their benefits, some bedridden, some chased out of their rented apartments while a good num of us alive cannot afford decent meals.”

In an emergency meeting with governors on February 15, at the Council Chambers of the state House, Abuja, one of the critical issues of concern to President Bola Tinubu was the payment of salary arrears to civil servants and gratuities of retired workers by the governors to cushion the impact of the current economic realities in the land.

Tinubu’s call on the governors to “spend the money and not the people” was coming at a time the NNN workers, who staged a peaceful protest to remind the 19 northern state governors of their predicament, were urging the Vice President Ibrahim Kashim Shettima to come to their rescue in any way he could and in good time too.

•Front view of sold Nagwamatse house

The NNN Limited was established by the then-northern region government on October 23, 1964. After the creation of new six states in the northern region in 1967, the company’s ownership was transferred to these states.

In 1975, the then Head of State, Murtala Muhammed put the company under the federal government for smooth sustenance. At a point, the federal government was considering making it a business enterprise. However, the northern governors revolted and demanded that the company should be handed over to the original owner, which is the North having been established by the late Northern Premier and Sardauna of Sokoto Sir Ahmadu Bello. So in 2006, the then President Olusegun Obasanjo handed over NNN to the 19 northern states.

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Almost immediately after that, the company began to nosedive because the vast majority of the 19 northern state governors declined to give agreed monthly subvention to the company. Some of the excuses of these governors were that they have their own state-funded media outfits that are enough to cater for their residents. Again, some of them felt excluded on the allegation of favouritism, nepotism and dominance of a particular ethnic group over others in terms of employment and management staff.

But before then, investigation showed that the sales of the NNN publications: Gaskiya Tafi Kwabo, New Nigerian on Sunday, and New Nigerian Weekly, had begun to drop due to the attitude of a particular managing director, who allegedly turned the publications into a praise singing platform for a particular head of state. It was so bad that if any relative of that head of state coughed in Aso Rock, it would be a front page news the following day.

Alhaji Muhammed Sadiq Tella joined the NNN in 1988 and disengaged in the year 2022, having served for 35 years. To him, the issue of non-payment of the staff preceded the current managing director, Yusuf Musa Kontogora, but started during Umar Farouq who introduced half salary which became pronounced during the time of one Idanusa Alao when the staff started experiencing quarter payment and no payment.

“Salary accumulation sets in. At a point, NNN relied solely on rent of some of its assets to pay something like 10 percent or five percent salary of essential staff.

“It got to a stage we cried to the Northern States  Governors Forum. So, when Kashim Shettima was Governor of Borno State and the chairman of the forum, in one of their meetings, he gave an order that all the NNN assets should be sold leaving only the office premises and the proceeds should be used for the recapitalization of the company, payment of all outstanding salaries and liabilities.

“That was how a committee was set up for the assessment and sales of these properties. Initially, the effort crumbled. Another committee was set up which successfully sold 90 percent of these properties, including the biggest house in Kaduna, popularly called the Nagwamatse House. We learned that all these properties have been paid for. As you can see, there is ongoing massive renovation on the Nagwamatse House, an indication that the buyer paid for it.

“We approached the management that since the property has been sold, let them pay us our money. We were initially told that there was a court case by a group of pensioners agitating for their pension. However, with the intervention of the immediate past governor of Kaduna State, he was able to secure the registration for PITAD under the federal government. All the NNN pensioners were accommodated, verified and the pension began and running to date.

“Having secured the payment, we thought they would drop the case. But, they said no because the federal government only pays their pension but owes legal fees and union dues. As a result, they garnished one of the accounts of the committee in charge of the sales of the property.

“At a point, the court went on long recess. So, we felt if we continue to wait, our people will continue to die. Already, a lot of our people are battling with one health issue or the other. We approached the counsel to the pensioners and asked what the problem was. He said his problem is getting their legal and union dues deductions which if they get, they will ungarnish the account.

“We then told him, the MD, to go back and tell the government that the N100 million from our money. That is what he has not done to date. We are not asking for anything other than our outstanding salaries and entitlements. This money is not from the state, it is the money from the sales of the NNN property.

“As we speak, people are beginning to doubt if the money is still there. However, with the calibre of people in that committee, including a representative of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), I don’t think it will be tampered with by anybody”, he added.

Another old staff of NNN, Comrade Bulus Shabayan, said he started work with the NNN in December 1981 and retired after spending 35 years in service in 2017.

“My colleagues are having a rough lifestyle. They are waiting for their benefits to be paid. As I’m talking with you, I am not physically fine except for the importance of this interview that I managed to come out and testify to what we know about NNN.

“Now that there is money, we demand payments of our rights. Those we left behind have been laid off without paying them the three months in lieu of their lay off.

“The grey area is that the people involved are not coming forward clean. For example, we were told that the Nagwamatse building was sold at N1.7 billion. But, our findings revealed that the property was sold far above N1.7. We learned it was sold for about N2.5 billion.

“What they have not been able to tell us is the location of the money realised from the sales of this property because we know the money cannot be taken to the account that was garnished. They have been avoiding to give us a straight answer.

“Some people have gone underground to find out that the money has not been deposited into the same account that was garnished. They have taken the money into another fixed deposit account which they have enjoyed for one year. The money is now running in the second year still looking for the interest to the detriment of the owners of the money.

“However, the current secretary to the state government who is the chairman of the sales committee is trying to help us out by inviting the MD to come. Ideally, it is somebody in need of something that should make such a move. As we speak, the MD is not doing things the way it is supposed to be done and that is not helping us,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Managing Director of the company, Yusuf Musa Kotongora, has not been picking his calls or replying to the short messages sent to his mobile phone number for comment on the development.