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Newspapers owners slash salaries by 50%, reduce print pagination by 45%

Covid-19 is not sparing the 4th Estate!

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Nigeria has boasted to have the freest and most outspoken press among other African states, though the industry has consistently been the target of harassment by past military dictatorships, and even in some cases, by democratically elected Governors and Presidents. Many journalists have been imprisoned, exiled, and tortured.

As we speak, the industry and practitioners are facing a different kind of torture. This time around, not by any political office holder, but by a looming recession that has befallen the industry. Though the industry had been battling with several hurdles before the advent of Coronavirus, the pandemic is threatening its survival amid other uncertainties.

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The sector, according to some journalists and industry watchers, is currently grappling with several problems, ranging from COVID-19 pandemic, depleted funds due to the lockdown across major cities, loss of revenue due to lower ad sales, looming job loss, and salaries slashed, among others.

The staff of most of the print news platforms are going through bad times. While a lot of them were informed of salary cuts from April 2020 till further notice, some have lost their jobs as their employers embarked on ‘Operation Cut Cost at all Cost’.

The unfortunate thing is that the sack is on-going. What that means is that anyone that was not sacked in April should not be over-confident, as the firms are rolling out more letters of dismissal or slash in staff salaries.

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In separate interviews, some staff of The Nation, BusinessDay, Punch Newspapers, Television Continental (TVC), and Cool FM, among others, lamented over fears of either losing their jobs or suffering more salary cuts. A lot of them told Nairametrics that their managements had told them that it would never be ‘Business as usual’, as no one could tell when the COVID-19 pandemic would be over.

In the case of The Nation, findings revealed that the medium is currently serving some staff across departments letters of disengagement. Already, over 100 out of about 500 workers (across Nigeria) have been sacked and still counting.

One of the medium’s managers, who claimed anonymity, told Nairametrics that the management told employees that the exercise would continue until the company stabilized, a time which no one can tell for now. That is not all, The Nation has also slashed salaries of everyone earning over N60,000 by 50%.

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He said, “It started when the company reduced the pages of the Newspaper from 48 to 32 pages and the excuse then was that it was due to the lockdown, which crashed the readership of the newspaper. Another notice followed that a certain percentage of the staff strength would be reduced.

“As if that was not enough, we got another notice that salaries would be cut by 50%, which was the final straw. We got confused because we had thought if people are sacked, there wont be a pay cut. This is indeed a bad time for the industry and for us here because if more people are sacked, few of us left would have to do their jobs with less pay.”

For Punch, one of the reputable and widely read newspapers in Nigeria, this is indeed a trying period. After exploring other options like slashing pages of the dailies from 62 to 32 (depending on the numbers of advertisement), the Ademola Osinubi led-management also took a COVID-19 induced decision and informed its staff beforehand. Here is an excerpt of the memo Osinubi sent to all staff:

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This pandemic has dealt with our business telling and severe blows. Our circulation and advertisement revenues dipped dangerously, compounding the operational and revenue challenges birthed by the migration of a majority of print newspaper readers and adverts to digital platforms.

“I am not at liberty to disclose all of the measures that the management has taken so far. But the ones that could be made public include an immediate reduction in print pagination; staff furloughing to comply with government and expert advisories on social distancing; the temporary shutdown of the sports newspaper; and significant financial reengineering.

“All projections point at a bleak and uncertain future for the media industry and the economy. Notwithstanding, the company’s commitment to the welfare of its staff remains cardinal, hence, the decision to pay 100% salaries in the month of April and fulfil all annual leave obligations, despite the dip in revenues. All staff, including our colleagues, asked to stay away from work in April, have been paid their full salaries.”

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But does that mean the workers should not expect full salaries in the month of May?

“Considering the fact on the ground and the body movement of the board, full salaries may not be paid in May and some people, especially in the newsroom, would be forced to resign.

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“The management has started from the Sports desk and would soon move to other desks. The idea is to concentrate more on the online version of the platform and start a significant financial re-engineering,” a source in the company told Nairametrics.

The Nation and Punch Newspapers are not the only firms that have either slashed salaries or dismissed staff. While Tribune Newspaper reduced pages from 46 to 32, and slashed salaries between 10 and 35% depending on the level of the staff, BusinessDay also reduced the pages of its Monday editions, which is its major product, from 65 to 32, and New Telegraph dropped pages from 48 to 32 among others.

In the broadcast sub-sector of the industry, the workers of AIM Group, owners of Nigeria Info, Cool FM, Wazobia and Arewa, have to swallow the bitter pills too.

While trying to ensure that the majority of its staff are retained, the group had no choice but to let some of the staff embark on unpaid leave.

The Head, Human Resources of the Group, Oyinkan Adeniyi, in an internal memo seen by Nairametrics,  said:

The Management of AIM Group has had to weigh a lot of options that can be taken during this trying times to minimize the negative impact the pandemic has had on our operations, ensure the majority of our staff are retained while still meeting up with financial obligations to you our highly esteemed employees, suppliers and other stakeholders.

“We have reached a very difficult position of placing all staff who are currently at home, not working since the commencement and who will not be working now that skeletal services will be commencing on a Furlough (unpaid leave) until things normalize. This means that while staff who are home now and not working remain our staff, they will not be paid salaries for the period not worked and until they are recalled back to the office.”

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How long it will take the media organizations to rebound, and re-engage their employees to work optimally, depends on how early the nation survives COVID-19 or how soon the Federal Government offers bail-out to operators in the industry. Though, the bail-out option may be a tall order, stakeholders are optimistic that the industry may soon be out of the woods.

Patricia

Abiola has spent about 14 years in journalism. His career has covered some top local print media like TELL Magazine, Broad Street Journal, The Point Newspaper. The Bloomberg MEI alumni has interviewed some of the most influential figures of the IMF, G-20 Summit, Pre-G20 Central Bank Governors and Finance Ministers, Critical Communication World Conference. The multiple award winner is variously trained in business and markets journalism at Lagos Business School, and Pan-Atlantic University. You may contact him via email - [email protected]

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Business

Austin Avuru retires as CEO of Seplat petroleum, to receive huge benefits

According to the notice, Avuru will be considered a “good leaver” on his retirement.

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Austin Avuru retires as CEO of Seplat petroleum, to receive huge benefits, Seplat to acquire more oil & gas assets after Eland's acquisition

Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Seplat Petroleum Development Company Plc, Austin Avuru has retired as CEO of the company, but will remain on the board as a Non-Executive Director.

According to a notice sent to the Nigerian Stock Exchange and signed by the company secretary Mrs Edith Onwuchekwa, the resignation took effect on July 31, 2020.

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READ MORE: Seplat denies swindling FG of N600 billion despite co-conspirator’s guilty plea

What this means

According to the notice, Avuru will be considered a “good leaver” on his retirement and receive his remuneration and benefits as such.

The Remuneration Committee has confirmed that Avuru will receive “a lump sum payment in lieu of notice equal to his salary, benefits, and pension allowance until November 18, 2020” as well as other security and travel benefits.

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He would also receive a loss of office payment equal to 12 months’ salary, as compensation and in accordance with the Nigerian market practice.

READ ALSO: Seplat’s Austin Avuru no longer has direct shares in company 

In line with the provisions of the Directors’ Remuneration Policy approved by shareholders of the Company at its 2018 AGM, he will also receive a pro-rata bonus (in cash) to reflect his time as CEO during the financial year, and same “will be provided in the Company’s Directors Remuneration Report for 2020 and subsequent years”.

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Seplat will also vest awards made in form of deferred shares in 2019 and 2020 at the normal vesting dates, and subject to the achievement of the relevant performance conditions, and Avuru will be subject to the post-employment shareholding requirement for two years.

The company management and board appreciated Avuru for his ‘excellent leadership’ in growing the company to become a notable player in the Nigerian and wider African hydrocarbon industry.

READ: Okomu Oil Palm ‘s profit declines by 43.22% as at Q3 2019  

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Backstory

On November 18 2019, Seplat Petroleum Development Company Plc announced that Mr Austin Avuru will be retiring as CEO at the end of July 2020.

This is in line with Avuru’s earlier plans to retire sometime around his 62nd birthday.

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Companies

UBA denies N41 billion NITEL fraud allegations

United Bank for Africa (UBA) has described the alleged N41 billion fraud levied against its Chairman, Mr Tony Elumelu, as untrue, misleading, malicious, and libellous.

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UBA Records 13% Earnings Growth and Delivers N111billion Profit

The Management of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) has described the alleged N41 billion fraud levied against its Chairman, Mr. Tony Elumelu, as untrue, misleading, malicious, and libellous, and said that it should be disregarded in its entirety.

This was disclosed in a statement issued by the bank to the Nigerian Stock Exchange and signed by the company’s secretary, Bili Odum, on Friday. Media reports in some online blogs alleged the former CEO of the bank was indicted” prompting the bank to issue a denial via a press release.

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In the press release stated Statement To The Nigerian Stock Exchange on False Reports in the Media, the bank stated that “it has set in motion all appropriate legal actions to ensure that the misleading reports are retracted and the perpetrators held accountable for their actions”.

READ MORE: Guinea Insurance Plc gives optimistic Q3 earnings forecast in spite of COVID-19

It also stated that it will “continue to conduct its business in line with global best corporate governance practices, extant laws, and regulations,” as it has done in over 70 years of operations.

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Back story: The counsel to NITEL, J.U Ayofu petitioned the Senate Committee Chairman on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions about the alleged fraud. The committee chairman, Senator Ayo Akinyelure, claimed the ”the N41billion alleged fraud was committed against the defunct Telecommunications company and National Carrier, NITEL”

They alleged the amount was withdrawn “systematically from NITEL for nine years” under the leadership of the bank.

READ ALSO: N1.5 billion Probe: Contractor could land in EFCC net for abandoning CCB project 

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Senate Committee Chairman on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Mr. Ayo Akinyelure, reportedly said, “The N41 billion alleged fraud was committed against the defunct telecommunications company and national carrier, NITEL.

According to the reports, in view of this, the senate committee has summoned the Group Managing Director/CEO of UBA, Mr. Kennedy Uzoka, to appear before it on Wednesday, August 5, 2020.

UBA denies wrongdoing

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Despite the allegations, the Management of the Bank denied all the allegations and will use all legal means to clear its name. “We have set in motion all appropriate legal actions to ensure that the misleading reports are retracted and the perpetrators held accountable for their actions.”

READ ALSO: More banks, insurance firms declare closed periods ahead of H1 results release

UBA’s 2020 second-quarter result is expected to be released next week. The market appears to have shrugged off the allegations as thee company’s share price closed at N6.2  gaining 3.3% week on week.

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Companies

Airtel Africa’s profit up 12.9%, customer base reaches 111.5 million

Airtel Africa had risen in customers’ base by 11.8% to 111.5 million in spite of the pandemic.

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Airtel Africa’s profit up 12.9%, customer base reaches 111.5 million in Q2

Airtel Africa on Friday posted an impressive Q1 ending June 2020 financial statement with an operating profit of $210 million up by 12.9%which showed a 111.5 rise in customers’ base of 11.8% to 111.5 million in spite of the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic. The Company also reported an operating profit of $210 million up by 12.9%.

Airtel reports its year end March 31st 2020.

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Key highlights of Airtel Africa Q1 2020 include;

  • Customer base grew by 11.8% to 111.5 million.
  • Revenue increased by 6.9% to $851m, with constant currency revenue growth of 13.0%
  • Constant currency revenue growth was recorded across all key business segments, with voice revenue up by 2.2%, data by 35.7%, and mobile money by 26.3%.
  • Underlying EBITDA increased by 7.9% to $375m, with constant currency growth of 14.6%
  • The reported underlying EBITDA margin was 44.1%, up by 40 bps.
  • Operating profit increased by 12.9% to $210m, an increase of 21.5% in constant currency
  • Free cash flow was $96m compared to $62m in the same period last year.
  • Earnings per share (EPS) before exceptional items was $1.0 cents and basic EPS was $1.1 cents.
  • Net debt to underlying EBITDA was 2.2x, compared to 3.0x in June 2019.

(READ MORE: Airtel Africa announces IPO result in Malawi, says its fully subscribed)

Raghunath Mandava, chief executive officer, Airtel Africa explained the company’s business was to survive the COVID-19 pandemic amid all odds. He said;

“During the last quarter, our business was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, as restrictions on movements of people and ways of socializing were introduced to contain the spread of infection. In these unprecedented times, we have worked with governments, regulators, partners, and suppliers to keep customers and businesses connected as well as supporting the economies and communities.

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“We focused on expanding and maintaining our network to ensure it could cope with increasing demand, we kept our distribution up and running by increasing the penetration of digital recharges and stock levels, and we expanded our home broadband solutions to ensure customers could work and access entertainment remotely.”

Raghunath Mandava, chief executive officer, Airtel Africa spoke about growing concerns on the resurgence of COVID-19, but he was optimistic based on Airtel Africa’s present result and investment. He continued by saying ;

“The outlook remains uncertain, particularly regarding a so-called potential second wave of infections and the actions governments will decide to take in that event. However, these results are further evidence of the growth opportunities our markets offer and the effectiveness of our strategy to focus on winning customers, investing in our network and expanding our voice, data and mobile money businesses.”

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The stock is presently trading at N348 with a market capitalization of N1.308 trillion, dividend yield at 3.38%, price/earnings ratio at 10.63 at the time this report was drafted.

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