When former Vice President Atiku Abubakar established North East’s first privately owned radio station in Yola, the Adamawa State capital in 2008, journalists from the government media scrambled for more gainful job opportunities.
With the addition of television station to its portfolio some years later, Gotel Communications Limited, with headquarters on Bajabure hills on the outskirts of Yola, ruled the airwaves in Adamawa and neighbouring states.
- Electoral bill: Presidency mum as timeline for Buhari’s assent elapses today
- FG, states, local councils share N675.946 billion for November
The quality of its audio and video output was superb, while the commercially oriented operational set up suggested sustainability and lasting career for employees. Things had been rosy until the mass retrenchment of 2016.
In those good old days, Atiku would tour the facility with his guests whenever he visited Yola to showcase a growing business venture he established in a state as agrarian as Adamawa.
However, attempt by the company to launch an international news channel, Gotel Africa, flopped after sinking millions of dollars, which went down the drain as the migration to satellite never materialised and the foreign consultants hired for the project under the then chief executive, John Chiahemen, left unceremoniously. The South Africa-based experts reportedly travelled for Easter break and never returned.
In January 2020, the expatriates accused the former vice president of breaching the one-year contract they entered with his media house by owing them several months salaries. But Atiku, who responded through his spokesman, Paul Ibe, accused Chiahemen of stealing N150 million meant for the expatriates’ salaries, an allegation he (Chiahemen) denied.
Sources revealed that Atiku had spent about N2 billion on the Gotel Africa project, only for the company to end up in crisis over unpaid salaries and allowances, and the management left without running cost or money to fuel the electricity generators.
The current labour crisis rocking the organisation has its roots partly in 2016 after the company sacked the entire workforce and immediately returned some of them on a five-year contract, which has just expired this year. Those re-engaged in contract are yet to receive severance allowances amounting to N60 million, which ought to have been paid since December 2016.
In 2019, the former vice president restructured his businesses under the umbrella of Priam Group, which is managed by a team of Indians, an initiative insiders believe is slamming the death knell on the media arm of his business as things continue to degenerate at Gotel.
Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that the group had asked Gotel to generate money for the salaries of its staff, ignoring the fact that the company had become moribund and needed overhaul to be able to generate revenue, and the stations needed migration to satellite to expand its business to other parts of the country for improved revenue generation.
With the Indian management team at Priam Group, salary crisis loomed for the first time, a two-year leave grant accumulated as the situation generated into full blown crisis, with the local branches of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and that of Radio, Television and Theatre Arts Workers Union (RATTAWU) threatening to picket the broadcast house last week.
Following negotiations, the state joint action committee of the two unions agreed to shelve its plan to shut down the company, giving the management additional one week to settle August and September salaries.
The NUJ chairman in the state, Ishaku Dedan, told our correspondent that the action had been suspended after reaching a new agreement with Prime Group with the help of some notable personalities.
Dedan said the management had agreed to pay two months salaries, in addition to one month salary arrears paid recently, while other issues, including leave grant, would be addressed in due course.
“The matter has been resolved after signing a new agreement with the management. I am confident they will respect the agreement reached this time around,” he said.
Some of the workers who spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday under anonymity blamed Priam Group of treating the media house like a production plant, and called on Atiku to ensure the survival of the broadcast company, in view of the social services it rendered to the people of Adamawa and Nigerians in general.
A staff who sought anonymity said he believed the owner was not aware of the developments in Gotel because the general manager was reporting to the group management and could, therefore, not table the matter before Atiku.
“I believe the former vice president is kept in the dark about the problem. The managing director has been reduced to a mere manager and left redundant without running cost. He does not have the powers or funds to repair a broken chair, let alone fuel a generator. Even staff files have been moved to the Group’s office.
“For weeks there is no diesel to run the generator, so we are at the mercy of the Yola Electricity Distribution Company. When there is no electricity supply, production stops.
“Our transmitters are grounded and the Group could not release funds for spare parts. Our engineers did their best by removing parts from one transmitter and transferring it to another. I learnt Priam Group did not even respond to the requests,” he said.
‘Gotel needs state of emergency’
A journalist and one of the pioneer staff of the company, Shekarau Yarima, alleged that Atiku was ill-advised and defrauded by the people he trusted, who allegedly connived with foreign consultants to mismanage funds. He identified major problems facing the organisation as under-funding and lack of independence.
Shekarau, who anchors a popular Hausa political programme, ‘Dimokradiyya a Yau’, advised the owner to make the media house independent and appoint local experts to pilot its affairs.
“Gotel needs state of emergency. I would advise the owner to pay off all the staff, turn around the station and appoint competent local persons to manage it as an independent media company. We have capable hands around, like the current general manager, Muhammad El-Yakub, who has been in the system for long and understands its problems, or the former director, Joshua Hassan, who is an engineer and good administrator,” he said.
Shekarau recalled days when workers received wardrobe allowances, entitlements paid at when due and salaries sometimes paid on the 19th day of the month. He said the stations had enjoyed patronage from neighbouring states.
“Signal output has fallen from 50 to 30 due to lack of maintenance. The quality is there, but we need satellite connection. The quality of the television is there, but we want migration to satellite. Now, we cannot be watched beyond 60 kilometers,” he said.
When contacted, the general manager, El-Yakub refused to comment on the crisis, saying the media house is now under the Priam Group. However, the Group Managing Director of the company, Vinay Gairola, could not be reached for comment as he was said to be based in London.
Companies under Priam Group include Adama Beverages Ltd (makers of Faro water and juice), Rico Gado (animal feeds), Adama Plast (storage sacks and plastic accessories), Chicken Cottage (eatery), Gotel Communications Ltd (Tv/Radio AM/Radio FM), Standard Micro Finance Bank and AUN Hotel.