What I’ve gone through as NUJ president in 3 years
By EBOMHIANA MUSA
Saturday February 18, 2012
At a time when insecurity is pervading the country, owing to activities of Boko Haram and others, president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mallam Garba Mohammed, said the time has come to protect journalists through insurance.
Speaking with Saturday Sun in Abuja, Mohammed lamented that the union lost “four of our members within three weeks in Plateau State and recently, a Channel Television reporter was killed in a cross-fire between the police and Boko Haram in Kano.”

He revealed his plans and what he has done for the NUJ in the last three years. Recently, there was NUJ delegates’ conference in Benin. What informed this and how did this go?
Well, it went well. It’s part of the constitutional provision that the union’s constitution be review periodically. Having been in the saddle for three years, I discovered some conflicting provisions in the constitution, which I believed needed to be resolved before we go in for another election. To do this, there was a special delegates conference held in Benin, the Edo State capital last October.

For one to effectively steer the affairs of any body or organisation, he must have a good constitution to serve as the guide. I must say that the conference was very successful, with all the 36 councils and the FCT represented. We had the deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu who presented the lead paper. We felt we should tap from his experience as the chairman of the National Assembly, constitution review. We also had the Edo State governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who shared his experiences with us as a frontline labour leader in Nigeria. The registrar of trade union was on ground to monitor deliberations at the conference aside other top government functionaries, which included information minister, who was ably represented by Kingsley Osadalor.

There were also former presidents of the union and secretary.
As I speak now, the amended copy of the constitution has been presented to the registrar of trade union, for endorsement. Our three-year tenure ends May 16, 2012, while the amended constitution takes effect from May 1, 2012. This means the provision of the new constitution will be applied in the conduct of this year’s national delegates conference, where leaders are expected to be elected to run the union for the next three years and I will also offer myself again for re-election. For instance, we have reverted to the old structure of six geopolitical structures of the country. Aside this, it reduces the cost of running the union. The eight zonal structure was unwieldy, with its elected officials. This is a union that relies solely on check-off dues and professional fees. This is our own way of downsizing the national exco of the union. The way the check-off dues and professional fees are paid is open to some abuse. We had eight trustees and eight ex-officials representing the eight zones. This is no longer so. This has been reduced to two. That is, two ex-officio and two trustees. The conference gave the president the powers to pick these non-elective officials of the union.

We have been having problems with professional fees, as introduced in the amended constitution. That has really affected the finances of the union. So, we have gone back to the old system where check-off dues are deducted at source and remitted to the three organs of the union – chapel, state and national. This will guarantee the union a regular source of income. We also had to introduced an annual professional fee of N2, 000 per member, regardless of the number of years you have spent in the profession. This is expected to be paid every January. That is the only way we know our members.

We have communicated these decisions to the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), our state councils and other stakeholders.
Today we have 48,000 registered members known to the union and we are one of the bodies affiliated to the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), which has a due status as professional and trade union. I think it confers certain privileges on us, as a body. For instance, as a purely professional body, we have limitations on how far we can go to negotiate improved conditions of service for our members.

In Britain, for instance, the union also has a dual status. The president of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is a Briton. We had extensive consultations with him on this and he advised us to retain our dual status because the union and its members stand to benefit from it. Though we play a dual role, the emphasis is on professionalism. The NUJ is fully registered as a trade union. To change this, we have to de-register the union and that, in itself, has a lot of implications and hurdles. So many reasons informed our decision to retain our dual status.

You said there are about 48, 000 members known to NUJ. What of those not registered and the ones regarded as quacks?
Apart from the issue of quacks, we have so many media organisations that are not registered with us. This is not a matter of choice, on the part of these media organizations. By law, it’s mandatory. So, that was why I said we know only 48,000 members. If they all register, we know that number is far more than that. We are reaching out to them through the councils. There is a big media house that did not register with us. When it ran into trouble recently, they called me; we had to be at the forefront of the problem, despite the fact that they were not registered with us. We had to do that because we have journalists practising there.

On fake journalists, we have put committees in place in all the state councils and Abuja to flush them out in our midst. Of course, you know that some arrests were made in Abuja and some of them are still being prosecuted in courts. The process is slow, but eventually we will get justice. This problem is more with the correspondent chapels because it’s difficult verifying who is authentic representative of a medium in the state. A good number of the media houses will not employ journalists and post them to the state because it is cheaper for them to use stringers. Nigerians are too publicity conscious. This is why they don’t care to verify the identity of those who approach them for interview, claiming to be journalist. I think Nigerians will be helping themselves and, the professional if they ask any would-be interviewee to identify him/herself before granting audience.

What would you say about the environment journalists work in Nigeria and how do you intend to protect practitioners?
We initiated the NUJ personal insurance scheme because of the hazards associated with our profession. The premium is only N6, 550 per annum, which we believe is affordable and at death or accident, in the course of duty, the family of the deceased member so subscribe is entitled to the bulk sum of N1.5million. This money is expected to be processed and paid by the insurance company within seven working days, so long as the union is notified immediately the death occurs. Last week, the union formally presented a cheque for N1.5million in respect one of our members who died at Akure, Ondo State.

This is coming two months behind schedule because the council did not process the papers in good time and inform the national secretariat here in Abuja. We are finding it difficult to have our members subscribe to it because we are in a country where the culture for life insurance is very poor. I intend to make a case before the NEC meeting for subscription to the scheme to be mandatory before any journalist is registered. For instance, in Plateau State council, we lost four members within three weeks. Two were of natural death; one by accident while the body of the fourth one was found abandoned in a ditch with his tape recorder, handset, and his ipad intact. The story he wrote that day was found in his pocket. So, it was not a case of robbery or ritual murder.

Unfortunately, when we went to condole the families we found out that none of them was insured. So, we had to find other means to support their families, which is very meager because the union has no money. The issue of insurance is very important, especially now that nobody is safe in the country. Recently, we buried Enenche Akogwu, the Channels TV reporter who was killed in a crossfire between the police and Boko Haram. We wish to use this medium, again, to plead with management of media houses, NPAN and BON to assist us in ensuring that our members working in their organisations are insured.

Journalists believe they earn salaries not commensurate with the hazard of their job. What do you think?
We had gone far on this before the issue of N18, 000 minimum wage came up. The minimum wage made nonsense of the negotiation; we were about to conclude with the labour ministry, the salaries and wages commission and other agencies of government involved. When that dust settled, we continued. I mean NUJ and RATTAWU, with the relevant government agencies. You may wish to know that some of our memos are now before President Goodluck Jonathan, detailing our agreement on salary structure and wages for media workers. We also asked for upward review of the hazards allowance. That of the broadcast industry has been increased by 22%. All we are expecting for now is the release of a formal circular. As soon as we get it, we push it to our various councils to meet government. It is then the responsibility of the councils to make sure both government and private media houses implement the payment in their states. We believe this will be implemented by the end of February.

How would you access yourself in office?
I thank God Almighty for the opportunity given to me to serve this union at the highest level and the Nigerian journalists for giving me the mandate. What I promised our members when I was campaigning three years ago are documented. I remember telling them to keep the document, so that they can use it as the basis to judge me at the end of my three years tenure and decide whether I deserve a second term in office or not. I think the time of reckoning is here, as we go to the polls again sometime in May. If you go through the programme you will discover that all the promises made have been fulfilled and I even went beyond those promises. For instance, I never promised the union a permanent national secretariat in my campaign manifesto. But today, by the special grace of God, I have secured a land of 5.04 hectares in Mabushi, a choice area of Abuja. As I speak to you, the NUJ has a property of its own, the first in the history of the union in Abuja. This is because we have the certificate of occupancy, C of O of the land.

We also have an approved building plan for eight-story building to house the national secretariat and International Institute of Journalisms (IIJ). Even today, if government decides to take over the property for whatever reason, NUJ will be heavily compensated. We have been hearing about NUJ land for over a decade but when I assumed office here, I discovered, to my surprise, that the union has no land anywhere. Our land today is worth over N75 million given its location and size. We have cleared the land and fencing will commence very soon. The minister has graciously given approval to that effect. Our architects are already on site with their office erected in the land complete with functional borehole. We have employed the services of security guards; so, all we are preparing to do is to lay the foundation for the building proper to take off.

By God’s grace, we intend to complete the first and second phase of the building by the end of this year. In fact, it is our plan that the union will no longer be tenants. Whatever it is, we will do something reasonable with the N98 million realised at the formal launch held in Abuja recently. By the time we do that, well meaning Nigerians will know that we are a responsible organization, which needs genuine assistance.

It’s believed that NUJ has been highjacked by the North. How would you react to that?
Those who talked about NUJ being high jacked by the North are those who are desperate to lead the union. Unfortunately, they have ethnic agenda; I think the NUJ is far above those primordial sentiments. Journalists should not be talking about where you come from, rather, performance should be the point of discourse. What should dominate the campaign are issues and not ethnic card. I am not a tribalist. I am a true Nigerian. In fact, at the last constitutional conference in Benin, I told members to forget about zoning in our constitution, so that we can elect leaders based on performance and competence. In the last dispensation, the president (Ndagene) was from the South, SWAN chairman (Amadasun) from the South, NAWOJ chairperson (Abdulkareem) was from the South. Of course, the NPAN president was also from the South. That was not the making of anybody; rather, it was sheer coincidence. All these are media related organs. You cannot isolate the NUJ from them.

As we go into another round of campaign preparatory to election, I want to appeal to my colleagues not to play up ethnic and religious sentiments. Rather, we should dwell on issues that will unite us and make the union better. This is why I adopted the policy of only one prayer at any meeting, where I am privileged to preside. I could call on a Christian or Muslim since we all call on one God. As journalists, we must show the light for others to follow. We should all go to the field and sell our programmes, dwelling on issues. I defeated an incumbent three years ago in a keenly contested election. So, that I am an incumbent does not really matter. We should campaign and leave the choice to the delegates. I believe I have done my best and our members appreciate it. This was why the NEC, comprising members from across the states of the federation, cutting across ethnic and religious divide endorsed me for second term, this has never happened in the history of the NUJ.

What legacy would you want to leave?
We try to train our members to meet the challenges in the media industry of the 21st century. We trained them locally and internationally on modern media techniques. I use my position, as the president of West African Journalists Association (WAJA), to facilitate most of these programme. Last year, for instance, 15 of our members were in Bamako, Mali, where they undertook intensive programme on ICT. Only last month, about 11 of them returned from London, having undertaken another programme at the London School of Journalism. These are aside other numerous locally organised training programmes. The second batch will be going to UK very soon. Though self-sponsored, the programmed is heavily discounted because of the relationship we have with our counterparts over there.

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