Azubuike Ishiekwene, until last Thursday, the executive director (ED) of Punch, says the report of the committee raised by the management of the company to investigate the allegations of fraud levelled against him by the former editor of the newspaper, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, did not indict him.
â€œThe committeeâ€™s work is done. Its report, and that of the Management Committee, done after six weeks of exhaustive investigation, which I could not have influenced in any way, did not indict me of any fraud,â€ the former Punch ED, fondly called Azu, said in a statement entitled, â€œAn Era of Ends, A Story Begins,â€ yesterday.
He said, â€œAfter three weeks of sitting, minus one previous of investigations by the Management of the petition, Mr. Steve Ayorinde could not produce a shred of evidence in support of his claim that I used my office to enrich myself. Or that I was on the payroll of politicians, banks and some public officials. He had two clear opportunities to do this in five weeks â€“ first on March 8 when the company wrote him to supply evidence, and later when he appeared before the Board committee on April 3. On both occasions, he failed to substantiate his allegations.
â€œI voluntarily submitted my statement of account; IBTC Share Tender Form and UBA cheque number 80473333 dated September 27, 2007 in favour of Nigerian Motor Industries LimitedÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â for the sum of N1.95million with which I purchased the car that Mr. Ayorinde falsely alleged was given to me as a gift; and three-year visa pages from my international passport for the committeeâ€™s inspection. I also submitted the original copy of my passport for citing.
â€œAnd the surcharge pages? In his petition, Mr. Ayorinde gave the impression that Arik Air was the only company that published adverts on the early pages without paying a surcharge. This, of course, is incorrect. I must say that the charge that I had overstretched my authorised discretion in favour of the advertiser and that I did not fully disclose my relationship with the company, is regrettable.
Yet, it is important to stress that neither the report of the Management committee nor the Board committee, nor yet the Board indicted me of any fraud either about the adverts or any other allegations by Mr. Steve Ayorinde. However, there were at least 23 other adverts in 2009, including full page colour adverts by Etisalat, First Bank, Zain, Globacom and the Lagos State Government for which surcharges were not paid but which also appeared on the early pages.
â€œIn his bid to throw the kitchen sink at me, Mr. Ayorinde was obviously not concerned about who else might have been in breach. The same Steve Ayorinde who told Oâ€™Femi Kolawole, in his book, titled, The gatekeepers, published in October 2009 but released in December 2009, that, â€œhe (Ayorinde) opted to work in the daily edition (of Punch) with the man he had come to admire as one of the best in Nigeriaâ€™s contemporary journalism, Mr. Azubuike Ishiekwene,â€ is now singing a different tune three months later.â€