In 2006, more than 18 Nigerian and American music stars headlined the first ThisDay Music festival organized by one of Nigeria’s newspaper barons and notorious salaries deadbeat, Nduka Obaigbena, Chairman and Owner of ThisDay Newspapers PLC.
The superstars included Beyonce Knowles, Shawn Corey Carter popularly known as Jay-Z, Snoop Dog, Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, and Ciara; King Sunny Ade, 2Face Idibia, MajekFashek, D’ Banj, Lagbaja, Weird MC, Dare Art Alade. It was billed as the biggest music festival in Nigeria’s entertainment history.
The Newspaper boss allegedly spent millions of dollars to host the three-day music festival to “commemorate Nigeria’s independence”.
But at the Apapa headquarters of the newspaper organization, staffers worked under the most grisly and inhuman labor conditions: owed months of salaries while their boss partied at the venue Lagos Polo Grounds with best of that year’s superstar entertainers and celebrities.
While Nduka Obaigbena imported world music superstars for entertainment purposes inside his newspaper empire, unpaid workers waited after the scheduled work hours hoping he would order the accounts department to make midnight sudden merciful payments to editorial staff lounging around the newsroom.
Godwin Agboroko was shot and killed on his way home, after waiting late night at the office, for his unpaid salary. Agboroko was a vibrant, brilliant ThisDay editor and columnist. He was loyal to the brand, despite non-payment of salaries. On December 22, 2006, Agboroko decided to wait after his regular work hours, incase Obaigbena paid staffers part of past due salaries. He had family. Christmas was few days away. Those days, Obaigbena, allegedly had a habit of suddenly issuing orders to the company’s accounts department to make cash payments to those staffs in the newsroom. Staff that left early lost out of “spontaneous goodwill gesture”. They would have to wait for several months or when Obaigbena desired to be kind hearted and created another spur of the moment pay day at midnight to those present in the newsroom. That night, Agboroko waited for a magical moment from his boss. He delayed his return home to his family. When it seemed that Obaigbena might not pay, a disappointed creative and loyal staff drove home in the wee hours of a dangerous Lagos night. While driving home, Agboroko drove into a roadblock mounted by armed robbers along Apapa road, a few meters from his office. He was fatally shot during alleged armed robbery. He died without salaries for his dedicated services to the company. The newspaper never paid his family the deserved arrears he was owed.
Samuel Famakinwa was one of the newspaper’s young, promising Deputy Editors. On August 2, 2007, Famakinwa flew into Maiduguri for an assignment with the then Borno State Governor, Senator Ali Modu Sherriff. Hours after he arrived, his body was discovered in his room 245 of the International Hotel Maiduguri. He allegedly died of a heart attack.
“Why do you think these men are dying in their prime? It’s work pressure and lack of money and owed salaries,” explained a former ThisDaystaff. Famakinwa’s family buried their loved one.
Months after his death, Obaigbena brought his audacious personality and opulence to host the second ThisDay Music festival, again, featuring the best of international music superstars, interspersed with Nigerian local stars.
Non-payment of salaries impacted the lives and families of ThisDay staff in the most brutal, humiliating and inconvenient ways. Senior editors reportedly withdrew their children from private schools because they could not afford school fees. Staffs dreaded going home after work to their spouses, children and members of their families with the same tales of hopelessness: yet Obaigbena partied on with the most valuable world leaders, entertainers and celebrities. He was reported to be arrogant and intolerant to complaints from disgruntled staffers. “He has nasty ways of humiliating his staff” echoed an ex-staff that chose to remain anonymous. In 2010, veteran and hardworking Judicial Editor, Funso Muraina, was humiliated after years of service for silly excuses of allegedly missing a Nigerian Bar Association trending news. Muraina never recovered from that humiliation. The stress led to a series of unexplained ailments. He died at 49, July 5th, 2010, “after a brief illness”.
Paul Ohia, young devoted Foreign Desk Editor of ThisDay, decided to head home to his wife and two children at close of work on October 22, 2013. As he drove along Marine Road toward his young family, Paul suddenly became weak and dizzy and began to gasp for breath. He somehow, managed to pull his vehicle to the median. Minutes later, passersby found him slumped inside his vehicle, unresponsive. Ohia’s cause of death was ruled as cardiac arrest.
It is no surprise that while these young dedicated staffers died under mysterious circumstances, mostly from stress related heart attacks and illnesses, Nduka Obaigbena continued to reposition his personal brand. Even as his company did poorly, he desperately desired to be seen and recognized as one of the world’s best business moguls, invested millions of dollars chasing after prominent past western and European leaders such as: Bill Clinton, George W Bush, Tony Blair, Condoleezza Rice, Collin Powell. Between 2010 and 2013, Nduka paid about $2 million dollars to President Clinton for speeches in Nigeria. Unconfirmed sources disclosed that he also paid between $1 million and four million dollars to former President George Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and former United States Secretaries of State, Condoleeza Rice and Collin Powell, at separate arranged visits to deliver speeches.
He assembled known music gangsta-rap artists, showered them with millions of dollars while his staff waited every night, in vain, for their past due salaries. In 2007, the newspaper baron, turned concert promoter allegedly paid Snoop Dog $1 million dollars to appear in ThisDay Music Festival. The Nigerian Breweries, earlier contacted Snoop’s agents to headline its Music fest that summer. But he offered more money to Snoop and thus, Snoop turned his back on NBL. Obaigbena was reckless with his wealth. He willingly and outrageously paid huge money to influential rich leaders of the world and entertainers while his staffs were sick, terminally ill or dead.
Jude Okwe, died recently from a terminal disease. Those familiar with the tragic death of Okwe confirmed that his illness was accelerated by lack of finance to seek medical care in the early stages. His health quickly deteriorated. Help came a bit late from the Cross Rivers state government,” ThisDay abandoned Jude”. Another editorial staff, Tunde Sanni, also kissed death. He could only afford to receive medical treatment in his hometown until his death. Deputy Political Editor, Ademola Adeyemo died from a heart attack early this year because he had no money to seek early treatment for his ailing heart.
ThisDay Sokoto State Bureau Chief is currently suffering from kidney disease. He needs a kidney transplant and Nduka Obaigbena could neither assist nor pay his past due salaries. His condition is pathetic. It touched the heart of the Editor, Ijeoma Nwogwugwu. moved by her staff’s sad situation, and she recently donated N400,000 from her personal account to assist her colleague in fighting this deadly disease. Also, through the intervention of former ThisDay reporter, now Special Assistant on Media to the Sokoto State Governor, Imam Imam, the State government has offered to sponsor him to India for further life-saving treatment.
But even as his company did poorly, Mr. Obaigbena did well. Nigeria’s Islamist terror group, Boko Haram, on April 26th, 2012 shattered the offices of ThisDay’s Kaduna and Abuja offices with a bomb last, killing at least six staffers of the news organization. After the blasts, Obaigbena filed Insurance claims for his properties damaged by the blasts in both cities. All the while, Mr. Obaigbena also received copious amounts for himself, with the help of the Jonathan administration, which compensated him for loss of properties and lives. The staffers that were injured but survived the terror attacks are daily traumatized by the sad experiences, while those that lost their lives are forgotten.
Last December, Mr. Obaigbena was fingered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as a beneficiary of the alleged $2.1 billion Dasukigate. Sambo Dasuki was the former National Security Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan. The EFCC alleged that Dasuki diverted the money meant for procurement of weapons and arms to fight Boko Haram insurgency, but were used for other corrupt, unaccounted purposes. Nduka allegedly received about N670 million from the loot. The agency continues to investigate Obaigbena.