By Wuraola Ajanlekoko
March 15, 2016
Nigeria’s current harsh economic realities with the attendant negative impact on the publishing industry and the private sector in general, have also been hampering the Nigerian Union of Journalists’ (NUJ’s) ability to sanction media organizations that are in the habit of maltreating journalists, The Intellectual has learnt.
Hiding under the current economic downturn, some newspapers and broadcast stations have been sacking journalists without following due process, while others have refused to pay their staffers for several months.
The proverbial fear of the unknown, accompanied by the prevailing high unemployment rate, has forced journalists to endure draconian measures their respective organizations have been imposing on them.
Some newspapers like Punch, Guardian, Daily Trust and Leadership do not allow unionism, compounding journalists’ ability to seek redress through legitimate avenues when maltreated.
More painful, several journalists have complained, is some newspapers’ habit of keeping them as freelancers for several years. Freelancers are not entitled to a salary, medical insurance or pension contributions. The Guardian is especially notorious in this regard, retaining qualified journalists as freelancers for up to 10 years without confirming them.
Thisday, National Mirror newspapers and the Africa Independent Television (AIT) also owe staff salaries spanning several months, forcing journalists to seek other avenues often described as “unethical” to make money, just to keep body and soul together and pay essential bills.
When some aggrieved staffers of the National Mirror newspaper stormed the Abuja venue where their publisher, Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim was delivering a lecture recently, to protest non-payment of salaries for several months, Ibrahim was said to have dismissed them with a wave of hand. He was also quoted to have said that the newspaper had not been generating the required funds to sustain itself and wondered why the staffers expected him to continue to pay for the company’s losses.
Besides, job insecurity has recently escalated in the media industry due to the arbitrary way journalists are being disengaged.
For instance, ThisDay Publisher, Mr. Nduka Obiagbena was said to have visited the newspaper’s Lagos office recently and ordered the sacking of all those who were not in the office on that day.
When contacted, Lagos NUJ Chairman, Deji Elumoye, who is also an Associate Editor with ThisDay, debunked the story published by some online platforms on the issue.
A text message he sent in response reads: “Nobody has been sacked in ThisDay. Colleagues are going about their normal duties. Management only wants to ensure that workers come to the office regularly.”
However, NUJ’s National President, Mr. Abdulwaheed Odusile told the magazine that union has lately been making deliberate efforts to persuade the media houses owing salary arrears to pay up.
He described the prevailing situation in which many journalists across some media houses are being owed several months of salary arrears as “very unfortunate.”
Odusile however stated that the current economic situation “has been exerting enormous pressure on media companies,” which, he admitted, was also making things a bit complicated for the NUJ.
“You will find that many media companies are struggling and we need to be considerate when dealing with them,” he explained. “Some newspapers that are still paying salaries are really struggling to do so, and what we are working on is for them to continue to pay salaries as at when due. We are not even talking about any increment now. Let them continue to pay what they paying regularly.”
On media houses owing several months of salary arrears, Odusile said: “What we are doing right now is to engage with the owners of these companies. I have met with Mr. Nduka Obiagbena, Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim and Raymond Dokpesi’s son, who is the new chairman of the company and we have had fruitful discussions.
“The owners have their complaints too. For instance, Mr. Ibrahim complained of wastages on the part of the management of his newspapers. These are legitimate concerns that we cannot wish away. So, we have taken note of their views and they have also made pledges to pay the arrears instalmentally.”
On whether the union plans to picket the recalcitrant ones, Odusile assured that any media company that refused to act reasonably would be picketed.
“But you see,” he quickly added, “I don’t always want the option of picketing. It is always our desire to exhaust all other avenues. We prefer dialogue and that has been very effective. If you decide to picket and the owner decides to close down the newspaper, what can you do?”
He continued: “This situation is not peculiar to Nigeria alone. It’s all over the world. Employers are becoming stronger and governments are also trying to whittle down the influence of the unions.”
On journalists who have been unjustly sacked and media outfits where unionism is not allowed, Odusile said: “Joining a union is a voluntary thing. Some media houses where unionism is not allowed, like the Punch, have given their workers the impression that they don’t need to belong to the NUJ. But that is wrong. It is when the same journalists are now sacked, that they realize the importance of the NUJ.
“Journalists have a right to join a union and they should not be victimized for doing so. Again, we will continue to discuss with media organizations, like The Guardian, Punch, Leadership and National Mirror on the need for them to allow their workers to join the NUJ.”