By Larry Agbor
In Nigeria, Trade Unions emerged at a time when representative political democracy was not even in existence; the British Colonial Government began making formal in-roads in the field of Labour Relations in the thirties, particularly after the Trade Union Ordinance in 1938.
On the issue of organisations a lot has been written about it. Although all of us have spent our lives in various human organisations such as schools, hospitals, religious institutions, clubs, community groups, companies and political parties, yet, it is difficult to give a simple definition of an organisation.
It is of common knowledge that the foundation of media organisation is rooted in section 22 of the 1999 constitution as amended:
“The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”.
A proper look at the union activities especially, within the NUJ, projects, in my opinion, something laughable; most of the leaderships of the NUJ in Adamawa for instance, do not know the role of the union in the media industry.
Is there anything like registered Journalists? Certainly unlikely. There is no law in Nigeria that compels a journalist to be registered before he or she can practice.
It beats my imagination when I heard that NUJ in Adamawa has boldly issued a statement that suggested deregistering or blacklisting a particular media house.
Has the said media organisation or any other, by law, ever registered with the NUJ?
Does NUJ have any power or authentic authority to stop media proprietors from employing those they feel are qualified and capable to work with?
Does NUJ have the power or authentic authority to employ or deploy journalists to media organisation it has no share whatsoever in its establishment?
It is high time for the NUJ to get back to the drawing board and get its act together in understanding the role of unionism in media practice in Nigeria.
The trade union act that gives birth to NUJ has made it categorically clear that nobody should be forced to unionise.
Section 12 (4) of the Trade Unions Act (as amended) (“TUA”) provides that “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Act, membership of a trade union by employees shall be voluntary and no employee shall be forced to join any trade union or be victimised for refusing to join or remain a member.”
I have never come across any media proprietors that give criteria to any prospective journalists that they must unionise in order to gain employment.
One of the cardinal objectives of the NUJ today is to collect check-up dues from her members; some critics considered this as extortion under the guise of fraternising the profession without giving due consideration of the welfare and job security of the journalists particularly working with the private media organisations.
How many media owners today pay salary to journalists talk more of remitting check-up dues to the union?
Most of the journalists especially, in Adamawa state operate as freelancers in spite of the fact that some of them wear like a badge the identity cards of the media outfits they are freelancing, having been told that their Identity Card is their meal ticket.
The question that comes to mind is that how do freelance journalists remit check-up dues to NUJ?
Apart from government-owned media houses that at times deduct check-up dues directly from salaries of journalists working with them, study reveals that 70 percent of media houses do not subscribe to unionism that is why the union has been reduced to mere coming together for the purpose of press conference or forming alliance to meet politicians and influential members of the society.
Unlike the electronic media that has the National Broadcasting Commission NBC, which regulates the activities of the radio and television, the prints media does not have anybody that regulates her contents and conducts, hence they operate based on varied house style.
It was in the wisdom of the military that the print media must not be a gag, due to the battle fought and won by pioneer Journalists like Dabo that fought Tarka to a standstill.
Tarka was eventually removed by Gowon due to the consistent publications Dabo gave against Tarka in those days and Dele Giwa also was in battle royale with IBB over Gloria Okon.
Where is the spirit of activism in the media industry today other than a journalist sitting down waiting for press conferences or when he or she is been called upon for a news, that is not the objective of the framer of the Nigerian constitution that give absolute liberty to the prints media to carry out its responsibility without censorship?
Speaking on the role of NUJ, Mr. Mike Agbor once presented a paper where he challenged the media to wake up to their responsibilities for holding government accountable to the people of Nigeria. One thing that could be forgotten today is that the union can be used against journalists if the person exposed has affinity to the leadership of the union at the states chapter or the national level of the union.
To this extent, some of us have vowed never to unionise because the benefits of NUJ membership are nothing to write home about.
One important thing that some people fail to understand is that winning a libellous suit in court against a journalists is not an easy one as it requires hard evidence to convince a court that your reputation has been damaged.
It equally requires that a plaintiff must prove beyond reasonable doubt the injury he or she has sustained as a result of the libellous publication.
It is left for a journalists to seek facts before filing a report.
Where was NUJ when a popular media house in Adamawa state fired half of her workforce and another in the same state fired about a quarter of her workforce?
What has the leadership of the NUJ in Adamawa done about it to this day?
some of us expected the NUJ leadership in Yola to stand up to their responsibility in defending her members even in court or at workplaces in case of eventuality such as termination of appointments of the members of the union.
It is fool hardy for anyone to claim that NUJ has powers to blacklist any media house in Nigeria. How do they blacklist a media?
Is it by telling people not to patronise the “blacklisted” media house or by telling journalists who are their members to resign from such organisation blacklisted?
There is currently no laws in Nigeria that makes it compulsory for anybody to be registered under NUJ as a body before he or she can practice as a Journalist.
It is high time people should understand that one can’t report any journalists that do not unionise or fraternise with NUJ because it amounts to counterproductive as NUJ is an association of Journalists not media proprietors or owners that have powers to hire and fire.
Finally a journalist must not allow threats from being dragged before court by government officials to kill the golden role of watchdog of the society to weigh them down as truth is golden.
Larry Agbor wrote from Abuja and can be reached @ email@example.com