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Information Minister And Journalists’ Pay Rise

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Information and Communications Minister, Labaran Maku recently rekindled the hope of journalists working with government-owned media organisations that their future is still bright. Indeed, he re-assured media workers that moves were still in the offing to review upward their salary structure in order to beef up their monthly take home pay.

Addressing the national leadership of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) who called on him in his office in Abuja, Maku asked the NUJ not to lose sleep on the issue of a better pay package, as obtains in advanced countries and other developing nations.

Besides, Maku, while addressing the leadership of RATTAWU (Radio, Television and Theatre Workers Union), who visited him in his office, not too long ago, also assured the union that everything humanly possible was being done to bring to reality the proposed pay rise for media workers. However, the minister did not say exactly when government will make good its promise (which has lingered on for years) that it would review upward the salary of newsmen in government establishments.

One can recall that over the years, the issue of having a special salary structure for journalists in public service has been a subject of public discourse. Indeed, newsmen working tirelessly with government-owned media organizations have literally (in the past years), wailed to the authorities to place them outside the current remunerative system of federal and state governments, and make the journalism profession more attractive in public organizations.

Sadly, their cries had, as it were, fell on deaf ears. How? Successive regimes in the country (for inexplicable reasons) failed to pull “government journalists” from the shackles of the current civil service salary structure.

Yes, it is an incontrovertible fact that the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), the umbrella body of journalists, has for many years, been insisting that its members, working with government-owned media, should be placed on a special salary structure to make them have a sense of belonging. But the effort of the union did not pay off as successive administrations continued to treat the matter with levity.

Perhaps, touched by the cries of newsmen, specially the NUJ, Prof. Dora Akunyili, the immediate past Information and Communications Minister, last year, set up a committee to draw up a special salary structure for media men, working with government –owned organizations.

Receiving the report of the committee while she was in office, Prof. Akunyili said time has come in this country for journalists in government media to have a special salary scale, such as nurses, teachers, lawyers, doctors, among others. She noted that the absence of a special salary structure was affecting the psychic of government newsmen.

The minister, thanking the committee for a job well done, assured journalists that the report would be critically studied for onward submission to the appropriate authorities for implementation.

To effectively consolidate the gains in the information sector in the country, it behoves the appropriate authorities to have ensured the immediate implementation of the Prof. Akunyili’s proposed media workers’ salary structure in the country.

One believes fervently that it is high time that government at various levels recognize the immense contributions of journalists to national development; moreso, as they are seen and recognized as the ‘fourth estate of the realm’.

That is why everything must be done to make government employed journalists happy and comfortable to enable them, as “watchdogs of the society”, have a sense of belonging and spur the nation’s desired development through sound information dissemination system.

Happily, the current leadership of the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications has played its part by working out a special media workers salary structure ostensibly to boost the morale of journalists, working with government-owned media.

But, the ministry’s approval of a new salary package for newsmen does not really count. The workability of the approval lies in the implementation of the new salary structure by the federal and state governments.

This is why both the authorities of the ministry and the NUJ must prevail on the various governments in the federation to ensure the approval and implementation of the proposed media workers salary structure. That way, the effort of the ministry in working out an acceptable salary structure for journalists would not be an effort in futility.

Agreed, journalists are not the only group in the civil service to be given such preferential treatment. But given the kind of jobs they do, as ‘Agenda Setters, Voice of the Voiceless and Conscience of the Society,” they (journalists) need to be encouraged (through good salary package) so that their mental and physical well-being will be in proper shape at all times.

Well, it is necessary at this juncture to point out that this is certainly not the first time efforts have been made to pull journalists from the civil service remunerative system. Indeed, past administrations in conjunction with the NUJ, made some palpable moves in this regard, but their efforts did not pay off, as recommendations for new pay rise for journalists were not implemented by the authorities concerned.

Therefore, the federal information ministry, especially the committee that worked assiduously to map out the proposed pay rise, must ensure that it appeals to the conscience of all relevant government agencies so that the implementation of the new salary structure would not be halted by the various governments at all levels.

It is public knowledge that the brain-drain being experienced in government-owned media organizations, is as a result of poor take-home pay in the journalism profession. Sadly, the best brains in journalism profession are already drifting to private media organizations to seek for greener pastures. This is unfortunate, to say the least!

It stands to reason, therefore, that to retain the best brains in government media establishments, the ministry’s recommendation on journalists’ special salary structure must be given the attention it deserves.

But, can the Information Minister ensures the implementation of the proposed special salary scale before he leaves office? This is the mind-boggling question, now being asked by media men, given the short period left for the minister.

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Mbu’s Removal, Any Implication?

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Prior to the redeployment of former Rivers State Police Commissioner, Mbu Joseph Mbu, some civil society activists and interest groups had ceaselessly demanded his removal over accusation of partisanship and culpability in the state’s political crisis. Yet a few others insisted that he was unbiased and truly professional in the discharge of his duties, and therefore should be retained.
Our Chief Correspondent,  Calista Ezeaku and photographer, Dele Obinna sought the views of some residents on the implication of Mbu’s removal on the political situation in the state and expectations from the new police commissioner, Johnson Tunde Ogunsakin.
Excerpts:

Dr Emmanuel Awoala Francis (Network Analyst)
I believe the former Riv
ers State Police Commissioner, Joseph Mbu was a man of integrity and humanity. And I will advise whoever is taking over from him to take his steps, because considering the political situation in this state, Rivers State is one of those critical states that needs iron hand, otherwise the state will turn to another thing. Take for instance, the issue of APC and PDP, there are different kinds of political manipulations but if you have a formidable security agencies I believe things will become  normal.
If you observe some couple of years back, you will find out that the former police commissioners we had, did not work like Mbu. He was formerly in Bayelsa before they transferred him to another place before he came to Rivers State. So they only send him to critical states that have serious challenges in terms of politics, violence and other things and I believe his transfer to Abuja is in readiness for 2015 when many things will be happening in Abuja.
As I said earlier, I expect the new police commissioner, Johnson Ogunsakin to emulate the former police boss in the state. And I believe he will perform well if only he is not carried away with political issues. There is a difference between you coming as a security intelligence and you coming as a personnel. So he has to be in the security intelligence whereby he can utilize his brain to analyse what is going on in the state and find solution to the problems. I want to advise the new commissioner not to allow himself to be used by anybody because if he is a man who loves money, they can influence him with money. But if you are a man of integrity you cannot be bought over with money. He came here for a particular purpose, he should not allow anything to influence him in the discharge of his duties. He should work diligently to protect the image of the Nigerian Police Force.

Mr Zianeh Sylvanus (Teacher)
I don’t think Joseph Mbu’s transfer has any implications on the state. I believe that one being moved from one area of job to another is a normal thing. We know that the state had been on fire because of what the governor thinks the former Commissioner for Police, Mr Mbu, could have been doing. Maybe the man has not been in full agreement with him, the man has not been taking up security issues the way the governor expects. But to me, I think that man has been doing his job. And now that it has come to his being transferred, the new person coming in, I think the other day he said something and the governor also said that he should not be partisan. He should let the police do their duties properly, the police should carry out law and order as it should be. They shouldn’t join APC, they shouldn’t join PDP and all that. So, to me, there is not much about his transfer. It’s normal transfer of person from one duty post to another. Mbu has been transferred, new person has come, so we are also going to watch out to see how he performs his duties.
Most of the problems we’ve been having in the state can be called a misnomer, I don’t believe all the allegations against Mbu are true. But now that Mbu is out, I am thinking that even the governor himself and the others would begin to have trust in the present person that has been brought. Since this person is neutral, this person is not Mbu. And we also believe that he is not going to work as Mbu was working if there has been any area Mbu has been trying to be partisan at all, I cannot testify that. But Mbu has been removed, if he was the cause of the problems, I think the bringing in of the new person will restore some level of peace.
I want the new commissioner to be neutral even as the governor said. Let him not have any political partisanship. Let him not be one sided either for PDP or whatever. It is expected that any political group that wants to hold a rally should obtain police permission. If they should do it, let them be allowed to go on with their rally. But if any group should come up without doing that, let the police also take their stand and say no, these ones are not following the law.
So the agenda for the new police commissioner is simple, let the police look at the law and order position of the state and follow it as such. Let them not begin to consider who is who before they handle their matters.
As I said before, I don’t believe Mbu was responsible for the alleged increase of crime rate in the state or anything. I’m believing that Mbu was trying his best to control the crime rate. And if he was the cause, then let’s expect that as this new man has come in, crime rate will come down. But I’m thinking that the problem with our state is from politicians. The politicians know why they are causing some of these problems. As a matter of fact, if the politicians begin to do their things the way it should be done properly, if they begin to respect themselves and not fight each other, I don’t think there will be any breakdown of law and order.

Mr Elvis Samuel Iboroma (Civil Servant)
I don’t think Mbu’s removal has any implication, although there was demand for his removal. Personally, I knew he would be removed one day. But then, I don’t see Mbu as a bad man Mbu did a very nice job in the state. Now we have a new Police Commissioner, I don’t know his antecedent, but I will expect that he should do a good work and not involve himself in partisan politics. He should remain who he is and give us all the necessary security measures that we need as individuals and a state. The new commissioner should do pure police work. He should not give much of himself to the governor or whoever. Adequate execution of police duties is what we expect from him. He should take all necessary measures to check crime in the state, especially in this present political period.

Mr Ini Hason (Transporter)
I don’t think there is any big deal about Mbu’s transfer. And I will expect and advise the new police commissioner to work hand-in-hand with the governor of the state without any Kata kata. He should do the police work and don’t favour PDP or APC. He should just do his police work. Now I can see many police check points in Mile One. I can see policemen stationed every- where to check crime in this area. Now I can see there is no too much of wahala here. That is very good and should continue.

Mr Zaromen Leicon (Lawyer)
No, not at all, there is no implication of his removal on the state. The thing is that there has been several calls concerning the removal of Mbu because of the political crisis in Rivers State. Some saying he is not acting fairly, some are saying he is acting in accordance with the provisions of the law that is by saying that his duties are okay. So if his removal can bring about peace in Rivers State, there’s no course for alarm. And I want to tell all those people saying that Mbu’s transfer was maybe because he was not favourable to one faction or the other that it’s not like that. As a public servant, there is every tendency that you must be transferred at the appropriate time. So nothing is wrong about his removal.
Some people alleged that Mbu’s presence here was contributing to the political tension in the state. Well I never looked at it that way. But if that was the situation, then another man has come, let us see how he works. And I will encourage everybody to cooperate with him and work with him.
I want to advise the new commissioner to ensure  that there is lasting peace in Rivers State. We need peace and nothing more than peace. We don’t need any form or any act of criminality around Port Harcourt and even outside Port Harcourt. Let there be peace everywhere. The governor is the Chief Security Officer of this state and we expect the Commissioner of Police to work in hand with him. The governor should also understand that the commissioner of police is a symbol of police and he should also work with him accordingly. The police commissioner should be neutral in his dealing with various political groups in the state.  You know when there is crisis like this, people are bound to talk. You can say anything you like to say. But to the best of my knowledge, the commissioner of police is not a politician, he has nothing to do with politics, so his action is neutral.

Princess Barieeba (Student)
I think the former Commissioner of Police, Mr Mbu, was not doing well in Rivers State because he was being biased. He was favouring one side. But I think the new police commissioner will do well. I will advise the new commissioner  to do his work the way that will please Rivers people. He should work cordially with the state governor and carry out his police duties effectively, to protect Rivers State.
He should try not to favour any political group and do his work as a police man. I believe Mbu was the cause of the problem in Rivers State because he was bought over to do what he was doing. Let’s hope there will be peace in the state again as a new man takes over.

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Still On The RSUST Crisis: The Way Forward

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The current leadership crisis rocking the Rivers State University of Science and technology (RSUST), from all indications, appears to have degenerated into a life-threatening dimension, as virtually all the disputing parties and personalities involved are sticking to their guns despite appeals from well-meaning individuals and groups for amicable resolution.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities  (ASUU), RSUST Chapter kick-started the industrial dispute with a proclamation of an indefinite strike following the re-appointment of Prof. Barineme Beke. Fakae as the institution’s Vice Chancellor at the expiration of his first tenure. ASUU accused Governor Chibuike Amaechi, the visitor to the institution of “not following due process” in the re-appointment of Fakae as enshrined in the enabling law which established the University.

As if the RSUST Chapter of ASUU’s strike was not enough, the national body of the union similarly declared a one –day warning strike in all government –owned universities in the country in solidarity with the lecturers in RSUST. The union at federal level also demanded for the reversal of Fakae’s re-appointment by the State governor.

Contrary to ASUU’s view on the issue, Governor Amaechi who re-appointed Fakae for a second term defended his decision for the re-appointment, stating that he followed” due process in the re-appointment and challenged ASUU to seek redress in the law court if aggrieved.

In same vein, the Chairman of the institution’s governing council, Justice Adolphus Karibi-Whyte who was also the Chairman of the Joint Selection Committee for the appointment of a new Vice Chancellor defended Fakae’s re-appointment stating that the body followed the rules and regulations guiding the process of getting a new Vice-chancellor.

Justice Karibi-Whyte said in an interview that out of the five candidates who were short-listed for screening, three of them were disqualified for engaging in sharp practices tailored towards getting the RSUST’s topmost position.

He explained that Professors ben Onuegbu, M. Ahiakwo, Ndu Lale, C. Enyinda and Barineme Fakae were all screened and interviewed by the panel which disqualified three of them and recommended Fakae and Enyinda to the Visitor who exercised discretion; and re-appointed Fakae.

For him, therefore, the re-appointment of prof. Fakae is entirely the discretion of governor Amaechi who exercised his powers as the visitor to the institution on choosing fakae among the two candidates that were recommended by the selection panel.

However, in another development, Professors Onuegbu, Lale and Ahiakwo who were accused of sharp practices by the Justice Karibi-Whyte panel addressed a press conference in Port Harcourt alleging that Karibi-Whyte merely executed a script authored by the powers-that-be.

The University dons challenged the panel’s Chairman to make public the alleged sharp practices by them, if he has the facts right. They faulted the entire selection process and described it as fraudulent as the result released by Karibi- Whyte is a departure from the one with the institution’s registrar.

For them, the Karibi-Whyte-led panel was merely feeding the public with lies tailored to justify Fakae’s re-appointment.

The trio affirmed that their disqualification was “fraudulent” and based on thrump-up charges”. He challenged Karibi-Whyte on why he could not recommend Prof. Enyinda having, in his wisdom, disqualified the other three candidates.

The scenario is indeed confusing and curious for those of us wishing the institution well. While the school’s governing council and perhaps, the visitor to the school share similar point of view, ASUU and the contending candidates are of the same position which runs at parallel with the earlier contention.

Fakae on his part had consistently maintained that his reappointment followed all due processes in line with the guidelines for the appointment of a new Vice Chancellor.

While all these are going on, the state government, as justification for Fakae’s re-appointment confirmed the re-appointment stating, among others, that the Visitor to the RSUST used his discretionary powers and affirmed that Onuegbu, Lale and Ahiakwo who were candidates in the selection process were involved in the nomination of members of the Joint Selection Committee.

In a press release signed by the Secretary to the Rivers State Government, Mr. George D.N. Feyii explained that Onuegbu and Ahiakwo nominated Professors Ogburia and S. Amadi as members of the panel, while, Profs Lale and Ahiakwo nominated Amabipi Martins and Mrs Matilda Nnodim, Chief Nemi Adoki, Deacon Abigo and Chief Wike into the same committee.

Feyii contended that as candidates for the Vice Chancellorship position they were barred morally and legally from participating in the selection process to determine the suitability of the Vice-Chancellor, hence their substantive disqualification and disability.

For the SSG, and by extension, the Rivers State Government, the claims by ASUU and other elements were deliberate attempts to misform and mislead the public on “due process” for Fakae’s re-appointment.

He also recalled that ASUU had earlier in 2008 challenged in court Fakae’s appointment and had that case struck out, for lack of merit and wondered why the same union is still hell-bent on removing Fakae without clearly disputing his towering achievements in RSUST

Happily, well-meaning indigenes of Rivers State and beyond feel strongly about the ugly developing scenario in our dear RSUST; the nation’s premier University of a Science and technology, and are exploring avenues for harmonisation of views by the disputing parties.

That is why one would hail the institution’s alumni association’s initiative to bringing sanity back to the school as a welcome development, not just for the students of the school alone, but for parents who had laboured so much for the well-being of their children and wards.

The Dr. Lawson Woka-led association must therefore ensure that all the disputing parties should come to the negotiating table with facts and figures (evidences) in order to amicably resolve the impasse.

Under the auspices of RSUST Alumni Association, Woka and other well-meaning members of the group must strive to ensure that UST does not degenerate further. The union must provide the necessary panacea for the resolution of the stalemate.

Methinks that other well-meaning persons in the state should join forces with the association in resolving the matter in the shortest possible time so that the vision of the founding fathers of the school is not allowed to die pre-maturedly. ASUU must be open to dialogue and not close its doors to negotiation.

The Rivers State government, the governing council of the institution, ASUU, of RSUST should be more circumspect and respect one another’s feelings so as to reach a compromise. This is the only way forward.

Without doubt, students of the school have, indeed, suffered so much set-back in their academic pursuits giving the impression in some quarters that RSUST is always in crisis. This,  must, stop now.

The era of senseless strikes in our tertiary institutions, especially in RSUST should be considered old-fashioned and thrown to the trashcan while, dialogue and give-and-take spirit should  be adopted in resolving all matters in Nigerian Universities so as to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Vision 20:2020. ASUU should please embrace dialogue and peace now for RSUST to move forward.

 

Goodluck Ukwe

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RSUST: In The Eyes Of The Storm

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Academic activities at the Rivers State university of
Science and Technology, Port Harcourt, penultimate Monday was paralysed following
an industrial dispute declared by the Academic Staff Union of Universities
(ASUU) in the University over the re-appointment of Professor Barinmne Fakae as
the institution’s acting Vice Chancellor.

The re-appointment of Prof Fakae for a second term at the
expiration of his first tenure had generated so much controversy within and
outside the university community which climaxed to a proclamation of an
indefinite strike by ASUU. The union among other demands requested for a
reversal of Fakae’s appointment by Governor Chibuike Amaechi, the visitor to
the institution.

ASUU, among other considerations accused the state governor
of not following due process in the selection process of a new Vice Chancellor
in accordance with the statutory provisions establishing the university.

However, the state government, through the state
Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs Ibim Semenitari stoutly
defended government’s wisdom in re-appointing Fakae as acting Vice Chancellor,
citing, among others, his unprecedented achievements in elevating the
university from its former 76th to 19th position out of 117 universities in the
country.

Mrs Semenitari explained that the governor followed due
process while re-appointing Fakae as the Vice – Chancellor, noting that
Professor Fakae, as a respected senior citizen of the state had brought honour
and glory to the state and elevated the nation’s premier University of Science
and Technology to enviable heights, and wondered why on earth anybody could
fault or ignore such impressive feat.

It would be recalled that the Dr. Felix Igwe-led executive
of ASUU in RSUST last week gave a one-week ultimatum to the state government to
reverse Fakae’s appointment which expired last Friday culminating to a full
strike on Monday.

As much as we appreciate that both sides of the dispute may
have good reasons for their respective positions on the critical issue of
appointment of a new Vice Chancellor by virtue of the enabling law establishing
the institution, methinks however that RSUST has had enough of crisis in its
history.

This current crisis which to many stakeholders – parents,
students, staff among others is one too many and, from all indications, could
be averted if and only if the parties concerned could appreciate each other’s position.

Hitherto, the university had lost so much, leading to
extension or loss of academic programmes and sessions, backlog in call-up for
national service, accumulated convocation/graduation of students,
de-accreditation of some academic programmes and delay in the release of
results. The list is, indeed legion.

Expectedly, stakeholders: students, parents and staff were
worst hit by the ugly scenario as the university kept on degenerating to
unacceptable level up till few years ago when normalcy was restored in the
university.

It is against this backdrop that everybody strongly feels
agitated by the current imbroglio between the government and ASUU. The matter
can be amicably resolved on a round table.

The need for an open-minded dialogue is therefore inevitable
and imperative so that the university can transit to the next level of academic
excellence and infrastructural development.

We must not allow the institution to degenerate further.
RSUST is our baby. We must not allow it to die or suffer from any mortality
occasioned by human infallibility.

Rivers people must ensure that the vision of the founding
fathers of the institution is sustained and realised now and in future.

ASUU needs to have a re-think on the issue and open up
channels for negotiation for immediate resolution of the grey areas.

To insist on strike will, for sure, expose the university to
too many uncertainties. Students will
again be delayed, facilities compromised and milestones achieved so far
will be jeopardised.

We think that ASUU should firstly shelve the strike since it
is avoidable and then dialogue with the government on the way forward.

Ironically, reports of violence and battering of Dr. Felix
Igwe, ASUU’s chairman by unknown persons is most condemnable and unacceptable
in a civilised and democratic society. I believe strongly that the ASUU boss is
not the issue. The matter goes beyond him as a person. But if it is perceived
that he is using the office to enhance his popularity, then and only then,
lawful means of easing him out will apply.

ASUU, government and the governing council of the
institution should go back to a round table with open mind and honesty so as to
resolve all the issues at stake.

 

Goodluck Ukwe

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