By Joe Effiong, Uyo
The the noise and controversy surrounding its purchase was deafening. Relations were strained. The Akwa Ibom state government, through the management of its newspaper company, The Pioneer, had accused the late Christiana Essien-Igbokwe and her husband, Edwin, of supplying a faulty printing press to the society.
As a result, this old printing press was scrapped with immediate alacrity and the government opened its safe and withdrew $1.5 million (about 750 million naira today) to buy the supposed rotary machine the best and most modern to replace the old one.
The Igbokwe had claimed that the state government was trying to smear their name by condemning their product so they could spend more money, insisting that the discarded printing press was good to use.
The Akwa Ibom state government did not care. There was money to spend.
So why waste time with scrap metal?
A few years after the administration of Chief Godswill Akpabio, the new press had arrived in containers. The shipment even arrived before the press room to house it was completed. But the room was finally rushed and the machines installed and inaugurated before Akpabio left his governorship in 2015. And that was the end of all the frenzy around the rotary press. It has since remained locked up and abandoned in the new newsroom for over seven years.
Available technical information shows that the press, which consists of a SupraSetter A105, also known as a Computer Plate (CTP) machine, and a Goss community press with an offset rotary press, was meant to be operated by Akwa Ibom Newspaper Corporation (AKNC), publishers of The Pioneer newspapers.
The web offset press has the capacity to print 17 color pages, 32 black and white newspaper pages and produce 500,000 impressions per hour, while the CTP runs at 2,400 DPI resolution.
Prior to its much-publicized purchase, the new press was supposed to allow AKNC to print the state newspaper, Pioneer, in the state at minimal cost, as well as serve as a commercial printing plant for national and local newspapers. , among others.
Some national dailies, The Sun learned, had already shown interest in printing their newspapers to the press, especially as it would improve the circulation and early arrival of newspapers in the south-south region from Uyo, the capital of the state. But after waiting ages to see their hopes dashed, the managers of these dailies have decided to look elsewhere.
Unfortunately, in the rush to get Akpabio to inaugurate the press on May 28, 2015, a day before the end of his administration, certain protocols regarding the acquisition and management of such a press, such as the testing of machines and the official delivery to the buyer, have been flouted. As such, the gargantuan press was like buying a pig out of a poke.
A member of the AKNC leadership confidently told the Daily Sun, “That thing over there hasn’t been properly tested, and it didn’t even print a single page of the Pioneer on the day. where it was tested by the experts brought in to manage the press. Thus, it lay fallow, while the housing complex remained closed. We do not know if the parts are complete or not. We were waiting for its official handover for us. But it seems the government is either confused or not interested in it.
This position was confirmed by the former Managing Director of Pioneer Newspaper, Mr. Udo Silas, who was a strong proponent of buying the press, as he stated that the machines were not used by the Pioneer to print paper and no staff trained in the use of the machines.
He also said that the AKNC did not officially receive the printing press as it was never handed over to the company by the parent Ministry, Ministry of Information and State Strategy. of Akwa Ibom.
“The press was never used to print the Pioneer in my day. No Pioneer personnel under my direction have gone anywhere to train to master the operation of the press.
“Yes, we did not receive the press. It was a deliberate decision not to receive it because the procedural processes were not done or did not appear to have been done. For example, the checklist to ensure that what the government paid corresponds to what was sent. It would therefore have been contrary to civil service procedure to sign a cash certificate (SRV). So unless it was done after I left the service, the press remained under the administration of the line ministry,” he said.
Corroborating Silas, Idorenyin Umoren, then AKNC Production Manager, said he was one of the members of the pre-shipment inspection committee of the AKNC rotary press announced by the state government to visit Goss Community Press Company in Germany.
Umoren, however, said the committee was not inaugurated and the inspection at the Goss Community Press Company in Hieldelberg, Germany never took place.
Curiously, he said they had only been informed that the machines had arrived at Uyo via Onne in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, and that they were to receive them. He insisted that none of the AKNC production staff had been trained to operate the machines.
Meanwhile, Mr. Patrick Usen, the consultant who managed the project, blamed the Ministry of Information for the failure of the project, and called for an investigation into the abandonment of the printing press.
Usen explained that the machines weren’t working due to improper installation, saying project officials didn’t follow the necessary procedures to set up a press.
He said that if the machines had been properly inaugurated, the representatives of Hieldelberg, Goss Graphics and himself, who facilitated the process from the purchase and shipment of the machines, would have been available during installation and of the inauguration.
He questioned how the machines were received, saying there was no confirmation of what was received versus what was sent, adding that ancillary equipment, such as forklifts , rollers, etc., which are among the major equipment for the proper functioning of the machines, were missing.
“Governor Godswill Akpabio had great intentions for the state and the Pioneer newspaper in particular. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Information truncated this project. They should be held accountable. I do not know where this investigation will end, but I think that a commission of inquiry should be set up to probe the question.
“This web offset press has not been received until today by Pioneer, i.e. it has not been officially handed over by Goss Graphics to Pioneer due to random installation procedures . There was no adherence to good installation engineering practices. They rushed to set this up and called the governor, and I think the machine fell apart and failed there.
“There was no ink, no rolling papers, no printing plate to print for the governor to see. All those things weren’t there and the machine collapsed that day,” he said.
The consultant requested a technical audit of what was supplied, what was installed and how it was installed, as well as probable errors in the installation processes, in order to correct the anomalies that prevented the machines to work.
He lamented that the state government has not yet paid him his contract fee for the project, adding that he is ready to return for proper installation of the machines, if the government wishes.
Usen, however, warned that the Supra Setter A105 (CTP) machine may need to be upgraded as it may have outlived its six-year lifespan while idle: “There needs to be an audit technical of what was supplied, what was installed, how it was installed and also find out if there were any errors with the installation procedures and realign the machine to start all over again.
“The life of Goss Graphics could be up to 50 years, but the plate computer would last, say, five to six years. All you need is to change parts and upgrade.
However, Mr. Aniekan Umana, who was then Information Commissioner and now a member of the House of Representatives for the Federal Constituency of Abak-Ika-Etim Ekpo, whose ministry oversaw the entire process of purchase, installation and inauguration of the press, told our correspondent that there was a report on the project.
“There is a connection there. There is no private person involved. The machine was installed in 2015. They can decide whether or not to use the machine. Umanah said.
Commenting on the press, the current Information and Strategy Commissioner, Mr. Ini Ememobong, said: “When I took office, I visited the establishment and commissioned an investigation into the issues. surrounding the press. We are working to reconcile all the gray areas.
“In line with the Governor’s desire to continue to deliver results in the most cost-effective way possible, we had to open up the business to private investors who would come in to manage the press. Many have expressed interest and we are still exploring options. I assure you that before the exit of this administration, the press will be taken in hand for good management.
So $1.5 million has been wasted since 2015, despite rumors that The Pioneer urgently needed a good Goss Community printing press in 2008. Does this confirm what Edwin Ibokwe and his late wife, Christy, said at the time that the previous printing press they provided was good, but government officials were just wasting it?
Edwin Igbokwe, who supplied the condemned and scrapped old print shop to the Pioneer, told our correspondents he knew those involved in buying the new print shop were not sincere.