Jonathan group spends N2bn on subsidy adverts

A group operated by President Goodluck Jonathan’s key ministers has spent about N2 billion to run newspaper and radio/television advertisements defending the Federal Government’s aborted petrol subsidy withdrawal, Daily Trust investigation has shown.
The Neighbor to Neighbor Initiative (N2N), a political group formed in the run up to the 2011 election to campaign for Jonathan, placed the advertisements and jingles starting immediately after the government announced ending fuel subsidies on New Year’s Day and went for about three weeks.

Most of the major national newspapers, public and private television networks as well as radio stations run the adverts, which mainly contained messages about the potential benefits of the deregulation policy.

Some of the advertisements also went starkly political, whipping up sectional sentiments.

The Neighbor to Neighbor Initiative was formed by Mrs. Stella Oduah-Ogiemwonyi, now Aviation minister; Mr. Godsay Orubebe, now Minister of Niger Delta; and King Amalate Johnnic, according to records obtained from the Corporate Affairs Commission in Abuja.

It was registered as a non-governmental organisation on April 1, 2011, with Oduah-Ogiemwonyi, Orubebe and Johnnic as trustees.

But there was no evidence directly linking the three to payment of the N2 billion pro-subsidy removal adverts run in newspapers and broadcast stations in the first three weeks of last month.

Press secretary to Orubebe, Ms. Juliet Archibong, declined to comment when contacted. She instead referred our reporter to one Mr Donald, who she said was among people running the affairs of Neigbour to Neigbour.

When our reporter sent a text message to Donald’s line, he replied, saying he was “not in a good position to respond to your inquiry. Neigbour to Neigbour has an initiator who is now Aviation Minister. She would be glad to talk to you.”

But Mrs. Oduah-Ogiemwonyi’s spokesman Mr Joseph Obi, when contacted, said, “the minister is no longer having anything to do with N2N.”

The N2bn adverts

The first advert by the group in the print media appeared on January 6, taking over the front and back pages of a newspaper just few days before the start of the national strike called by labour.

Soon, the series of adverts took off in almost all the major national dailies, with the exception of three. The adverts were in the forms of wraparound, front page, special pages and inside pages, and they were all colour.

Most of the newspapers run an average of three to five pages of the pro-subsidy removal adverts daily during the period of the protests.

Only there major national dailies were left out in the N2N adverts, namely Daily Trust, The Nation and The Punch.

Findings show that most of the beneficiary newspapers charged between N15 million to N27 million for wraparound (front page, back page, inside front page and inside back page) and from N8million to N15 million for front page only.

During the period, the LEADERSHIP newspaper run about 37 pages of such adverts that included a wraparound, three centre spreads, 10 front pages and 10 special position pages (page 2) between January 9 and 18, and 13 other inside colour pages between 9 and 18, January.

Vanguard newspaper run 23 pages, comprising three wraparound, 11 front pages, a centre spread and nine colour pages.

The Guardian run 21 pages; ThisDay got 17 pages; Sun, 35 pages;  Blueprint, 16 pages; Compass, 20 pages; Daily Independent, 17 pages; Champion, 22 pages; Tribune, 30 pages; and Business Day, 6 pages.

The estimated amount that the newspapers charged for those adverts is about N1 billion.

Weekly newsmagazines, including Newswatch, Tell and The News also run the subsidy removal campaign adverts during the period. The magazines also had front page adverts. The magazines got an estimated N150 million.

The amounts of money each of the newspapers and magazines collected for the adverts were calculated based on advert rates of these publications. But all the newspapers usually offer discounts to clients of up to 20 per cent of the rates.

Apart from in the print media, the pro-subsidy removal adverts were run at an average of 15 slots per day on major national television networks for at least two weeks in January, gulping about N650 million.

Radio networks, including over 30 FM and AM stations across the country also run jingles worth about N120 million.

This figure did not include several paid programmes aired by these stations which included pro-subsidy removal analysis, interviews and commentaries.

The N2N began operation sometime in 2010 and soon became the hub of the Jonathan/Sambo Presidential Campaign activities. The group also apparently metamorphosed into a special utility agency through which the Jonathan campaign funds were warehoused and disbursed.

During the heated run-up to the PDP presidential primaries held January last year and the election proper in April, the Jonathan-Sambo team through N2N, took over much of the media space–with huge billboards at strategic locations, prime-time jingles in broadcast stations, and special position adverts in the print media.

The N2N pro-subsidy removal adverts stopped shortly after the end of the national strike two weeks ago.

But early in the week, another group began running new jingles on national television campaigning for total removal of petrol subsidy.

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