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How the sun set on Sunray newspaper

The founders of the newspaper had invested a lot in the company as a way of motivating the staff and bringing into the mainstream, a…

The founders of the newspaper had invested a lot in the company as a way of motivating the staff and bringing into the mainstream, a new brand of journalism comparable with what obtained in advanced countries.
Mr Lawson Hayford, a former National Editor of Sunray, in charge of its Lagos office, blamed the demise of the company on bloated staff. “It was fantastic working with Sunray. It was really good and fine to work in such an organization as a journalist but certain things were not put in the right perspective. For instance, the staff strength was bloated and it made management to spend a huge amount of money in payment of salaries and welfare packages to both editorial and non-editorial staff,” he said.
“Its colour was strange to the Nigerian reading public. Newspaper readers then were used to black and white tabloid, but when Sunray came on board with its full colour separation, it did not get general acceptance. It became strange to its readers’,’ Hayford, now a media aide to the Bayelsa State governor said.
For Mr Celestine Ogolo, the General Manager of Tide newspaper and a former editorial staff of Sunray, it was a thing of joy to work with Sunray. “It was wonderful, then, working with Sunray. It was wonderful in the sense that Sunray was my first foray  in the journalism profession. It made one proud as a journalist, given the salary, welfare package and good working environment. But again there were other factors that led to the collapse of the organisation. First, there was a decline in the general acceptability of the newspaper in its Niger Delta catchment areas.
He said: “The sales dropped rapidly. For instance, in Calabar alone, more than 800 copies of the paper were sold daily, but at a point the sales dropped to 150 copies. The drop in sales was not unconnected with the newspaper’s editorial content which was not as cogent as it used to be. There was a serious political factor which made the paper to lose its acceptability”.
Ogolo also blamed Sunray;s death on the publishers, whom he said had a short-term dividend approach to the running of the organization. “Anybody that wants to go into the  newspaper business should be able to make the necessary sacrifice. The newspaper business is not something you venture into and expect immediate profit. Long-term approach to profitability is a key factor to newspaper sustainability’,’ he noted.
When it was established in 1990, the original idea of the founding fathers of the newspaper was to give journalism a distinct brand as obtained in advanced countries and to use it as a platform to champion the cause of the ‘neglected’ Niger Delta region and thus bring to focus the pathetic situation of the oil rich communities.  
With Dr Ombo Isokariari, a Kalabari high chief and former Managing Director of the National Fertilizer Company (NAFCON), at hand to give financial support, the Sunray newspaper was born. The organisation was, indeed, a distinct a brand in terms of its magnificent edifice, which was strategically located at the ever busy Port Harcourt/Aba road. It was a cynosure of all eyes.  
At a point, some passers-by misconstrued the edifice to be the headquarters of one of the multi-national oil and gas organizations in Port Harcourt.
The salary and welfare packages of the staff as well as the working environment were the dream of every journalist. The welfare package was so wonderful that journalists working with Sunray hardly accepted ‘brown envelope’ at press events. It was well organised and pool vehicles were assigned to every department. Its reporters were conveyed to assignment venues to the envy of their colleagues.  
Apart from the editorial content of the newspaper, it also had specialised consultancy departments handling issues in areas of environment, organizational and image related issues. First class brains and highly educated professionals were at the employ of Sunray in its heyday and could boast of tested hands in journalism. The likes of Bobo Brown and Etim Anim were some of the well experienced journalists that were at the top management of the company. But all is now history.
Constance Meju, who also worked as weekly editor of the newspaper, said it started big with the aim of projecting the image of the Niger Delta. “We started fine. We had a dream to do what Lagos people were doing in Lagos. Sunray started the Niger Delta struggle. The paper reported extensively the military occupational activities in Ogoni land. The military were next door neighbour;  military formation is just close to our office and they were very hostile because of our reports on what they were doing in Ogoni land,” he said.
“The paper started very well and it gave journalism a unique brand. But along the line, its financiers who knew little about the workings of the media thought the organisation should have been generating money. Before you knew it the paper started going down. Staff were owed arrears of salaries of 10 months,’’ she stated.
The last straw that broke the camel’s back was the clash of interest between the key investors in the organization. There was crisis of ownership between Dr Isokariari and his bosom friend Chief Fred Asanobi. They were not able to find an amicable way of liquidating the company, a development that led to a protracted litigation to determine who is the actual owner of the company.
The litigation lasted for so many years while the expansive premises of Sunray were under lock and key.
While the legal battle raged the facilities in the company, such as the printing press, generating sets and air condition units were vandalized by unknown persons. The big warehouse that accommodated giant printing machines was converted into a store for rice. When our correspondent visited the newspaper house last week, the entire compound look desolate, while trucksloads of rice were coming and moving out of the warehouse.
Another issue that drew the attention of our correspondent was a mortgage notice placed at main gate indicating that the structure is up for sale. A source who does not want his name mentioned told our correspondent  that both Isokariari and Asanobi had opted to resolve their differences out of court.
Efforts to speak with the principal actors on the issue of ownership of the newspaper were not successful. Chief Asanobi was said to have travelled out of the country, while Dr Isokariari was not at home when our correspondent visited his Ngboba Port Harcourt residence.  However, a source at his residence who pleaded anonymity said the former managing director of NAFCON would not like to comment on the matter.

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