Comrade Jacob Edi, former chairman, Abuja Council, is running for the office of President,Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, in this interview with journalists in Abuja, he disclosed that his topmost priority is to address the issue of non payment of salary to journalists by employers among other issues. EXCERPTS;
You want to be NUJ President, what is wrong with the incumbent?
Yes I want to be NUJ President. Nothing is physically wrong with him if that is what you mean but quite frankly if you mean as NUJ President then everything is wrong with him.
Three years ago he set and exam for himself in what he called 8-point agenda. Sadly very little or nothing has been achieved. And this is a fact. The agenda include, media salary structure, eradication of quackery, sanitisation of social media postings, focus on professionalism with emphasis on training and retraining and certification of member, defense of press freedom, enhance welfare program, Setting up NUJ Radio. I doubt if the average Nigerian journalist can connect to any of these programs other than the Radio License he has been talking about lately. But curiously the NBC letter conveying the Provincial approval for the license was addressed to Equatorial Communications company. I don’t know as I speak if the said company belongs to the NUJ and who the directors are. Nigerian journalists must ask questions. This election is critical and it is my well considered view that, we, as group of professionals deserve something else and I offer a New Deal. A leadership that has refused to connect with its members leaves a lot to be desired. It will shock you that even the staff at the NUJ secretariat are in dire need of their salaries to be paid. It will be an incalculable harm to leave the issue of welfare of its members in the hands of the same person. Frankly speaking I believe Mr. Waheed Odusile, has done his best but this best in not good enough. It’s a simple as that. He failed the exam he set for himself.
I even consider him a former president of our union being that his tenure has since expired since July 25th. And for a man who is facing a second term to be so brazen in disrespecting the law he swore to uphold as it affects tenure of office, his propensity to slip into dictatorship if he gets a second term mandate is very high. I am confident that members of this great union will not allow it.
What then are you bringing on the table?
My ‘New Deal’ agenda is a holistic package of purposeful leadership and reposition the union and the profession to occupy its pride of place. Of course it’s a whole lot of work, which will involve attitudinal change at all levels.
The perception of journalists in Nigeria has to change and the leadership has a lot to do in this regard. Having being privileged to lead NUJ Abuja Council as Financial Secretary, Secretary and Chairman at different periods I am confident have the pedigree and experience to lead the union. Most of the past leaders of this union, and I mean at the level of its presidency who made real tangible impacts during their tenures have led state councils before. The records are there.
The New Deal project will include ensuring that non-payment of salaries in the media industry will be a thing of the past, we also pursue payment of backlog of salaries. The need to invest in professionalizing members is not negotiable. So the union will embark on training and consciously seek scholarship for our members to study outside the shores of this country and improve their knowledge.
There is another critical area that will attract my attention as NUJ President. We have to work out an arrangement to recognize and involve some of our members who have worked and retired from service, especially those who worked with private media houses to support them in their old age. Inevitably we will all get old someday so if we set up such a structure we will benefit from it.
And of course I will ensure that our national secretariat doesn’t end up a farmland. Just try and visit the place before you publish this interview and if what you see there is pleasant to you and makes you proud as a journalist don’t support me in this aspiration and I permit you to campaign against me.
Also if I am elected NUJ president the next election after this by the grace of God we would have it online. This is possible. It will save the union a lot of money and it will be saver for members who have to travel from different parts of the country for election. The NBA has taken a lead. We will understudy what they have done and improve upon it. Everything is almost going digital. But in doing that we must take the issue of registration of members seriously and have a database that at a touch of a button we will know the number of journalists in Nigeria. It is very possible. And if the issue of salary payment is handled well, of course our members will pay their dues. So you can know financial members who can be voted and be voted for. We would not allow non-professionals to just register. Our process of registration should have security features as well. The union has come of age and must be digitalized. NUJ should be the pacesetter. I am sure state councils will begin to take a queue from there. The issue of improved welfare of journalists is not negotiable. I will not play politics with the issues of the welfare of journalists and really no one should. It will amount to wickedness. So there is going to be a sense of collective responsibility. It is not going to be about me as a person or President, but the union.
I don’t know if you followed the NBA conference… after the digital voting, the conference came. Just look at the caliber of people in attendance. Its almost the who-is-who. If our union is well positioned it should attract a higher quality of movers and shakers of the union but as things stand today, if NUJ embarks on such program, we will only be lucky to have the Minister of information in attendance otherwise even him will send one of his aides to attend. Of course this is not denigrate such aides but my point is if the union is taken seriously, we should the President of the country in attendance. Early this year the NMA had a function and the Vice President and the Senate President were physically in attendance. It is not rocket science. Its about leadership which determines the followership. I believe we can achieve it if we put our acts together. Nigerian journalists have a right to a better and purposeful leadership and I offer myself for this assignment.
People tend to give more respect to the guild as against the NUJ. Who is under who?
The NUJ constitution recognised the guild of editors as one of its affiliates. It is in the constitution. There is also SWAN and NAWOJ and NAWOJ. These are affiliates of NUJ. You see, there is a collapse of leadership at the level of NUJ. Whether you like it or not, you can’t rise to become editor of a newspaper if you are not good upstairs. So an NUJ president must understand the dynamics of the union, profession and the affiliates. And then you work together as partners in progress. There is really no need for anybody to break the neck of anybody. But you have to work together. Journalism twenty years ago is not what you have today. I can tell you that there are instances where intervention of NGE saved NUJ and such interventions covered what would have been an embarrassment to NUJ. So there it is an integral part of the NUJ as a union. Insofar as the NUJ constitution still recognise them as an affiliates.
As it stands, do you think the guild, as it operates have any allegiance to the NUJ?
They should. But whether anybody likes it or not the resources and infrastructure of the NUJ is enormous so there is just no need competing. They should be partners in progress. So the issue of allegiance or lack of it does not defined their relationship.
Between the NUJ and NGE who reports to who?
It is the same thing you seem to be asking. The Guild is an affiliate of NUJ. Pure and simple.
But I must commend the Funke Egbemode-led NGE executive. To my mind they have taken actions that even appear to have saved the NUJ a few times. So this underscores the point that we can only enjoy our relationship by being partners in progress. Just recently, the Guild issued a statement which preceded a public hearing at the National assembly over this Press Council bill… For me that statement gingered the lawmakers to the fact that stakeholders in the media industry are alive to their responsibilities. There is a level your son gets to you don’t wake up in the morning and slap him, you begin to talk with him and not to him again. The Guild has built itself to that level. NGE is almost autonomous but a leader who understands dynamics and is sensitive to his environment should appreciate this development. Guild has gotten to that point where an NUJ president should sit down with the guild and work together that is why they are affiliates. Where there is a failure of leadership somebody must rise to take responsibility. It is this leadership vacuum that is making you ask this kind of question. All NUJ needs to do is to take its position. And of course, guild will naturally work with the NUJ.
There is this bickering between beats association at the national leadership of NUJ. I remember last year when the Senate Press Corps wanted to give an award to Senator Dino Melaye, they came up with advertorial proscribing beat associations and that problem has not been resolve. And election is coming and these are issues that will dominate the whole discussion. In your time will it be business as usual or you will find away to to resolve the impasse?
By the grace of God I am very experienced in the affairs of NUJ. We will be doing ourselves incalculable harm to proscribe beat associations. Our constitution today recognised Sports Writers Association of Nigeria. As long as that remains in our constitution then it is insensitive and futile for anybody to proscribe beat associations. All you need to do is to strengthen the leadership of the beat and work with it. From my experience, beats have encouraged more productivity in doing this job from human point of view. If I want to visit the Senate it would be easier for me to go through my members who cover the Senate or I go to FICAN if I want to see the Central Bank Governor. Is State House press corps not a beat? Are they not doing well? They are and have conducted themselves in very distinguished manner. Indeed I understand FICAN have a very viable Cooperative and our members have benefited from this cooperative society especially at the end of the year. So why will any reasonable leader, proscribe that? May be there is more than meets the eye in the proscription. I guess if you look deeper you may find other things. But by the time we start proscribing beat association you are telling the outside world that there is crisis at home. We do not need to take it to that level. I have been chairman of some beats in Abuja and the NUJ benefitted because it was easy for the NUJ to access those areas because we were there. But it is important for the union to regulate the activities of the beats so that we don’t present a divided house.
There is this apathy on the part of journalists in participating in NUJ activities where some people would ask others not to vote which is a part of leadership failure on the part of NUJ. Are seeing something different?
I put the blame squarely on those our colleagues who think that they have become too big for the union and they have no right what so ever to complain if things are going wrong when you refuse to participate in the process that leads to the emergence of such leaders. For God sake if you are a journalist the only area you have to contribute to how the union is run is to attend Congresses either at chapel or state councils. There is no congress that holds on a workday. It has been done in such a way that it has almost become a social gathering. I keep saying it and at the risk of sounding immodest, I am a serious journalist and I have work for national papers and I am still in the leadership of NUJ. There is nowhere that I was sacked for lack of productivity except I resigned. So if I can do it why should the other person not do it. The danger is that if we continue like this the younger generation will not take over from us. As it is now, there is a disconnect between people of my generation and those younger. I came into NUJ when I was younger than I am now. I was participating and I saw that I can also give my own contribution in this area. I started contesting for offices. You cant be a good leader if you are not a good follower. The precondition for good leadership is good follower-ship. The school system is designed for you to start from the primary level to the university level. And by the time you get to the university level topics you will be taking, the foundation was laid at the primary school. So if you didn’t have that primary school background you may not cope. What you don’t know you cannot know. So I urge every body who say he is a responsible journalist to show interest in the affairs of the union. As a leader if you are not able to act in a manner that your followers would have confidence in you then you have failed. If I become president of NUJ we will have a special program where we will involve younger people in order to inculcate leadership values in them. Yes, I agree there appear to be some kind of disconnect but a sensitive leadership can bridge the gap. I assure you I will redress all of this as President of the union.
Sometimes you tend to be critical of government, do you have any fear that people may try to stop you?
No. I don’t have such fears because this is a professional election. I do not expect our members to introduce issues of political parties into what we are doing. As journalists we are even expected to be neutral. Our responsibility is to the people of Nigeria so I will be very shocked anyway if the sentiments of partisan politics is introduced into the union. Our own political party, if there is anything like that, is NUJ and that is why people from different parts of Nigeria can hold leadership positions in the union in your state of practice which is quite different from ones’ state of origin. Mark you it is a purely professional union we are talking about. I am appealing to our members not to introduce such sentiment. If they do it will destroy our profession. For whatever it is worth, we are still the Fourth Estate of the Realm. And the constitution recognise the role we are playing. Our loyalty is to Nigerians.
Threat of social media and our electoral contest
I don’t consider the advent of the social media a threat. No doubt it has affected the entire media structure but in an era of free flow of information, it is certainly the way to go. Today, the social media is with us and so we are enjoying the advantages and suffering the disadvantages. I believe strongly that their activities and operation must be standardized. This is so that the real professionals are not allowed to suffer from the misbehavior of non-professionals and gatecrashers whose activities are also giving a bad name to the profession. Like I said before the NUJ has the structure, reach and strength. So it is just adding more strength to what we have by bringing in the social media. Let them be members of NUJ and run their activities. I am not in support of gagging the media in any form. The misbehaviour of some people on social media is mistaken to mean that it is journalists that are doing the same thing on the media. They write story as if they are journalists. By the time we are able to come under one umbrella you will know clearly who is a professional journalist doing the professional work on social media and who is on social media for purely social reasons. It is very important we work on that.