Right Of Reply: You Cannot Sell That Which You Do Not Own BY UNIMKE NAWA

In Breaking News, Columnists, National News, Opinion, Politics
Unimke Nawa
Unimke Nawa

A recent edition of the crossriverwatch.com published a report in which it alleged a conspiracy of former general managers of the Cross River State Newspaper Corporation, publishers of the Nigerian Chronicle and Weekend Chronicle, to sell some houses of the corporation to themselves which were left in trust with them to take care of.

Though your medium withheld the names of the “co-conspirators”, I deem it necessary to comment on the report as a rejoinder that, being a former general manager in the establishment, I may not be mistaken by your readers to assume that I am also involved.

Late Bashorun MKO Abiola had an uncanny way of polishing Yoruba proverbs and making them appear modern, yet so simple. For the couple of years I worked with him at the now defunct Concord Press of Nigeria, serving as editor of the Cross River Community Concord, I had the privilege of learning at his feet directly as he had the need to visit Cross River regularly because of his interest in acquiring land for farming in Etinan, Akwa Ibom, and the need for getting newsprint allocated to CPN by the paper mill at Oku Iboku. He, therefore, visited my station regularly; and made me his coordinator of sort for the two projects.

His regular visits gave me the opportunity to literally sit at his feet and listen to his bag of proverbs which became “original” to him. One of his proverbs I loved so much was that in which he postulated that you cannot shave a man’s hair in his absence. Recent developments in the Cross River State Newspaper Corporation, publishers of the Chronicle newspapers, clearly underscore this Abiola proverb as we shall soon establish.

In the Weekend Chronicle edition of July 3, the new management of the corporation placed a caveat emptor on the front page of the newspaper, warning buyers against seeking to purchase two of the establishment’s residential houses situated at 3rd Avenue of the State Housing Estate in Calabar. The corporation said in the statement inter alia: “The Corporation has not and does not intend to sell any of the said properties to anybody. Any person(s) who buy(s) or transacts any business touching or concerning the said properties does so at his or her own peril.”

It is apparent that the advertisement is as result of the report of a seven-man committee set up by the new general manager, Mr. Emmanuel Akpong, to verify the assets of the corporation. The media, especially the social media, was awash last week with reports that the two immediate past general managers had unwittingly boarded the houses and sold them to themselves at a princely sum of N7.5 million each.

The reports further claimed that as general manager, Mr. Dominic Kidzu had applied to the former governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, to approve the sale of the two three-bedroom bungalows to the public; on the basis of which he and his then deputy, Mr. Ogbang Akwaji, bought them through the Ministry of Lands and Surveys.

When I was appointed general manager of the corporation in 2003 by former governor, Mr. Donald Duke, the Ministry of Lands had drawn up a list of property government intended to divest itself of, to save it the cost of maintenance. These two buildings were listed among the state’s property purportedly suffering neglect.

Management, knowing that the houses are the corporation’s property, was of the belief that selling them without the corporation’s knowledge and mandate would have amounted to Abiola’s proverbial shaving of a client’s hair in his absence. We, therefore, set up an ad hoc committee with former secretary, Barr. Effiom Nyong, as chairman, to establish the true ownership of the said property.

Funnily, there was paucity of information in the corporation’s archives in respect of the transaction. Nyong took the herculean task of combing the dusty closed files registry of the Cross River Properties Limited (CROSPIL) to fish out the documents we required as proof of ownership. Interestingly, we found the application the corporation had written to the then South-Eastern State Housing Corporation for the houses in 1973, the allocation letter, the receipts for the purchase and the deeds of conveyance of the said houses to the newspaper corporation.

Armed with these, I wrote to Duke appealing for an exemption of the houses from sale as we needed them for the purpose for which they were purchased – to accommodate title editors of the Chronicle stable. The last occupants were Oqua Itu and Idang Alibi in their capacity as Daily and Sunday editors respectively.

Nelson Etukudoh, Raymond Ekpu, Etim Anim, Richard Awubi, Okon Willie Akpan, Pat Okon, etc had lived in those houses. The houses were acquired strictly for editors, not the administrative cadre. The late Pius Igbolo, who was secretary to the corporation, only lived there briefly because he had pressing accommodation issues with his landlord and one of the houses was vacant then.

Duke approved our entreaty and the corporation thus remained the bona fide owners of the property.

The Ministry of Lands has no hand in the management, repairs or assignments of any property of the corporation. The responsibility for the management of these houses rests entirely on the corporation. If there was any intention by the corporation to be rid itself of these assets, established procedures, now popularly referred to as due process, are there to follow.

First, the sitting general manager or any member of the management committee would lay a memorandum to this effect at a meeting of management. The approval of such a memo is then laid before the Board of the corporation. If again this is approved, the said approval is then conveyed to the governor in council since he holds the estates on behalf of the people of Cross River.

Obtaining the governor’s mandate isn’t enough. Armed with the approval, the laws of the state say the corporation would then set up a tenders’ board which will then advertise the sale in the state’s tenders’ journal, the state’s newspaper and at least one national daily. The tendering process must be open and transparent.

No record available to me shows that any of these processes was followed in the purported sale of the houses. Moreover, being the property of the corporation, there is an absolute need to show that proceeds from such sales were deposited in its accounts before they were divested. One other proverb from the late sage used to imply that you do not expect to reap where you never sowed. The ministry cannot pocket proceeds from a property it knows nothing about. That squarely rests ownership in the corporation, not in any individual or ministry.

It is my candid view that the two bungalows, which are the property of the corporation, were never sold by the corporation – which in the first instance, has no other asset in the whole wide world it can call its own.

The move by the Akpong-led management to contain the intransigence of the erstwhile management to strip the corporation of its assets is highly commendable.

Like Abiola would say, the man who created the pencil saw the need to fashion out an eraser for it. The former managers who unwittingly stripped the establishment of its assets need to do the right thing by “erasing” that despicable act and apologising to their predecessors, dead or alive, as well as the staff of the corporation, for the nightmare they inflicted on themselves.

If at all they paid any money to the Ministry of Lands or its agent(s) as they claim, let them take it as a sacrifice for taking a faulty step because they knew ab initio the true position of the property.

Courts do not order for refunds to those who purchase stolen properties.

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