Journalists fighting Journalism

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

By the time you read this, my guess is that the FFK gaff would have simmered and we would have moved on. When things like this happen in certain places, they give room for research and investigation into remote and immediate causes of these recurring decimals.  Our case is different though. We sometimes just move on, and wait patiently for the next FFK or NDDC. But in this discussion, we want to be examine why journalists are always on the receiving end. According to Amnesty International, from January to September of 2019 alone at least 20 journalists, bloggers and media practitioners have been victims of one of these – physical attacks, verbal attacks, death threats, surveillances, indiscriminate detention and many more.  Why do they not get paid their salaries, as at when due even when they break their backs to fight for Nigerians? Why are they often seen as brown-envelope collectors? Why are some journalists often the ones poorly paid, and why does journalism in Nigeria look like an all-beggars affair?

Journalists are the problem of journalists. I know I will not get an amen to that but let’s examine certain cases.  In 2008 or thereabouts some journalists in Lagos got together to form a cooperative to get land for journalists. The idea is that because most journalists don’t often have any kind of welfare package from their employers, this self-help effort by the NUJ Exco in Lagos at that time would ameliorate the condition of journalists in Lagos. So they were told to contribute several amounts of money to procure these lands. The monies contributed ran into millions of naira and dollars. As we speak, certain members of that NUJ Exco in Lagos made off with the monies collected by their colleagues. The case is with the EFCC, and the journalists alleged to have made off with their colleagues monies are still in the system, still writing stories about corruption and human rights abuses in Nigeria.

Some journalists look and act cheap. Recent developments at the NUJ in Edo give room for a lot of worry. And apart from that incident with that ‘parting gift’ from a governor, there are other issues we need to interrogate. One, some journalists easily pander to positions taken by political parties to the extent that one wonders where these people got their training from, or whether there is a political wing to the Union. Are they on the payroll of politicians? Are they moles? Are these really journalists? Two, in Benin City Edo state, aspects of the Union discriminates against you if you work freelance or work for an online medium. Let me buttress this: as special correspondent to a responsible online medium in the US, we applied to the correspondents Chapel for admission. We even met and surpassed all of their requirements.  But as we write this, no word from the Chapel- mum is their word. Ridiculous gist on the ground though was that the national body had placed an embargo on admission of new applications because of Covid 19 – a claim vehemently denied by the NUJ national chairman. And so, what moral high ground would people like this stand to hold public officers to account on behalf of Nigerians?

Three days ago, after walking some distance to deliver a letter, I took time to relax in the common room of the NUJ Benin with a colleague. One of the Edo NUJ officials accosted and embarrassed my life out of me because I was sitting ‘anyhow’ in the common room. What the hell? The chap in question, a most uncouth fellow ranted and raved to no end that all I am is just an ‘ordinary’ lecturer at the local journalism institute! Two days before that day, we placed a call to the PRO of a public institution in Benin, a prominent member of the Union. The response was an unmitigated disaster – and to qualify the disaster would be to say that FFK’s tirade was child’s play compared to what this PRO put us through. But seeking information in spite of all, we called the head of that institution, a non-journalist – and got one of the most civil responses ever.

And then to the chap at the government house who represents the governor on media? From experience, I now believe you need ‘special connection’ to be able to reach him by phone or physically, if you seek any kind of information or clarification on the activities of his principal. Some analysts have said that they put the blame of the terrible image his principal has gotten on this journalist because of his aloofness, and his inability to manage public perception of statements attributed to his principal.  The governor was said to have proclaimed that he wouldn’t ‘share’ Edo monies. What role did this journalist play in breaking down this simple word? Nothing.

So the question now is what is wrong with us journalists? Why are we this cheap and egocentric? Why are we always this small? Why are we fighting each other? Why do we perpetuate those vices we so often  write about? Why are we running cap in hand after politicians, as if without them we cannot break even? Why would you continue to work for an organisation that abuses your rights from not paying your salary regularly?

 And so after I put together my 18-second video together condemning the FFK tirade against a colleague, I believe it is time I looked inward. Most people who were upset with FFK’s behaviour were upset because they base their perception of Nigerian journalists on that of the civilized world. They do not know what FFK knows – that some Nigerian ‘journalists’ are actually the enemies of journalism in Nigeria. And in that light, I would make certain recommendations: if media houses cannot pay staff salaries, let them shut down or let everyone work from home (keeping only essential staff) or apply to the UN or other multinationals for funding. That is what many media organisations overseas do to reduce overhead costs. If your media house is not paying you, just LEAVE, instead of running after these politicians with the belief that without them you cannot survive. Those we should run after are the media houses oppressing our colleagues. I recommend as well that the Press Council and allied bodies audit the profession – make it mandatory that journalists cannot be so recognized if they have not participated in at least one capacity building programme every year.
Written by
MajiriOghene Bob Etemiku
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