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Akwa Ibom: Much ado about a printing press

Posted by By Linus Obogo on 2008/04/05 | Views: 765 |

Akwa Ibom: Much ado about a printing press


The raging storm between the Akwa Ibom State government and Chief Edwin Igbokwe over an allegedly refurbished Web offset rotary printing machine supplied to the former by Chuduak, a company owned by the latter appears far from over, as the state governor, Barrister Godswill Akpabio has challenged the contractor to stop the smear campaign and come and demonstrate to the good people of the state that the machine he supplied can indeed produce good and clean quality copies of Pioneer newspaper.

•Igbokwe must demonstrate to Nigerians that the printing machine he supplied can work

The raging storm between the Akwa Ibom State government and Chief Edwin Igbokwe over an allegedly refurbished Web offset rotary printing machine supplied to the former by Chuduak, a company owned by the latter appears far from over, as the state governor, Barrister Godswill Akpabio has challenged the contractor to stop the smear campaign and come and demonstrate to the good people of the state that the machine he supplied can indeed produce good and clean quality copies of Pioneer newspaper.

Pioneer is a daily publication owned by the Akwa Ibom State government
Throwing the challenge in a chat with Saturday Sun in Uyo, Governor Akpabio who was miffed that unnecessary mountain is being made of a mole hill, following government’s proposal to acquire a new a press, announced the suspension of the decision pending demonstration by Igbokwe that the existing one he supplied can indeed work.

“My administration can only go ahead to procure a new press after an assessment of the one supplied by Igbokwe confirms the need for a new one. But if the assessment says the old one could be refurbished for use, then we will do just that. However, the decision is not cast in concrete. What do I want with a new machine, when all I want is a good production? As I speak, the production manager of the Pioneer has a publication on the back of the current edition (March 31) detailing the efforts that were made in the past by Edwin Igbokwe to bring in the technical experts who manifactured the machine to see if they could get it working. But sadly, not even the experts could get it right. So, what is my own with buying a new machine if the one supplied by Igbokwe is working? What I’m particular about are good and clean copies of the Pioneer produced from the press, whether new or old. Once that is assured, the money that would have been used for the purchase of a new one can be channeled into other sectors in crying need for attention.”

The machine which contract is said to have been awarded and fully paid for during the administration of Indongsiet Nkanga, was brought into the country in 2000 and installed in March 2003. But since its installation, it has been dogged by a series of complaints by the management and staff of the company, Akwa Ibom Newspaper Corporation (AKNC), bordering on the quality of the rotary press described as Sterling Gross.

In what Saturday Sun understood to be obvious, but muted expression of dissatisfaction with the quality, on the day that the former governor, Obong Victor Attah was to commission the machine, he only commissioned the complex, refusing to have anything to do with it.
By May 2nd, when the machine rolled its first print run, what turned out only confirmed the long haboured suspicion of the management and staff that what was supplied them was a refurbished press. And this set the stage for a spate of protestations that were to follow.

Governor’s challenge at Igbokwe
If Igbokwe can come and demonstrate to the people that the machine he supplied can produce good and clean quantity copies of Pioneer newspaper, then we will suspend the purchase of a new machine. But then, he has to come and demonstrate it for us.
I challenge Chuduak company that supplied the machine to come and demonstrate to Nigerians and not just the Akwa Ibom people alone that the Press is functional and can produce even half of the installed capacity. What is my business with a new machine.

We have avalanche of projects to undertake that can touch our people in different ways. Why should we should be dissipating enegies on new or old machine, if someone had acquitted himself dilligently in the project he was adequately paid? I also challenge you, the media professionals to compell Igbokwe to come and carry out a demonstration on the press he is making so much noise that he supplied brand new. I do not want to join issues with him, but I want to appeal to him to come and show us that the press he sold to the state can indeed work.

Once that happens, we bury the issue of the purchase of a new machine.
In fact, I announce that I have suspended the purchase of a new rotary machine, pending demonstration by Igbokwe that the existing one he supplied is working. It really beats me stiff that so much energy has been expended talking about the new press.
What must be done is to provide newsprint for Igbokwe to prove to us that the noise over the machine he sold to us is unnecessary, by producing clean quality paper for us.
If Igbokwe were here (at the time of interaction), I would have insisted that we all go to the company and carry some production of the paper. The outcome or output will now decide whether a new press is necessary or not.

It is shame that this is happening. I know I have a very good relationship with Igbokwe’s family. So to see that petition from Igbokwe was a shock. I think some people are deliberately trying to spoil my name as a governor. As soon as I saw the petition, I picked up my phone and called the wife. I said hello, is that the Lady of songs? And went further to introduce myself. But as soon as she heard my name, she cut off the call. I called the line more than ten times, she wouldn’t pick. I wanted to ask her: My sister, what is this am seeing? But she shut me off.

No personal problem with the Igbokwes
I do not have any personal problem with them. What is machine after all?
People just assume that as governor, all that you are there for is to award contract, as if there’s nothing else to do. That is where the problem basically is. People are making noise about the proposal for the purchase of a new press. Do you think I will award contract just because I must do so? No way! There are some communities in Akwa Ibom that still do not have electricity supply. And it is my fervent hope that by the time I leave as governor, every community should have been connected to the national grid.

Deputy Gov’s challenge
While as Commissioner for Information under Attah, I challenged Igbokwe to come witness the production of the paper just for one night in order to convince the people of the state, including himself that he supplied us a good press. I remember taking part in production once and all we needed was just 2000 copies, but it ended producing 7,000 copies. What happened was that out of the 7000 copies, we could not get clean 2000 copies. While this was so, Igbokwe was passing the blame to the staff. I said to him, okay, you bring some hands from elsewhere to see where the problem was coming from.. After that, I took the report of that inspection right to the execuive council.

Floodgate of petitions
Almost assuming the scenario of a personal war, Saturday Sun investigation indicates that concerted protests by stakeholders in Akwa Ibom over the quality of press Igbokwe supplied AKNC had begun in 2004, during Attah’s era, even when the present governor had not begun the incubation of his ambition to rule the state.
For instance, in a petition entitled “Poor rotary machine:, and dated March 19, 2004, to the state House of Assembly Committee on Information, the National Union of Printing, Publishing and Paper Products Workers (Pioneer chapel), an umbrella body of the non editorial staff, had complained about Chuduak, of supplying AKNC a dilapidated press awaiting commssioning. Also contained in their petition was the allegations that Igbokwe’s firm specializes in the supply of refurbished or reconditioned Rotary machines to government-owned newspapers establishments, that AKNC press was not the only problematic one supplied by the supplier. They made allusions to Cross River State Newspaper Corporation, Plateau, Rivers, New outlook, Enugu and Adamawa State as caught in this web.

Similarly, on May 13, 2004, the eastern zone of the union, in sympathy with its local chapel, petitioned the then governor, Obong Victor Attah. Entitled “Poor quality of rotary machine”, the union, while drawing the attention of the governor to the dilapidated and non-functional state of the press imposed on AKNC, lamented: “You know very well that in the Nigeria of today, people like to make money without thinking of the future or tomorrow will look like…”
Also contained in the report dated June 10 2003, from the then production manager, Mr Boniface Okon, to the general manager, was the identification of the following: Faculty daming system; faculty linking system; breaking system, among others.

Despite all the petitions, complaints and letters, successive governments in the state continued to do business with Chuduak, as the company always asked and got funds for the upgrade of the machine.
But refusing to toe the line of hemorrhaging the state’s meagre coffers to yearly upgrade the press, coupled with his decision to procure a new press, the governor is said to have made new enemies for himself, going by the hate campaigns that have inundated newspapers lately. Saturday Sun gathered that the supplier reportedly threatened to go to the EFCC should Governor Akpabio insist on procuring a new machine.

Dead press
One poser the governor says Chief Igbokwe has been unable solve for the state government in the ongoing media assault is why was the frequent and long presence of the technical partners necessary if the machine he supplied was new and in good order? Also, why were the technical partners unable to render the press functional, despite their several failed efforts, prompting petitions during Attah’s administration? Why did Igbokwe and his wife, Christy decide to take on Governor Akpabio when the glitches associated with the press predate him? Couldn’t Igbokwe have shamed his “detractors” and “saboteurs” by inviting experts in the printing industry and media personnel for an open dmonstration of the functionality or otherwise of the press rather than get involved in what many are beginning to percieve as a needless media war? Also, is Igbokwe oblivious of the several petitions that greeted the press shortly after it was installed in 2003 and wasn’t commissioned by the immediate past governor? Of what economic implications does the state government’s decision to acquire a new machine, if the one he supplied cannot work have on Igbokwe? These posers, sure beg for answers.

Despite the claim of the supplier that the machine was exposed to elements, the technical officer, mechanical, Aniete Emem, while puncturing the claim, insisted that what supplier offered the state was already dysfunctional even before the installation. According to him, “on four occasions, despite effort at making the machine work by the expartriates, the state of the machine continues to regress from bad to worse.
The manifacturers of the machine could not make it operational during their several visits to ascertain the perenniel problem besetting the machine. Asked to explain why it has refused to work despite their claim that it was a brand new machine, the technical partners of the manufacturers say the only way the machine could work was to put it to daily production.
Printed copies are rendered useless through smearing with ink. After several failed efforts to breathe life into the machine, the representatives of the manufacturers decided to take the head of technical operations and another staff of the company to the manufacturers along with Chief Edwin Igbokwe in 2006. During the visit, Aniette said he saw a brand of digital printer called Impacta being built for a Ghananian company but in one of the states of India he also visited, he saw a brand of printer, called Starling Gross Igbokwe bought for the state government. On inquring, he was told the printer was already 24 years-old.

Where Starling Gross was being used, it was combined with Island Ranger machine and another. While Igbokwe had claimed the press could not function without an airconditioner, a similar one used in India was operated without the use of airconditioner. Many of Igbokwe’s claims about the machine were were faulted by the manufacturers, even as latter reposed to disclose the age of the printer, despite his insistence, adding that the inquiring about of age of the rinter did not form part of the brief or agenda.
Out of the four locations visited in India, Aniete disclosed that only one had Sterling Gross in use, but not with airconditioner. Each time an effort is made to enusre the operationability of the printer, a dislocation of one or two components occurs. This is in spite of the deplorable lubrication system of the printer. Deflating Igbokwe’s claim that the state of the printer is a result of disuse suffered following over two years abandonment after it was shipped into the country, Aniete said:“I was privy to when a printer ready for shippment to Ghana was being packaged. Before the machine was packaged, all the component parts were well lubricated to withstand rust and other elements. What I observed about the particular machine Igbokwe shipped for the Akwa Ibom state government is that it is proned to rust, apart from the fact that the component parts were not even lubricated before shippment.

Aniette insists the problem of the printer is more of quality than technical manpower. According to him, were it manpower, it would have long been addressed. “Even with the presence of the manufacturers themselves, there was still the difficulty of the press working. So what do we ascribe that to? The staff here are not new to printing. It is a job we have been doing over the years. So nobody is a dunce here. The fact remains that the press Igbokwe supplied was not new. And he knows that himself (Production Manager). Since 2003 that the press was installed, it has not worked. Some of the newspaper houses, like the Champion where Igbokwe took me to, I would see that theirs was brand new. This particular one imposed on the government was repainted two days to the official commissioning of the newspaper corporation by the former governor, Obong Victor Attah. Investigation revealed that the press was not a brand new one, and therefore, the government was unwilling to accept it on the day it was to be commissioned, it was observed that the only function it could perform was constant cutting of papers.

Sterling Gross no longer in use
No company uses in Nigeria any longer. At installation, some controls panels were found not to be working. The supplier was believed to have approached the government for money to purchase the non-functional control panels. At some other time also, government approved more money after which they he brought another set of expartriates to install analog newmatic on the press, as part of automating it. This went on severally, yet without headway and the supplier never stopped asking for money for upgrade. While Igbokwe supplied to the Akwa Ibom State government Sterling Gross, which is manually operated, he is believed to have handled a similar project for NDS, a Niger Delta publication outfit, a press digital Press called Impacta, already running at full capacity, from the same manufacturers.
When the Ekikere Umoh contract for the supply of this press was to be awarded by Indongsiet Nkangha’s administration, I was contacted to recommend a good machine. I went round for two days after which I came up with Sterling Gross. That contract was awarded to a certain Rose Adokwu. She allegedly got almost all the contract money and vanished into thin air.

At the expiration of Nkangha’s term, a new regime emerged and that was when Igbokwe came into the scene. He came up with an idea of Sterling Goss. He was quickly told that the machine had been recommended, there was need for him to try to bring something that would look like Sterling Goss. That was the genesis of what has come to be known as Sterling Gross.
There is really no machine like Sterling Gross. We went to town and did some investigation years back and told the government to stop the award of the contract to buy Sterling Gross. This was because from our investigations, where Igbokwe had supplied this set of press had been supplied here, they had never worked. The Nigerian Chronicle, Cross River State’s newspaper acquired one which has not been used till date, Nigerian Standard also was supplied this Sterling Gross by Igbokwe, which is not working well.
It was after this investigation that we got across to government to advise it on the unviability of acquiring Sterling Gross, even though there was no machine by that name.

Somehow, they circumvented a lot of processes after which the government released security men to come after some of us. We said okay, let them go ahead and award the contract. That decision to approve the supply of that machine by former governor Bako’s government is what we are facing today. Because a part of the money had already been committed, when Obong Victor Attah came in as govenor, Igbokwe came back to insist on supplying the machine. There was so much wastages associated with the use of the machine, that is why the management decided to look inward. And we appealed to the government to help and procure a digital machine for the company.
As a result of the inherent logistic problems with printing at Busisness Day, we hardly hit the streets of Uyo on time. As result of that, I recommended that we should be printing at NDS, Port Harcourt, where I was the founding editor, which is closer home.

Igbokwe resists government’s attempt to procure new machine
According to General manager, Mr Silas Udo, it is a shame that after supplying the company a press, which, from all indications was a refurbished one and which has also refused to work, Igbokwe should still be seen to be dictating the goings-on in the company.
“Having taken a look at how the public fund was used in purchasing a refurbished press for the state, we decided to petition the House of Assembly to investigate the process that led to the procurement of this press. However, if the Akwa Ibom people are desirous of joining the digital age, we really wonder what Igbokwe’s problem is. Government no longer owes Igbokwe for the supply of the press.
I think the problem stems from the fact that a culture that was long sustained in the previous administrations where he frequently got money to upgrade the press appears to be discontinued as it is no longer expedient to continue to sink money into a project that was originally designed to be a drain-pipe.

It indeed speaks volume that on the day of the commissioning of the press, His Excellency, Victor Attah, commissioned only the complex and left out the machine. |This poses a lot of question.
To underscore the angst occasioned by Igbokwe’s action, the endusers were believed to have raised dust. For instance, the then production, Mr. Boniface Okon raised a memo, complaining bitterly about the waste of fund on the machine. The idea of buying a new press did not start today or last year. Okon had, in his memo to the government of Obong Victor Attah advised on the need to buy a new press. Also Mr. Denis Ale had invited an independent accessors to access the press. Their report is public knowledge in the state.

Part of the present grouse also, according to a source close to the management, on his failed bid, after a series of lobby to be shouldered the responsibility of the procurement of the new press being envisaged. According the source, some people had relentlessly allegedly lobbied to be awarded the contract to procure a new press, with the government believed to be tired of discipating the state’s meagre resource onto a what was designed to be a drain-pipe.”
But buffeted by this imminent prospect of halting the long existing culture of patronage the well-worn strategy of blackmail in order to browbeat the government to do a rethink.
On the needless controversy, even when the government can conveniently and quietly procure a new press, the GM said Igbokwe has been the architect of the controversy, wondering what his problem is.

Never met Igbokwe in person
On why there has been no effort to meet with Igbokwe to resolve the raging noise over the printing press, the GM said: “I have never met Igbokwe before. The only communication line has been the one he has opened on the basis of attrition. Igbokwe has already created a communication line of attrition and so what channel is open to me to ask what the problem is?” Continuing, he said: Before we could say jack, Igbokwe and his wife had written a petition to the presidency. And so the battleline was drawn. Not until the petition, did I know that he supplied the machine. Of course, this prompted us to go to the archives to find out if we still owed him money. But fortunately, we don’t even owe money for the supply of machine for all intent and purposes, all transactions between the Pioneer and Igbokwe have been concluded.

Sincerely speaking, I feel aggrieved as much as anybody who genuinely wants to see success of The Pioneer newspaper. I speak with a passion of one who wants to entrench execellence. There is a new thinking, a new wave of thought in this company to take the Pioneer to where it should rightly belong and compete with the frontline newspapers in the country. It is saddening that Igbokwe is taking us head on as if we still owe money.

Honestly, Igbokwe and his collaborators cannot distract us from our vision of what the Pioneer should be. We have the market, the idea and creative people to drive this big idea. In no time, we see The Pioneer as the authoritative voice of the South-South for starters, we are looking at 31 news pages to represent the 31 local councils in the state. We expect each state of the region-South-south to see the Pioneer as a collective of the Akwa Ibom people.
Primarily, our target is the Akwa Ibom people and Cross River, who is our neighbour and sister state, including Rivers which has a large concentration of our people. We also have Lagos, Abuja and Jos as our catchment areas.

Igbokwe’s response
But reacting to the charge of supplying a refurbished machine, among others, Chief Edwin Igbokwe stated inter lia:
The Web Offset printing machine supplied by our company to Akwa Ibom Newspaper Corporation was manufactured new by HM Web House Private Limited, Faridabad, India.Chuduak Limited is the African office of Hm Web House. It was never a refurbished machine moreover Hm Web House does not refurbish machines. This can be attested to by the four of the Akwa Ibom Newspaper Corporation (AKNC) staff that we later took for further training in India, at our own expense. The machine was manufactured in year 1999 and it arrived in Nigeria early year 2000. We still have with us a document signed by the former General Manager indicating the receipt of the cases containing the machine. When it arrived, the place to house it was not ready and it had to stay in the wooden cases inside an environment that had no ventilation.

We had to improvise doors to secure the machine further from being vandalized. We made so many representations to the government and the former Deputy Governor who was then supervising the project was very much in the know. At certain points he paid visits to the site and sympathized with us because we had to contend with providing security for the machine which was yet to be installed. At a point during that year 2000, we decided that we should just carry out the mechanical installation of the machine since there was no electricity supplied to the site. After the mechanical installation, we further had to provide tarpaulin to cover the machine against much dust. The position lasted for some months. Electricity Generators which were supplied then awaiting installation at the site by another party was vandalized twice. Of course everyone is aware of the fact that if you kept in an enclosure like wooden cases, iron, steel and metal that have gone through the sea voyage and remained unopened would witness rusts. The first thing to do would be after lining up the machine you have to start cleaning the rusts. It happens every time every where such a situation occurred.

When the machine was eventually put into operation in 2001, it was further discovered that rusts still existed in the inner moving parts areas where cleaning was not be possible earlier. These types of areas are cleaned in their usual way; with oil and anti-rust lubricants when the machine is rolling. And of course the iron/steel in flat metals which are the covers (not the engine of the machine) must be affected as well; and what do you do? You have to repaint those areas. Moving parts are never painted and were not painted. They only needed constant greasing and oiling to remove the rusts therein. And that was what took place with the AKNC machine.

At the time the machine supply was being negotiated, pneumatic installations were not part of it. This was made known from day one. Pneumatics installations in printing machines are among optional equipment so also is the chilling system. In the absence of those, you can still run your machine but not with as much ease as when they are installed. Being a colour printing machines we advised that they should always use chilled water or ice blocks; this serves as alternative to the Chilling system. Therefore to say that ice blocks were applied on AKNC was purely an ignorant posture otherwise you have the option not to.
At a point we suggested that the machine be upgraded to include the pneumatic installations and water chilling system and the idea was bought and it became done. We installed those and they normally come with Compressor and Dryer; and the operators could easily tell the difference after that.
The machine was operated often without working air-conditioning system in the Press Hall. This we constantly advised should be taken care of and if you go into the AKNC Press hall today you may be lucky to see even one of the installed air-conditioners in working condition. This condition existed where a machine with electronic system is in operation? Go and check out other printing houses and you will come to terms with what we are saying.

I am now recalling that the AKNC Board of Directors visited other places where we had installations outside Pioneer’s. Their visits also took them to Delta Newspaper Corporation then and what they saw and said after the visit showed that they were being misinformed by the then AKNC Production Manager. Whereas the Delta State machine was supplied and installed in the year 1998 as manual (not pneumatic) in operation, it remained used for their daily production from 1999 to date.

It is an irony to say that the management of AKNC woke up one morning and saw a machine delivered. One would then ask; was there no negotiation; was there no payment that was made as an advance; was there no commissioner that signed the contract which went through the State’s Finance and General Purposes Committee, FGPC? I know that one Mrs. Evelyn Etuk was the Secretary of the FGPC at that time and the then Deputy Governor, Dr. Chris Ekpenyong was the Chairman. We were drilled for the second time for a contract that had already been signed by an earlier administration in the state. Yet we agreed to renegotiate and carried out the contract.

It is important to mention at this juncture that without prior information to Chuduak Limited, when the present Deputy Governor, His Excellency Engr. Patrick Ekpotu at a point in the past assumed office as the Honourable Commissioner of Information during the administration of Obong Victor Attah, pushed by rumours and probably instructed by Governor Obong Victor Attah, visited the Press to ascertain whether the machine was supplied used or new. As a seasoned Engineer, he must have considered some engineering indices to arrive at the verdict that it was actually a new machine but some working parts must have been disturbed by rusts or things like that. Those remaining disturbances were thereafter corrected. Moreover, there was never a correspondence from any quarters doubting the status of the machine at point of supply and therefore we could not have reacted on ordinary rumour being peddled by antagonists.

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Sunday Mbe(Kaduna, Kaduna, Nigeria)says...

ULIMASI means' GOD,THANK YOU' not THANK GOD.

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Sunday Mbe(Kaduna, Kaduna, Nigeria)says...

The name ULIMASI is from the UTUGWANG tribe in OBUDU local government area of CROSS RIVER STATE in Nigeria.

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Okfold(Sobe, Edo, Nigeria)says...

I want the meaning of female owan name Ekeke (Edo state)

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Toluwalase Samuel Olufemi(Ijebu, Ogun, Nigeria)says...

Authority belongs to God, once He decrees it is final and binding

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Ikponmwosa Osamede(Edo, Nigeria)says...

Your meaning of Osamede is wrong. Osamede means God has given me a crown