The owner of a London-based global television news channel is being questioned in a major inquiry by Nigeria’s anti-fraud unit, while scores of his British workers are pursuing legal action over unpaid wages.
Nduka Obaigbena has informed staff at Arise TV, which broadcasts from studios overlooking Trafalgar Square, that he is “being detained” as he assists the inquiry being conducted by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which is investigating the spending of a $2.1 billion fund intended for arms procurement.
Mr Obaigbena, a high-profile figure who has been photographed in the company of politicians including George W Bush and Tony Blair, voluntarily surrendered himself to the commission in Abuja. The Commission wished to speak to him in relation to a payment of 650 million Nigerian naira (£2.28m) received from Colonel Sambo Dasuki, Nigeria’s former Security Adviser.
The media mogul has claimed that the money was agreed compensation for an attack on the offices of his ThisDay newspaper group by the Nigeria-based Islamist terror group Boko Haram.
In an email sent to Arise staff, Mr Obaigbena’s spokesman said he was resisting “unjust” requests to repay the money.
The statement said: “Mr Obaigbena is being detained over compensation paid to his THISDAY newspaper by the Goodluck Jonathan administration for Boko Haram bombings of the paper's Abuja offices in 2012.”
It added that members of the Nigerian newspaper proprietors’ group, NPAN, which is chaired by Mr Obaigbena, have been asked to refund compensation paid by the Jonathan administration for “the disruption of their distribution and sales in Abuja and other cities in the north [of Nigeria].”
The statement concluded by saying Mr Obaigbena was “ready to die for free speech”.
The Independent reported earlier this month how Arise, which also has studios in New York and Lagos, had repeatedly gone off air amid ongoing financial problems. On Wednesday the station was again off air but journalists were compiling content in the hope that it could be transmitted later.
Arise TV, which broadcasts from rented studios at the top of London’s New Zealand House, is being kept alive by a skeleton staff. One of the team told The Independent they feared that “if they let the channel die there is little or no chance of retrieving the fees they are owed”.
The station is being pursued over a trail of debts – estimated at £3m and including nearly £1m owed to the station’s own workers. Arise previously went off air late last year as 62 Arise workers, supported by the NUJ and Bectu media unions, began collective legal action for £825,000 unpaid wages. Mr Obaigbena disputes these figures.
The network faces a High Court winding up petition brought by a British television company, having only settled a similar action brought by a British publisher last summer. It also allegedly owes money to global news agencies which supply its pictures.
Ofcom, the broadcast regulator, found Arise in breach of its licence for failing to pay its annual licence fee by the required date last year. The watchdog is facing calls for Arise, which broadcasts on Sky channel 519 (but was removed from Freeview late last year) to be stripped of its licence.
When it went on air in early 2013, the channel had high hopes. It achieved a journalistic coup in May 2014 when reporter Charles Aniagolu led the first TV crew to Chibok in northern Nigeria, the scene of a mass abduction of schoolgirls by Boko Haram.
In an email promise to pay staff, Mr Obaigbena, expressed continued determination to create a “world class global news channel that gives the people of Africa and other under-served communities their own voice”.
He told The Independent that some of the wages claims were “invalid” and argued that Arise was still in the soft launch phase of a five-year launch plan. “As a new business still in investment stage the revenue generation stage takes time and stability,” he said. “We are in a marathon and not a sprint.”Reuse content