Pius Ede, out-going Vice-President of Zone ‘F’ of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), comprising of Rivers, Cross-River, Akwa-Ibom, Delta Bayelsa and Edo states, has history beckoning on his hands. The tall, elegant, amiable Ede would have the opportunity to conduct, free, fair, credible.
Going by the history of the NUJ, the union has always faced challenges in conducting elections into different positions of leadership. It is often characterized by manipulation, subterfuge and gerrymandering of all sorts and ends up with sham electoral processes.
As a key player in the last triennial delegates election of the union who challenged the charade perpetrated by the credentials committee, I can claim complete knowledge the intrigues and backroom deals associated with NUJ election/triennial conference. Such gimmickry is about to repeat itself.
The 2009 NUJ election provided me the opportunity to test the mucky waters prevalent in the union and also set the agenda for me to witness first-hand the forces that control the decisions reached at each of the previous national election of the Central Working Committee (CWC) of the union. At that election, I had cautioned against subverting the letters of Article 6 of the NUJ constitution, but my caution were cast overboard and the usual sing-song fraud happened. I had published without any rejoinder up till now, of how the 2009 national election was frustrated and brought to its knees at the International Conference Center, Abjua.
But, it would suffice to provide the constitutional platform for this current NUJ election which should be used to judge the credibility of the election. For instance, the constitution of the NUJ stated in Article 6 (1) (i) that “a candidate into any of the National and State offices shall be nominated and sponsored by two financial members of his Council or Chapel filing a prescribed form. This form, with two passport photographs of the candidate and his curriculum vitae with photocopies of credentials shall be forwarded to the National Secretary to reach him not later than three months in the case of national officers, before the date of the election”.
With respect to Article 6 (2), the same constitution further indicated that “in the case of national elections, the National Secretary shall publish and circulate the list of all contesting candidates and their curriculum vitae to all the State Councils, six weeks before the date of the election”. There were also other provisions in the constitution dealing with bankruptcy or convictions and what is required of the candidate’s nominators where such becomes the case.
This particular constitution specifies in Article 6 (4) that “nominations received after the published closing date, but not as a result of a situation under rule (three) (sic) of Article 6, shall not be accepted.”
The constitution also in the same Article listed out the pre-requisite qualifications which each of the aspirants to the national offices shall possess. Example is that any candidate to the national office should have “been actively involved in the practice of journalism for a period not less than 10 years and has been involved as an officer of the union by attendance of meetings”. This attendance at meetings is 50 per cent state and chapel meetings in the case of those currently running for national officers. It emphasised in the same Article 6 (7) (i) that “only members who have paid fully their professional fees will be considered to be in good financial standing”.
Other important requirements of the NUJ constitution were spelt out in Article 4, which deals with Finance. According to the Article, any registered member of the union is compulsorily required to have paid N10,000.00 as annual professional fees and in particular, Article 4 (2) (i) specified that “any member whose professional fee has not been paid fully shall be disqualified from acting as a delegate or representative of a chapel at any meeting of the union or from benefiting from the union in any manner and from representing the union in any other meeting”.
Therefore, Article 5 (B) which specifically listed what should be done at a national conference becomes appropriate. This particular Article specifically gave the national conference the powers to elect the national officers of the union, particularly as specified in sub-section 5 (B) (1) to 10. In particular, it said that “this conference shall be composed of all registered members of the union who are in good financial standing” and added that it shall meet every three years for the purpose of carrying out a number of listed duties, including electing national officers of the union especially with particular reference to Article 5 (B) (iv) of the constitution.
Articles 5 (6) to (8) equally specifies how the delegates to the national conference shall emerge, that is to say, that every financial member of the union shall be entitled to emerge as a delegate to the national conference. Also Article 5 (9) and (10) created the Credentials Committee which “shall examine the good financial standing of each registered delegate before the conference and the name of any delegate not in good financial standing shall be withdrawn from the list of delegates. The committee shall also have powers to screen candidates for elections into national offices of the union”.
Most significantly, sub-section 10 (iii) clearly specified that “the Credentials Committee shall act independently of the National President, National Secretary and any other national or state officer of the union”. The members of this committee shall be drawn from among the members, but they should be those who are in good financial standing already stated
As for the Article 5 (9) it stated that “names of the registered delegates shall be forwarded to the National Secretary of the union by the state secretaries who shall collect them from the chapels. Each state council shall forward its list to reach the national secretary not later than two months before the conference”.
Now analysing these constitutional provisions one after the other, it would be seen that every member of the NUJ in good financial standing as already stated in the constitution, should be a delegate to the national conference. It is also seen that for one to qualify to vie for any office at the national level, there are certain pre-requisites which must be satisfied in addition to up-to-date payment of the professional fee, not its equivalent. Also, such aspirants must possess prescribed minimal educational qualifications, in addition to having participated in union activities in a graduated manner.
As for the Credentials Committee which by convention, is usually constituted by the NEC since there is no specified constitutional provision for its composition or as to its membership except that they must be financially up-to-date members, the current Credentials Committee made up of nine members is headed by Mr. Pius Ede. The committee was constituted by the CWC and rectified by NEC. This is not the problem yet, though there is no verification as to if each member satisfied the financial requirements of full membership before they were named in the committee.
There are certainly problems from these areas of constitutional conflict. First, the letters of Article 6 (1) (i) and Article 6 (2) which specified the mode of nomination and sponsorship as well as forwarding of the prescribed form to “the National Secretary to reach him not later than three months” can not apply and will never apply in this instance because none of the candidates to the election (incumbent National President, Mallam Garba Mohammed; former Lagos State Council Chairman, Mrs. Olufunke Fadugba and former Edo State Council Chairman, Otumba Mike Alademika), obtained this constitutionally prescribed form from either the National Secretary or from the Credentials Committee three months ago, and so, could not have forwarded the needed particulars to the national secretariat not later than three months to the election, which in the instant case, should have been done as at February 24th, 2012.
Article 6 (2) of the NUJ constitution which specified that “in the case of national elections, the National Secretary shall publish and circulate the list of all contesting candidates and their curriculum vitae to all the State Councils, six weeks before the date of the election”, also did not apply. As at the time of filing this report, the list of candidates for the election is still a closely-guarded secret between Mr. Ede and his committee and the National Secretary, Mr. Shauaibu Usman Leman and perhaps a few privileged NUJ members (those in the good books of the national secretariat). Investigations so far conducted shows clearly that none of the state councils has received this list and so, none of the councils could have published a list it did not receive either from the Credentials Committee or from the National Secretary as required by the NUJ constitution.
Similarly, letters of Articles 4 and 6 in respect to payment of professional fee is another sour point in the union. According to our investigations, payment of professional fee in the union is one area members do not want to abide by because there is high level of perceived non-accountability in the management of the funds accruing to the union. What had happened in several council elections is that staff of the national secretariat who were mandated to supervise council elections, would simply ask members just shortly before commencement of voting, to pay in an amount ranging from N5,000.00 each so as to instantly qualify such a person to vote at that particular election, disregarding in totally, the clear provisions of the NUJ constitution in this regard.
As I write this article, the NUJ national body does not know how many of its members that paid the prescribed professional fee in full, neither does it even have any accurate data on the number of those who made partial payment and the amount each of such members had paid, chapel by chapel, council by council. This absence of accountability in the union is its greatest albatross.
This is perhaps why the union will never get it right in its quest at providing a comprehensive insurance policy for its members. It is not possible to provide insurance cover for anyone by proxy. No insurance company will do that and even if an insurance company pretends that it is possible to do so, when it comes to maturity and redemption of the premium, it would become clear that that insurance company merely accepted the offer just to exploit the obvious lacuna they had noticed and there is nothing the union could do them. And that is precisely why the NUJ insurance policy being bandied about by incumbent President Mohammed Garba failed and can never succeed until the correct prerequisites are done.
Apart from all these, Article 5 (10) which gave powers to the Credentials Committee to act independent of the national secretariat provides another avenue for rigging of the NUJ election each time. It is true that the National Secretary is an employee of the union, yet, he remains the most singular most powerful National Officer of the union. In fact, the National Secretary is holding the knife and the yam of the union. He might decide to do and undo if he so desires. The same constitution which stated that the Credentials Committee should operate independent of him or his office, equally gave him powers to carry out certain functions that are germane to the success of the national election.
This lacuna is always exploited through mischief to bring about sham NUJ elections after each Delegate’s Conference. But, it is up to Mr. Pius Ede and those of them that have conscience in his committee, to know what exactly to do to appropriately navigate in this mucky waters of confusion in which it is already mired in.
One issue which has to do with choice of the venue for the national delegate’s conference is another sour point. It is true that the CWC is responsible for this issue, but convention set in the past has been for councils to willingly bid to host such conferences. This time, investigations revealed that there was no such offer to councils to bid. Rather, the National President decided that the conference would hold in Abuja, thus denying the NUJ members an opportunity to explore possibilities in other states, especially since Abuja played host to the 2009 Delegates Conference.
With members of the union arriving from their various councils nationwide to Abuja this Thursday, it remains to be seen how a credible election would be conducted. Nigerians have been criticizing the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for not living up to their expectations. These Nigerians have always sought the press, who actually are members of the NUJ, to express their views on national elections. The media on their own publish series of investigative reports on the elections conducted by this national electoral umpire and pass verdict as it suited the particular reporter or writer and maybe depending on the stand of the medium publishing the news or analytical item. Now, it is time for the media to prove that INEC got it wrong or right in its conduct of elections by using the current NUJ national election to set the immutable standard.
If what happened at the 2009 NUJ elections is anything to go by; if what made the members of the 2009 Credentials Committee seek redress before Justice Aladetoyinbo of the FCT High Court on the hijack of the 2009 national elections by the national secretary, is any lesson learnt by the union, then, there should be a departure from the past. Otherwise, it will be business as usual.
Why one should not expect anything better is that the NEC of the union have illegally acquiesced to an imposition of N10,000.00 levy on each delegate to the forthcoming NUJ national election! This is the first time in the history of the union that people who were supposed to exercise their franchise, which is a civic responsibility, would be asked to pay money before they could be allowed to do so.
If all the 880 national delegates to the forth-coming national election of the NUJ pay the mandatory but illegal and unconstitutional N10, 000.00 fees per delegate, as ordered by the national secretariat, then, the union national office would have generated approximately N8.8 million which, as usual, will disappear sooner than the election is over. That money will be shamelessly retired as in the past!
One thing has however become obvious, it is either the Mr. Ede-led Committee already decided that the election would go to the highest bidder, or it has decided that it would use already prepared list of purported delegates which would be supplied by the national secretariat or from whatever only God-knows source, purporting same to be those who had paid this illegal and unconstitutional levy, aimed at disenfranchising several genuine NUJ members, to frustrate several state delegates and deny them their right to exercise their franchise. Surely, this is one way of how not to conduct and election and it would be nice if INEC comes to observe the election. Asking voters to pay N10,000.00 each before they can qualify to cast their ballot, portends what?
With the constitutional provisions so far listed and issues arising there from, which have all been kept in the breach, one does not know the magic wand with which Mr. Ede and his committee members would rectify these anomaly which always stared the NUJ in the face and constantly rubbished the credibility of its national elections.
One thing is clear, except Professors of Mass Communication, top Editorial staff of the various media houses decide to take over and run the NUJ affairs as is the case with NIPR and APCON, there is nothing of quality that would come out of the NUJ. It is up to us to do what is right always.
If we constantly allow the tendencies which made it possible for the national secretariat which sponsored the NUJ-Boko Haram in the Abuja Council of the NUJ in 2009, which up till now completely halted the giant developmental strides of the Malachy Uzendu-led State Working Committee (SWC) in the NUJ of the FCT, we shall never move forward. It will always be one step forward, several steps backward. In the end, NUJ stagnates in spite of its unprecedented goodwill.
This is why NUJ members should seek out that lone voice in the wilderness; that voice which made the Lagos Council of the NUJ remain the most economically viable council in the federation; that woman who made it possible that the likes of Otumba Olusegun Runsewe, the Director-General of Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and other notable journalists should own befitting houses in the Journalists’ Village in Lagos; that woman, Mrs. Olufunke Fadugba, should be encouraged to pilot the ship of affairs of the union. It is only by looking beyond the immediate crumbs that the union can move forward.
Malachy UZENDU WAS A MEMBER OF THE 2009 TRIENNIAL DELEGATES CONFERENCE, CREDENTIALS COMMITTEE AND A SENIOR ABUJA-BASED JOURNALIST