COVID-19 pandemic: Where are friends of journalists, By Qasim Akinreti

Journalists, like health workers, soldiers, Policemen, and other security agents, are integral part of essential service providers globally.

Daily reports, analysis, interviews, public messages, documentaries and breaking news on coronavirus are beamed live, broadcast at appropriate schedules on terrestrial, satellite and social media platforms.

Similarly, the coronavirus messages and information are printed on the pages of newspapers, online real time and on social media platforms.

Despite these sacrifices, Journalists are hounded, harassed and disgraced by security agencies. A studio manager of Voice Of Nigeria was arrested on his way to the broadcasting station in Ikoyi, Lagos and later released after my intervention through the assistance of the police hierarchy.

The Judiciary Correspondents were harassed during the Coverage of Funke Akindele and his group arraignment in Court. The Journalists were even denied coverage of the court trial of Mr Gbadamosi and others. I was inundated with series of harassments of my members and I also had a dose of high handedness of the security agents on my way to and from Seme Border and Badagry town.

Worst still, the cry of the union to government, individuals and corporate bodies on palliatives to our vulnerable members, is yet to be attended to.

It is rather unfortunate that the following people and corporate organisations have contributed the following to COVID-19 pandemic taskforce across the country and forget the journalists who announced and published the huge sums.

The Asiwaju of Lagos and National leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu – N200 million, our revered father Atona Odua and great philanthropist, Chief Olabode George – N150 million, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Former Vice President – N50 million, Aliko Dangote N100 million. It is on record that Mr and Mrs Alakija donated N1 billion, Mr Arthur Eze, GTB, among others donated cash and materials.

Are journalists not your friends at this time of need? Major General Tajudeen Olanrewaju, Chief Remi Makanjuola, Our senior Journalists – Chief Segun Osoba, Gbolabo Ogunsanwo, Lade Bunuola, Ayo Akinkuotu, Dr Okey Ikechukwu, Dr Reuben Abati Prince Uthman Shodipe, this is a call to action.

What are the sins of journalists that we are not remembered at a time like this? The state governors from Lagos, Ogun, Kaduna, Kano, Rivers, Oyo, Akwa Ibom and Enugu states, can’t venerable journalists benefit from your philanthropic gestures?

However, the union under my leadership in Lagos, fed members in the newsrooms and provided few sanitizers to argument supplies in some newsrooms.

Available statistics have shown that in Lagos, media owners, specifically from The Champion, Vanguard Newspapers, ThisDay newspapers, including DAAR Communications, have failed woefully to pay salaries as at when due and fulfilled basic economic rights of journalists.

The Champion newspapers owner, Chief Emmanuel Nwayawu, a leading political figure and an industrialist, is owning journalists in his stable over 64 months of salaries and other emoluments. Very disturbing, after he sold the “The Champion house”, he could not pay off our members. Her daughter equally have the effrontery to carry on the newspapers business secretly in the Ajao Estate, without paying salaries too. She organized a media award sometimes last month to deceive Nigerians of social services, the Lagos NUJ was there to disrupt the event.

To the surprise management of the Oriental Hotel, how can one of their clients behave irresponsibly. The management of Oriental hotel pleaded with the Lagos NUJ not to hurt thier business interests due to the irresponsibility of the Champion newspapers new owner.

In the spirit of give and take, the union complied with the Oriental Hotels management and agitation continued the agitation outside the hotel gate till 7pm on that day. Surely, we have fulfilled our mandate.

We are even shocked that one of the best union friendly newspapers in Nigeria, The Vanguard could not pay salaries for about 6 months now. The management has continued to engage the union on resolving the problem.

The story of Thisday newspapers will shock everyone, with huge profits made by the company and expansion to other areas of the media, salaries are not paid regularly until it is accumulated for months and later cleared. The remittances of union dues and others have been stalled for a while, until mostly election time, when a member of newspaper, is contesting election or having an ulterior interest in the NUJ leadership. The 2017 Lagos council NUJ election is a perfect example.

Surely, the union is equally embarrassed that despite the huge profits from political coverages in the time past, currently, DAAR Communications cannot meet basic economic needs of our members. Today, some retired members of the DAAR Communications are in court to claim their entitlements.

The question is what has the journalist done to deserve this lack of respect to self dignity and economic right?

Today, many journalists have become veterans of poor status and suffering in silence. The retirement benefits of members in the Radio Lagos/Eko FM and Lagos Television are yet to be paid. The union has visited the state pension office for prompt action and written a letter to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu for bailout.

The overall effects of these inhumanity to man on journalists, journalism profession and society as whole are horrendous. Poverty among media practitioners persists. Unethical conduct is the order of the day and the voiceless in the society has to pay to be heard in what ever form.

Please join me to ask the following questions:

Why are the human rights lawyers to prosecute the erring media owners – Ebun Adegboruwa, SAN, Femi Falana SAN, Libros Osoma, Tony Ubani, Kayode Ajulo and others?

What is the Ministry of Justice in Lagos doing to file action in court in the public interest of journalists and journalism profession against the media owners?

Are the federal and state ministries of Labour and Productivity as well as Labour Unions feign ignorance of the plight of Nigerian journalists especially those practicing in Lagos?

Mr Festus Keyamo, I do hope you can read this piece.

Corporate bodies and philanthropists where are you? The Dangote Group, The Folawiyo Group, the Telecommunications Giants, Nigeria Flour Mill, Chivita Company, Emzor Pharmaceuticals, Nestles, The Stallion Group, among others, how can you help distressed and poorest of poor Journalists?

“Media Aides” and our colleagues on other side of the divide, it is time to lend support as the lockdown continues.

Dear colleagues and opinion leaders let us start a conversation on support for Nigerian journalists and more importantly Lagos Journalists, which I proudly present, first on the line of duty.

Be that as it may fellow Nigerians and Lagosians, remember to keep and comply with all Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic rules of engagements.

Akinreti is the Chairman, Nigeria Union Of Journalists, Lagos state Council