By now the tension that brewed a month ago over the leadership of the Nigeria Union of Journalists(NUJ) must have died down with the announcement of former Chairman as winner of last Thursday’s election. With the announcement of results, there are now ‘’victors’’ and I suspect the ‘’vanquished.’’
The so called ‘’rebels’’ who sought for change must be reeling in pains now after they were beaten with a huge margin by the incumbent -thanks to unseen patronage!
As expected in the next one month there would be intense celebrations by the victorious camp. There would be wild celebrations with exhaustive dancing and drinking and all sorts of jubilation; at least to show the opposition a hard lesson- not to challenge the powers that be.
Aside all these drama, I’am a little bit worried for my revered NUJ. The lecture that took place just few hours to the elections threw up salient issues that beset the union.
Surprisingly the rain that heralded the election could not deter the Grand Patron of the union, Oba of Ogbaland, Eze Chukuemela Nnam Obi II,Amaopusenibo Bobo Brown, Prince Tonye Princewill and other past chairmen of the union who chaired the conference session.
Indeed Bobo Brown was in his element. As the Guest Lecturer he spoke extempore. The former President of the Nigeria Institute of Public Relations(NIPR) is a master of his art. He is at home with issues relating to journalism. So it is no wonder he made a piecemeal of the topic of the day, ‘’Journalism Excellence in a Democracy like Nigeria’’.
The former General Manager of the rested Sunray Publications held the hall spellbound for 30 minutes. But the more I listened to this veteran my heart became sore for the future of a profession I joined precisely eight years ago.
The sorry state of journalism may not be peculiar to Rivers State, nonetheless that of Rivers State is fast taking a trajectory turn.
Mr. Brown had argued and correctly however that journalists were losing grip of the realities on ground. In a world that is inundated with globalisation and new market economy, Nigerian journalists he stated were still lagging behind, as they are still struggling with pecuniary needs and falling short of their social responsibility of informing the society.
The former NIPR boss observed that there was a huge gap in information sharing, since the new market economy requires deftness with facts and figures. He believed that journalists were supposed to be drivers of development by holding the leaders accountable.
But while Brown’s lecture was going on, a little rustling occurred at the back of the hall. Some journalists were busy campaigning and horse trading. For them,the lecture was less important than the elections. It’s no surprise that most journalists in the state are less concerned when it comes to matters of intellect. Yet the veteran went on. He reminded them of their sacred role of being the voice of the trampled in society.’’ Our job as journalists in the new market place is to persuade everybody that the challenge is lack of strong asset base…We need to be beacon of hope for the voice of the people to be heard,’’ he added.
This is where my worry lie as a journalist. I say this because until recently I have shown apathy to union matters, but the last elections stirred my interests,especially as it concerns the future of journalism. Am pained with the wobbly leadership produced in the last decade in the union. I’am worried becuase for many of us who have so many years ahead to practise and who were erroneously tagged ‘’mutineers’’ and ‘’rebels’’, the time has come for a soul searching exercise.
I understand that we live in a free democracy where leaders are choosen by the strength of the ballot and I thank God that the will of the majority has taken the day. But the question is-Now that the elections is over- what next?
The last triennial conference threw up phoney things to the public glare. One of such is the poor accounting system in the union. The other from my own observation is the apathy of journalists. I don’t know how long my reverred colleagues want to be hand laden. Every attempt to enforce professionalism seem to be an anathema. It’s unfortunate that the ‘’Veterans’’ have not helped matters. Why should a union that is supposed to be ranked amongst those as the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA),Nigerian Society of Engineers(NSE) now be going cap in hand and at the mercy of the authorities.- a watchdog becoming a dog to be watched?
A recent exchange I had with most of my young colleagues on the state of the union sent shivers down my spine. Though am not totally bowled over by their nonchallance and apathy, at least am aware that the profession has been festooned by gatecrashers. For most of these people journalism has become a last resort to shelter from the biting unemployment. At least a school certificate holder or a graduate armed with a pen and jotter can stroll into a nearby event venue or harass the politician for a fee.
I do not extricate myself because I know that all professions have its foibles, but my worry is that this shortcoming may inadvertently lead the union to rot. Bob Franklin, a Professor of Journalism Studies at the Cardiff University UK observed some years back that many students who graduate with the noblest intentions find them thwarted as they are pushed towards the ‘’ lighter frothier’’ agenda that newspapers believe readers want.
He said,’’ they always seem to start off with aspirations of Woodward and Bernstein (Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese, Chris Anyanwu, Azikiwe and Enahoro) and end up somewhere else. They have honourable, public service ambitions. They see journalism as critical watchdog holding government and the powerful to account. But when they actually get into a post, they find few opportunities to make that ambition manifest.’’
The truth is that chequebook journalism of today has beclouded the reasoning of many journalists of what their duties are. I do not blame them totally for they are a reflection of a society like ours that extols wealth above wisdom, vice above virtues.
A colleague of mine, who perhaps shares my feelings made a startling comparison. He explained that while many journalists may openly endlessly argue over their omnipresent knowledge, can he or she withstand the knowledge assault of a trained lawyer or the engineer? For instance, he argued that while it takes just roughly four years to train as a Masscommunication graduate, it takes six years for a lawyer, five for an engineer and seven for a medical doctor.
His pain is the knowledge gap of most journalists, and who most times bask in the euphoria of information purveyors. The apathy displayed by local journalists over the issue of training is one area the incumbent NUJ has to address. It therefore goes beyond giving laptops and giving awards- how competitive are our local journalists at the national and international arena. However,I thank the current Information and Communication Commissioner, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari for showing a good example in this regard since she assumed office.
The NUJ must also address the issue of ethics and practice. The Secretary of Council in the last state of the union address admitted failure in this regard. I equally expect him to use this second tenure to reverse the situation.
I believe that the real challenge of journalism in Rivers State is not in the state of the art building promised by the State Government. It’s not in subsisting on donations and funding from heavy weights in society— it’s in fostering transparency, accountabiltiy, and asserting the monitoring role of the press. Once that is done we may not likely go cap in hand seeking for assistance. We will have both the big and mighty at our feet seeking for collaboration-that to me lies the true independence of the press.