Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) has mapped out plans to sponsor a bill before the National Assembly on social welfare package for practicing professionals in the country. Evelyn Okakwu, writes on how the leadership of the Union plans to achieve this task.
During a recent briefing in Abuja, the President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr. Mohammed Garba, stated that the union is planning to improve the working condition of media practitioners in Nigeria.
According to the NUJ President, a bill which he described as the media enhancement bill was in place which he said will go a long way to improve the working conditions of media practitioners, if passed into law by the National Assembly.
Garba, who noted that the bill had had its own challenges in the past, said the union would re introduce the bill to stakeholders so that collectively they can agree on measures to be adopted in bringing the bill to light.
Similarly, while shedding more light on the bill and its various issues, the National secretary of the Union, Liman Shuaibu said the bill was established in 2004 to cater for areas that needed urgent attention.
“The media enhancement bill was established in 2004 to cater for areas we felt, needed urgent attention. Areas like the establishment of media organization, the issues of condition of service and working condition, among others. Upon creation, the bill was first introduced to the National Assembly in 2004, and it passed through three readings at the lower house before it was finally laid to rest in 2007.
“By the time it was laid to rest, I mean the bill was made to go into practical extinction, or killed after that third reading. This happened because a lot of media owners felt that the issues contained in the bill were not matters that should be contained in a bill of that kind nature.
“They held rather that the labour law should deal with welfare of media practitioners. But we felt that the media as an industry should be treated, perhaps, differently in terms of employment and working condition because of the key role they play in the larger society. We were of the view that if the bill was allowed to see the light of the day, it would have a positive impact on the lives of media practitioners”.
On how the bill will address the matters of salaries and wages ofs pressmen, the NUJ scribe stressed that they have argued that journalists should be paid 10 per cent more than what was obtainable in the public sector. So the salaries of those in the public sector would be like a peg to determine what media practitioners were paid.
With the killing of the bill, which now pitched the union with some pressmen who blamed the leadership of the union for not doing much in making the bill a reality, the leadership said that they have made some categorical statement.
According to Shuaibu, “journalists need to be paid more salaries; that the salaries of workers in most media houses are not conducive. And we also feel that it is beneficial to media practitioners that they pay workers well so that they can make the maximum output from their workers” he said.
He noted that there was a proposal in the bill that before a media organisation would be created; there should be a security account where the salaries of workers for at least six months will be lodged. Meaning that if one anticipates employing 20 to 30 workers; they will compute their monthly salaries for six months and then keep it in that very account.
He maintained that the Ministry of Information, the Nigerian Union of Journalists and the media organization concerned should be signatories to the account, so that if the media house decides to wind up, abruptly, the NUJ and other sectors who are signatories to the account will be able to pay workers as it should be.
“Unfortunately, today, you will find out that when a media house decides to wind up journalists are thrown out without any thing to go with, which is very unfortunate”.
Even more unfortunate is the fact that most media practitioners consulted during this report were either unaware of the bill, or indifferent about its content.
We hope that we will be able to once again look into the issues raised by the bill again now, rather than allow the issues to linger on”.
The Kano State born NUJ scribe, lamented that upon the efforts made by the union towards improving the welfare of journalists, media practitioners have always accused the union of being insensitive to their plight.
Shaibu informed that they are now ready to reintroduce this bill and have already concluded plans to make copies, have them distributed to stakeholders, which include the Newspaper Proprietors of Nigeria, and members of the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria, to know what they have to say.
He said that, “if they have imputes, we may have to disagree so that finally we can agree on something. We believe that if all the stakeholders give their backing; if the bill has the blessing of everybody, then it can make a head way.
He finally concluded with an appeal to everybody saying that the bill needs the cooperation all to be a success.
Although, it is important to see that the Media Enhancement Bill is passed, but most journalists, however, advocated for the establishment of Journalists’ Welfare Endowment Fund in the country, for providing financial assistance to the journalists working in press, newspapers and news agencies, who cannot afford the expenditure incurred on his own medical treatment or his family members or expenditure to be incurred on his or their family- member funeral expenses and compensation to the family members of such journalists, who embraces martyrdom in acts of doing his job.