Edo NUJ 9: NUJ, Police, EFCC notified By: Sebastine Ebhuomhan

Edo NUJ 9: NUJ, Police, EFCC notified

By: Sebastine Ebhuomhan, Benin City, Edo State
Friday, 3rd November, 2017

On a certain day, early 2014, this correspondent paid an unscheduled visit to the media unit office of former Governor Adams Oshiomhole’s Chief Press Secretary, Peter Okhiria, at the Government House.

Speaking with the open and amiable spokesman, it became clear that he had sent a message to certain foremost print journalists through Correspondents Chapel leadership that was not delivered to all the intended. Curiously, Mr Okhiria, who had promised to find out why the chapel’s leadership of Simon Ebegbulem of Vanguard newspapers as chairman and Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu of The Guardian newspapers as secretary then were found of excluding this correspondent from such information and activities, called Aliu’s mobile phone right there.

Despite being expressly directed to include this correspondent, the respondent defended that they included only members of the chapel. Fat lie! Asked why this correspondent is not a member of a chapel he had been its member when he worked for The Punch, Aliu replied that he is not a journalist! Shocked beyond his bone marrow, Mr Okhiria counselled Aliu not to say such a thing in the public about a journalist that he, Aliu, knows has worked at far higher levels with awards and recognitions for diligent and ethical practice merely because he read English in the university.

The truth Aliu and Simon, both of whom could not even attend the university, conveniently bye-passed in that telephone chat is that a journalist can be non-elective member of NUJ irrespective of discipline as long as he has verifiable job and media house. Secondly, they deliberately refused to disclose that this correspondent actually re-applied to Correspondents Chapel with required papers about five times, which they blatantly refused to approve because they conveniently pick rules to apply to individuals.

An ancient and enduring human tradition teaches that people at the top often make the rules—but don’t want to live by them. The height of hypocrisy, many powerful leaders, presidents, governors and citizens have followed this course of history into oblivion: after taking the women they wanted, stealing the money they wanted and converting the privileges they wanted.

From a didactic view in 2nd Samuel of how David lusted and seized Bathsheba without challenge from the patriotic Uriah, the world is replete with stories of dire consequences for men and women who made laws but didn’t live by such laws.

At the level of journalism, unqualified and unintelligent people often push themselves for union positions, do everything evil to retain power and hold members accountable to alien laws even when they can’t observe professional ethics and constitutions. This explains the running theatre of the absurd in Edo State starring a group of nine suspended journalists and union leaders and supportive senior government officials, whose undue and unwarranted joinder has pushed an ordinary union disciplinary matter onto the brink of bloody violence through blackmail, intimidation, harassment and threat.

To remind you, Edo State Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) last month suspended its Secretary, Mr Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu (of The Guardian) and eight other members including its Correspondents Chapel chairman, Simon Ebegbulem (of Vanguard); vice chairman, Cajetan Mmuta (of New Telegraph); secretary, Patrick Ochoga (of Leadership) and financial secretary, Ehis Ugbaugba (of News Agency of Nigeria). The others are: Tony Osauzo (of Sun); Adibe Emenyonu (of Thisday); Friday Otabor Osagie (of The Nation) and Adekumbi Ero (of Tell Magazine).

The nine members were suspended indefinitely for secretly collecting, converting, sharing and stealing N5m cash gift given to the council.

The union later met at both state and chapel congresses to impeach the Secretary before ratifying the chapel leaders’ indefinite suspension for failure to refund the N5m to the union within a deadline, which paved the way for a caretaker management committee.

Following an appeal by the nine members, the NUJ Headquarters in Abuja magnanimously referred their case back to Edo State Council’s ethics and disciplinary committee for a proper investigation along with a directive that the committee submits its recommendations for congress ratification before reporting to it, thereafter.

This is the setting for the drama witnessed at the congress of Tuesday, 24th October, 2017.

Before 4pm clocked, Edo State Deputy Governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Musa Ebhomhiana, drove into NUJ press centre, demanding to see the state council chairman, who he insisted and met behind closed-doors, leaving others he met waiting to take turns. Thereafter, he walked into the hall for the congress and took a front seat in what many members observed as overbearing arrogance. Truly, the government spokesman and former journalist had no business attending the congress on disciplinary matters. But he insisted on participating after claiming ‘elders’ mandated him to observe and got hit with a sachet of water during the altercation that riled the fierce debate and rejection of the committee’s report.

Mr Ebhomhiana, ex-NUJ National Vice President for South-South soon rushed out to Aideyan Police Station in Benin City and returned, with the help of Bimbo Oyetunde, ex-Secretary of Lagos NUJ and head of Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) in Edo State, with two armed police officers to arrest journalists at the congress. It ended in vanity. The congress sent out the chairman, locked the doors and continued with the dissolution of the committee.

Firstly, the eight-page, poor report that was signed by all members: the chairman, Hameed Braimah, Oliver Ijiogbe and Besiru Enakhimion, assumed an exercise in futility days before submission when it was alleged that the committee had been bribed with N500,000. The allegation was neither proved nor addressed by the committee at the presentation.

Secondly, the committee did not interrogate all the suspended members as mandated. Thirdly, the committee claimed it did not see or receive any relevant document, voucher or even paper to back its recommendations. It relied on mere oral claims. Fourthly, it refused to analyse oral, written and audio evidence presented to it. Fifthly, the committee claimed the suspended nine’s ring leader refused to appear on two invitations, called its secretary on the telephone to thoroughly abuse it but still shielded the person.

Apart from recommending reversal of suspension and impeachment, the only other notable recommendation that the committee made was unjustifiably urging the union to stop social media reports of the unethical practice, abuse of office and corruption allegations against the suspended members.

Beside bribery allegation, it was also discovered that the committee secretly gave out its report to the suspended members and Edo In Safe Hands, which quoted copiously from the report in an abusive article that defamed families of certain Edo NUJ members, released when the committee report was yet to be made public.

Lastly, it claimed attempts were made by interested parties to influence its work in their favour but added that it has done its best within its limit and advised anybody not satisfied to appeal against its recommendations. On the basis of these and other observations and claims, the congress voted and consigned the report to the dustbin of history before dissolving the committee.

Expectedly, the dissolution did not go down with the suspended nine and their collaborators in government, who quickly authored a false, contrary, abusive and senseless article against the families of some members. By-lined by the suspended Patrick Ochoga of Leadership, Simon Ebegbulem of Vanguard and Onimisi Lawani, the poorly written (and reproduced) article that is filled with grammatical and spelling errors makes a mockery of purported knowledge, judgment and claims of government officials calling them ‘the big nine journalists’ besides underlining opposition counter-claims that the suspended journalists were mere hatchet men illegally paid by Governor Godwin Obaseki for unethical “dirty” jobs done for his government.

In the article that legally defamed the characters of the families of some listed journalists, the writers described the legally and happily married wife of a member and mother of children as “a prostitute,” labelled another with unfounded “sex scandals” and two others with imaginary “mental problem” after needlessly dragging a political party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Gabriel Igbinedion and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, into the poor, brainless and insane write-up.

Yet, many journalists have argued that the article actually mirrors the failed lives of its writers: one of whom is a former uneducated guest house bar-boy in Benin City before the other, whose wife and children eloped abroad with another man early this year, helped him into job as a ‘journalist’ before rigging him into a union leader. Even now, Edo State government still enjoys robust relationship with some of the suspended nine journalists as reliable secret informants, blackmailers, backstabbers and hack writers without scruples.

Writing on page 16 of the Vanguard of Tuesday, 10th July, 2012 for example, the Solomon Iyobosa Edebiri Campaign Directorate accused Simon Ebegbulem, a man who had been accused of famously organizing his own assassination bid before, of deliberately trying to ridicule the stool of one of the most respected monarchs in Africa, Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Erediauwa with a hatchet report.

“He does not even bother if his report triggers off crisis and conflict in Edo State as long as he serves the interest of his master,” it stated, asking whether Simon is a journalist or political mouthpiece for Vanguard before concluding, “Vanguard is a paper of public trust and the likes of Ebegbulem diminishes the value and significance of the paper.” Many more media organizations in Nigeria have no value again.

Moreover, to show, as observers claimed, that they cannot survive without taking government or union money, the suspended members on Tuesday, 31st October, 2017 broke into the secretariat of Correspondents Chapel like robbers, claiming to have forcefully retook the office, posting social media pictures of themselves there, even as sane men and women were asking NUJ National President, Mr Wahid Odusile, to consider the matter without sentiment.

The provocation, impunity and threat formed the chapel caretaker committee’s petition to Edo State Commissioner of Police, Nigeria Police Force, Mr Johnson Kokumo and other authorities, with Reference No. NUJ/CC/MC/04/09/17; dated 1st November and titled: Illegal Occupation of Secretariat by Suspended Members of NUJ.

The illegality, abuse and crime also formed an anonymous group, Concerned Journalists in Edo State’s petition attached with documents to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), dated 2nd October and acknowledged on 31st October, 2017.

The Edo NUJ crisis has made more indigenes and observers to ask a question: what is the interest of Edo State government in the suspension, impeachment and discipline of the union members by its congress? While the suspended members have been using the platform of Edo In Safe Hands, a pressure group of the state government that opposition accused of doing dirty works and executing contracts without due process to fight the union, they have also been using the open-secret support of the Deputy Governor of Edo State, Hon Philip Shaibu, to threaten journalists perceived not to be supportive of them.

Edo State government must concern itself with the overwhelming challenges of delivering good governance, providing basic infrastructure, ensuring security of lives and properties, creating jobs for teeming youth, providing level platform for all etc. instead of using scarce time and resources to meddle in union matters. Edo government and its national ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) that this correspondent supported—intellectually, materially and resourcefully—even without fulfilling its promised acknowledgment and reward, must allow the media to play its constitutional role.

For a prevaricating, increasingly dictatorial government, making itself a secret cult, making enemies by dumping people that helped it attain power and losing grasp on politics and governance as issues have shown recently, Nero must not fiddle while Rome burns.

Usifo Sebastine Ebhuomhan is a distinguished Soyinka Laureate. A journalist, writer, author, communicator and advocate, he is the winner of Red Ribbon Award; ENHANSE/Internews Journalism Development Programme Award as well as other awards and honours. He lives in Benin City, Edo State. He can be reached on: 234-8037204620 or usie007@yahoo.com.

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