By; PATRICK TITUS, Uyo
Akwa Ibom State Government spent over $1.5 million to acquire a brand new Rotary Press for the state-owned printing press – Akwa Ibom Newspapers Corporation (AKNC), the publishers of PIONEER Newspapers in Uyo.
Basically, the press was meant to enhance productivity and quality print of PIONEER Newspapers by the corporation at a minimal cost as well as serve as a commercial printing press for both national and local newspapers among others.
The press which was initiated by the administration of former Governor Godswill Akpabio, was installed and commissioned at the twilight of the administration, consisting of a Supra Setter A105 otherwise known as Computer To Plate (CTP) machine and a Goss Community Press with a web offset press which has the capacity to print 17 colour pages, 32 black and white pages of newspaper and runs 500,000 impression per hour, while the CTP runs a resolution of 2,400 DPI.
Findings by our correspondent revealed that some national dailies had indicated interest to print their newspapers at the press especially as it would enhance circulation and early arrival of the papers in South South zone.
Unfortunately, the machines which were installed and commissioned on May 28, 2015, were not tested, as they didn’t print any copy of the Pioneer on the day it was test-run by the experts brought in to manage the press, hence, they have been laying fallow, while the complex housing them have remained locked since it was inaugurated over seven years ago.
Investigations further showed that the machines have not worked after the day they were commissioned by Akpabio, even as the government is yet to officially hand over the press to the management of AKNC.
When interviewed, the former General Manager of Pioneer Newspaper, Mr Silas Udo, who was in office when the press was installed, said the machines were not used by the Pioneer to print any paper, neither, was any member of staff trained on how to operate them.
Silas stated that the Akwa Ibom Newspaper Corporation did not officially receive the printing press as it was never handed over to the corporation by the supervising Ministry of Information and Strategy.
According to him, the procedural process of receiving the machines was not done because the necessary checklist to ascertain what the state government paid for, and what was sent by the manufacturers was not done.
“The press was never used to print the PIONEER in my time. No Pioneer staff under my watch went for training anywhere to master the workings of the press.
“Yes, we did not receive the press. It was a deliberate decision not to receive it as the procedural processes were not done or seen to be done. For example, the checklist to ascertain that what the government paid for, are what were sent by the manufacturers was not done.
“It would therefore, have been against civil service procedure to sign a Stores Receipt Voucher (SRV). So unless this was done after I left service, the press remained under the administration of the supervising ministry,” he stated.
Confirming the position of Udo, Mr Idorenyin Umoren, the Production Manager of AKNC then, said he was one of the committee members of AKNC Rotary Press Pre-shipment Inspection Committee announced by state government to visit Goss Community Press Company in Germany.
Umoren however, said that the committee was not inaugurated, and the inspection to the Goss Community Press Company in Germany, Hieldelberg, never happened.
He said they were only informed that the machines arrived Uyo through Onne Port in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, and they were expected to receive them, saying no production staff of AKNC was trained on how to operate them.
Meanwhile, Mr Patrick Usen, the consultant who handled the project blamed the Ministry of Information for the failure of the project and called for a probe into the abandonment of the printing press.
Usen explained that the machines failed to work due to improper installation, saying the managers of the project did not follow the procedures necessary to set up a press.
He revealed that if the machines were properly commissioned, the representatives of Hieldelberg, Goss Graphics and himself, who facilitated the process from the purchase and shipment of the machines would have been available at the installation and commissioning.
He questioned the manner in which the machines were received, saying there was no confirmation of what was received vis-a-vis, what was sent, adding that the auxillary equipment which came with the machines such as forklift, rollers etc. which are among major equipment for the smooth running of the machines were missing.
“Governor Godswill Akpabio had excellent intentions for the State and PIONEER Newspaper in particular. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Information truncated that project. They should be held responsible. I don’t know where this enquiry will end, but I think that a Commission of Enquiry should be set up to probe the issue.
“That web offset press has not been received till date, that is, it has not been officially handed over by Goss Graphics to Pioneer because of the haphazard installation procedures. There was no adherence to good engineering practice of installation. They hurriedly put that up together and called the governor, and I think the machine collapsed and failed there.
“There was no ink, no rolling papers, no printing plates needed to print for the governor to see. All those things were not there, and the machine collapsed that day,” he informed.
The consultant called for a technical audit of what was supplied, what was installed, and how it was installed, as well as possible errors with the installation processes to correct the abnormality that has kept the machines from working.
He lamented that the state government was yet to pay him his contract fee for the project, adding that he was willing to return for a proper installation of the machines if the government was willing.
He however, warned that the Supra Setter A105 (Computer To Plate) machine may have to be upgraded as it may have outlived its lifespan of six years while laying idle.
“There must be a technical audit of what was supplied, what was installed, how it was installed and also find out if there were errors with the procedures of installation and realign the machine to start all over again.
“The lifespan of the Goss Graphics could be up to 50 years, but the Computer to Plate would last, let’s say for between five to six years. All you need is to change parts and upgrade,” he advised.
Unfortunately, efforts to speak with Mr. Aniekan Umana, who was then the Commissioner for Information who supervised the whole process of purchasing, installing and commissioning the press was not successful as he did not pick up his calls, nor responded to text messages sent to his phone.
It was gathered that the state government had talked about bringing in a consultant to man the place but unfortunately, the plans never worked out after the immediate past Commissioner of Information and Strategy, Mr Charles Udo visited the place and promised to take the issue of the printing press to the attention of Governor Udom Emmanuel.
When contacted however for comments on the state of the project, the current Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Comrade Ini Ememobong livened hope that the facility would soon be made to function by the present leadership of Governor Udom Emmanuel.
His words, “When I came into the office, I visited the facility and commissioned an enquiry into issues surrounding the press, we are working to reconcile all gray areas. In line with the Governor’s determination to continue to achieve result in a most cost effective way, we had to open up the business to private investors who would come and manage the press. Many have indicated interest and we are still considering the options. I assure you that before the exit of this administration, the press will be taken over for proper management.”