…As NUJ gives company 21-day ultimatum to pay outstanding salaries
The crisis rocking the Nigerian Compass Newspaper may have gotten messier as the management of Western Publishing Company Limited, publishers of the Nigerian Compass, has gone into a hide and seek game with the Chief Promoter of the venture, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, over a N150 million bailout fund the now embattled former governor provided to the company for the payment of outstanding salaries and allowances.
This followed realization that the management, led by the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief, Sina Kawonise, and assisted by a Director and former Editor-in-Chief of the Nigerian Compass, Biodun Oduwole; and the General Manager, Finance and Control, Toyin Segun-Oderinde, could not convincingly account for the N150 million in the face of the strike action embarked upon by the company about two weeks ago when Daniel requested for an account of how the fund was spent.
This situation has been further compounded by a 21-day ultimatum given to the management of the company by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) to pay the outstanding salaries and allowances of its members working in the company.
Sources in the company said that it was only when the staff of the company threatened to go on strike that Kawonise opened up that Daniel had indeed provided N150 million for the payment of the outstanding salaries.
Kawonise, when asked about the whereabouts of the money, told the protesting staff that it had been invested in a venture that he refused to disclose, saying that the staff would only be paid when the fund starts to yield interest.
But he refused to disclose the venture or company in which the fund was invested.
He also declined revealing when the investment would start yielding profit for the staff to be paid.
The insistence of some of the staff on getting details on the investment eventually led to the strike by the staff, the result of which was the sack of 42 of them.
Now, the newspaper, which emerged as the fastest growing newspaper in the country less than three years after its debut, faces a possible picketing by the NUJ if it does not pay the 42 sacked staff their terminal benefits and the outstanding salaries of its members.
Kawonise, at a meeting with the executives of the NUJ last week, promised to pay the dismissed staff latest October 21, 2011.
A source said the NUJ at a meeting with the management of the company, which had in attendance Kawonise and Oduwole, agreed that the backlog of salaries, pensions and other entitlements of the former staff will be paid on or before October 21, 2011.
The delegation of the NUJ to the meeting included its National Vice President, Sanya Akindele, who stood in for the National President, Muhammed Garba; the Chairman of the Lagos State chapter, Deji Elumoye; and his Ogun State counterpart, Tunde Shodeke.
The management of the company had failed to honour an earlier agreement on the same issue reached with the Ogun State chapter of the NUJ.
The NUJ has said it would picket the company if it reneges on the agreement.
A source said the NUJ has concluded arrangements to involve the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in the execution of the picket plan on the Nigerian Compass from October 22, 2011.
It would be recalled that trouble started for the Nigerian Compass when some staff of the company could no longer take the series of failed promises to pay their outstanding salaries of between four and seven months,while not remitting almost four years pension deducted at source; cooperative society fund totaling about N6.7 million, and about N38 million tax, among other indebtedness put at over N500 million.
When Kawonise met with the staff before the strike, he said though Daniel gave him a N150 million grant when he was appointed about four months ago, he invested N87 million of the fund into an undisclosed business, which he believes would start yielding soon.
Unsatisfied with Kawonise’s explanation and his refusal to disclose the type of investment and when exactly it would start yielding dividends to pay them, the staff issued an ultimatum to the company to pay the outstanding monies.
The response of the management was the sacking of all the staff who signed the memorandum.
Though the management had allegedly agreed at a meeting with the Ogun State chapter of the NUJ when the crisis started that it would withdraw the letter of disengagement, it reneged on it almost immediately the executives of the union left.