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The Nigerian Chronicle : Waiting to rise again from ashes of #EndSARS vandalisation

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The burnt printing press

At the entrance to the 47-year-old premises of Cross River State government-owned newspaper, The Nigerian Chronicle, a host of workers sit like refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs) waiting for food. Others take shelter under a tree to escape the scorching sun. Everywhere looks deserted and crying for attention.

Inside the facility, the General Manager, Emma Okpong, is seated in an empty office with just a small plastic table and two chairs. There is no window or door in the office. Not even a pin to clip documents can be found. Worst of all, there is no air-conditioner to regulate the room’s temperature.

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Last October, during the EndSARS protest, the facility was torched by protesters, who stripped it naked — Toilet seats, tiles, ceilings, windows and doors etc were all carted away.

Rampaging protesters made efforts to bring the sculpture in front of the main building down but they couldn’t.

A source, who spoke to The Guardian, said the place might soon be up for sell. The source revealed that this is one of the reasons that four months after the place was vandalised, no repairs had been carried out.

But for the two computer sets donated by James Ebri, younger brother of the former governor of the state, Mr. Clement Ebri, the paper would have long gone out of the streets.

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“There is nothing again to use for production. Everything is gone,” our source said.

“Media veterans such as, Ray Ekpu, a media columnist; the Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom, Obong Moses Ekpo and many others, who passed through the paper, would weep when they find out the magnitude of destruction.”

It was gathered that the Akwa Ibom deputy governor had planned to visit the library, fondly referred to as the engine room or brain box, to retrieve the hard copies of his past works for uploading as soft copies for posterity before the incident, but he couldn’t make it before the rampage. What is now left of the library is a heap of ashes from the burnt archival materials.

The paper would always be remembered for an interview with Mr. Alozie Ogugbuaja, a police officer in Calabar, which caused a stir during the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. In the interview he granted some young trainee journalists, he said the only thing soldiers do at the officers’ mess is to drink pepper soup and plan coups.

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One of the reporters then, Ojong Okongo, said, “my memory of Chronicle from Ebri, in the short-lived third republic, to James Egbala and Patrick Okon, my boss, we were all there, as young men building the Cross River Chronicle for the world. We churned out stories from Nigerian perspective. One of those striking stories was that of Alozie Ogugbuaja and ‘the pepper soup soldier’. Alozie was a police officer in Atakpa Police Station and I was a reporter. We came as industrial attachment students to represent what we studied in the School of Journalism.

“The story was that Army officers don’t do anything but just sit down, eat pepper soup and plot coups. The reporters were arrested for that story and were detained for two months in a cell. After, they released us through the order of Gen. Babangida. That was what we passed through as dutiful journalists in the Chronicle that has now been wrecked.”

The General Manager, Okpong, looking downcast, told The Guardian, “Now what we are trying to do is to ensure that the paper is published once a week. Our computers, library of 45 years, generator, everything is gone. James Ebri came to our aid and donated two computers. We have 87 staff now hanging out like IDPs at least to secure what is left. The printing machines are scrapped. All the tiles in the offices, removed.

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“Now we manage to do editorial work at the NUJ secretariat where they graciously provided us with a room and we go there to do production. The destruction is enormous and the government alone cannot handle the reconstruction considering the fact that several other government properties like the Ministry of Works, Tinapa and others were destroyed. We appeal to philanthropic Cross Riverians and others to come to our aid. Chronicle has endured overtime neglect by successive governments in terms of infrastructural development, dearth of staff (both editorial and auxiliary) and total lack of funding.”

Okpong described the computer donated by Ebri as “the life wire of the corporation now” and commended him for such a quick response and appealed to other public-spirited individuals and organisations to assist the media outfit stabilise.

“Chronicle is one of the most enduring state-owned newspapers, the main source of information to Cross Riverians who depend on printed work. It is imperative it survives,” Okpong lamented.

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Counting losses in terms of naira and kobo, he said, “The building alone is worth over N1billion. The dilomatic exercise book printing machine with the capacity to print 10,000 exercise books per day is gone and its current price is N1 billion. Furniture worth over N500 million, three staff cars belonging to the editor-in-chief and Vice President, East of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mr. Samuel Egbala and the Advert Manager, Mr. Eba Erim worth over N10 million. Since October 23, 2020 we have been operating as IDPs. Our nightmare is State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), which we accommodated as tenants and the things stocked there for IDPs attracted them.”

The editor-in-chief, said, “it’s been a bitter experience. If not for technology, by now, I would have been completely out of the profession. With technology one can easily work from the comfort of his room. Anytime, I get to the facility I just get sick, automatically. I can’t imagine myself seeing it the way it is today, it is dehumanising to me as a person and the management.”

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On how the paper manages to come out, he said, “now the main market we have is the change of name or what we call classified. I know we have enough classifieds that can sustain production.”

Deeply touched by the tragedy, the former governorship candidate of the Democratic Front for People’s Federation (DFPP) in Cross River State, Ebri donated two-unit computers to the management of the paper to enable the outfit start production after the vandalisation by hoodlums.

Ebri, who is also a media consultant, said, “when I heard that Nigerian Chronicle was vandalised, I was pained in my heart because this place was a familiar place, my brothers John and Clement, the former governor, were here and if we allow it to die, it will be a great loss to the state and the people.”

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