Seven years after the purchase, installation and commissioning of a printing press worth $1.5 million, the Akwa Ibom State Government has abandoned the machines to rot away, Daily Trust Saturday reports.
The press, which consists of a SupraSetter A105, otherwise known as Computer To Plate (CTP) machine, runs a resolution of 2,400 DPI and a Goss Community Press with a web offset press, which has the capacity to print 17 colour pages, 32 black and white pages of a newspaper, and runs 500,000 impression per hour.
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The project, initiated by the administration of former Governor Godswill Akpabio and commissioned at the twilight of the administration, was meant to be operated by the Akwa Ibom Newspaper Corporation (AKNC), publishers of Pioneer Newspapers.
It was designed to serve the multifaceted purpose of printing the state-owned paper, operate as a commercial entity by accommodating the printing needs of national dailies and local newspapers, as well as create direct and indirect employment for 1,000 persons.
Findings reveal that some national dailies had already indicated interest to print their newspapers at the press, especially as it would enhance circulation and early arrival of the papers in the South South region.
However, these lofty dreams became a mirage as the press was not tested; it never printed any copy of the Pioneer on the day it was test-run by the experts brought in to manage it.
Investigations show that the machines have not worked since it was commissioned by Akpabio on May 28, 2015 – his last official day in office.
In fact, the complex housing the press has remained locked. It was gathered that the government is yet to officially hand over the press to the management of the AKNC.
As at today, the Pioneer Newspapers, which prints 3,000 copies of the Monday, Mid-week and Weekend editions weekly, is printed at a commercial press.
Violation of civil service rules
Speaking on the abandonment of the press, a former general manager of Pioneer Newspaper, Mr Silas Udo, who was in office when the press was installed, blamed it on the manner in which the project was handled.
Udo revealed that no member of staff was trained on how to operate the machines; as such, the machines were not used by the Pioneer to print any paper.
He stated that the Akwa Ibom Newspaper Corporation did not officially receive the printing press as it was never handed over to the corporation by the supervising ministry, Ministry of Information and Strategy.
He mentioned that the procedural process of receiving the machines was not done because the necessary checklist to ascertain what the state government paid for, and what was sent by the manufacturers was not done.
“The press was never used to print the Pioneer in my time. No Pioneer staff under my watch went for training anywhere to master the workings of the press.
“Yes, we did not receive the press. It was a deliberate decision not to receive it as the procedural processes were not done or seen to be done. For example, the checklist to ascertain if what the government paid for were the things sent by the manufacturers was not done.
“It would, therefore, have been against civil service procedure to sign a Stores Receipt Voucher (SRV). So unless this was done after I left service, the press remained under the administration of the supervising ministry,” he stated.
Also speaking, Mr Idorenyin Umoren, the then production manager of the AKNC said he was one of the committee members of Rotary Press Pre-shipment Inspection Committee announced by the state government to visit Goss Community Press Company in Germany.
Umoren, however, stated that the committee was not inaugurated, and the inspection to the Goss Community Press Company in Germany, Hieldelberg, never happened.
He said they were only informed that the machines had arrived Uyo through Onne in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, and they were expected to receive them, saying no production staff of the AKNC was trained on how to operate the machines.
Calls for probe
Meanwhile, Mr Patrick Usen, the consultant who handled the project, blamed the Ministry of Information for the failure of the project and called for a probe into the abandonment of the press.
Usen explained that the machines failed to work due to improper installation, saying the managers of the project did not follow the procedures necessary to set up a press.
He revealed that if the machines were properly commissioned, the representatives of Hieldelberg, Goss Graphics and himself, who facilitated the process from the purchase and shipment of the machines, would have been available at the installation and commissioning.
He questioned the manner in which the machines were received, saying there was no confirmation of what was received vis-a-vis what was sent, adding that the auxiliary equipment, which came with the machines such as Forklift, Rollers etc, which are among major equipment for the smooth running of the machines, were missing.
“Governor Godswill Akpabio had excellent intentions for the state and the Pioneer Newspaper in particular. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Information truncated that project. They should be held responsible. I don’t know where this inquiry will end, but I think a commission of enquiry should be set up to probe the issue.
“That Web Offset Press has not been received till today by the Pioneer; that is, it has not been officially handed over by Goss Graphics to Pioneer because of the haphazard installation procedures. There was no adherence to good engineering practice of installation. They hurriedly put that up together and called the governor, and I think the machine collapsed and failed there.
“There was no ink, no rolling papers, no printing plate needed to print for the governor to see. All those things were not there; and the machine collapsed that day,” he said.
The consultant called for a technical audit of what was supplied, what was installed, and how it was installed, as well as possible errors with the installation processes so as to correct the abnormality that has kept the machines from working.
He lamented that the state government was yet to pay him his contract fee for the project, adding that he was willing to return for a proper installation of the machines if the government was willing to follow the right process.
He, however, warned that the SupraSetter A105 (Computer to Plate) machine may have to be upgraded as it may have outlived its lifespan of six years while lying idle.
“There must be a technical audit of what was supplied, what was installed, how it was installed and also find out if there were errors with the procedures of installation and realign the machine to start all over again.
“The lifespan of the Goss Graphics could be up to 50 years, but the Computer to Plate would last, let’s say between five and six years. All you need is to change the parts and upgrade,” he advised.
Unfortunately, efforts to speak with Mr Aniekan Umana, the then commissioner for information who supervised the whole process of purchasing, installing and commissioning the press, were not successful as he did not pick up his calls nor respond to text messages sent to his phone.
When the present commissioner for information and strategy, Mr Ini Ememobong, was contacted on the situation of the printing press, he said the state government was working to resolve all gray areas surrounding the project.
He said government had plans to hand over the management of the press to private investors, saying the option of some possible investors who have indicated interest in managing the press is being considered.
“When I came into office I visited the facility and commissioned an inquiry into issues surrounding it. We are working to reconcile all gray areas.
“In line with the governor’s determination to continue to achieve results in a most cost effective way, we had to open up the business to private investors who would come and manage the press.
“Many have indicated interest and we are still considering the options. I assure you that before the exit of this administration, the press will be taken over for proper management,” he said.
However, the possibility of the press being revived less than 14 months before the administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel elapses is a course for concern because if the plans fail, the machines will continue to deteriorate.