How journalists’ union shapes history of press in Nigeria

NUJ-CopyThe Nigerian media has come a long way and a critical ingredient in that journey is the journalist. So a book that provides an historical insight into the activities of the union that journalists belong to, no doubt, would be exciting and revealing for any reader and researcher.

The book, NUJ: A history of Nigeria Press written by Mr. Jola Ogunlusi, a former National Secretary of the union detailed how the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) was established including the intricacies that went into setting it up. The title is also apt because it is telling the story of the Nigeria press from the activities of the NUJ.

All the many minute in the book, details of all the happenings in the many delegates’ conferences of the NUJ and the spotlight on the tenure of each of the presidents of the associations showed that the documentation was from an insider. And it is not surprising, since the author served the union as a full time scribe for over a decade. He also did well by consulting Lateef Jakande who was one of the founding fathers of the union.

The book has 510 pages with 21 chapters. It started with the birth of NUJ, how it was formed and the important role Alhaji Lateef Jakande and many others played in the creation of the union. He also provided some information on how the union, which started in Lagos, spread to other parts of the country highlighting the roles of personalities responsible for the growth of the union in other parts of the country.

In the following chapters, he talked about NUJ from 1955 to 1977 and thereafter the restructuring of the union by government in 1977.

In narrating the journey of NUJ, Ogunlusi not only just gave account of what happened within the secretariat or the politics within the union, he also provided information on how the NUJ fought with some media organisations on the welfare of staff.

One example that was encapsulating was how the union paid the salary of a member who was wrongly treated by his employer when the union was having a running battle with the media house.

Probably, if the NUJ is still as very active as it used to be and working in line with the values and principles of its founding fathers, media organisations would not be owing staff salaries running into months without the NUJ not doing anything concrete to checkmate it, especially those who have the capacity to pay.

The author also subtly stated how the different bodies in the media industry under the Nigerian Press Organization (NPO) stood together to fight military dictatorship and other repressive issues against the media industry.

It was an account of a good past of the industry seeing the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the NUJ seating on a table to discuss nothing other than the good of the industry and forming an alliance to check any activities against the media. This kind of alliance appears to have ceased to exist.

Specifically, chapter eleven captured the birth of the NPO through the instrumentality of the NUJ, NPAN, NGE as well as Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) and the roles each group played in further driving the journalism profession to the next level.

In discussing essential partners of the media in chapter twelve, the author only spotlighted the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) and the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN), which he called Association of Advertising Practitioners of Nigeria (AAPN). This is one of the many minus in the book. The NIPR and the AAAN are not the only essential partners of the media. Besides not giving a thought on other professional bodies and discussing a regulator like APCON, the author did not see the many institutions that provided journalism training as essential partners. Though in chapter sixteen of the book, the author discussed training institutions for journalists, he only spotlighted the Nigeria Institute of Journalism (NIJ), the Times Journalism Institute while just mentioning the other universities and polytechnics that offer mass communication as a course.

Chapter thirteen of the book is a spotlight on the affiliate unions of the NUJ, which the author titled specialisation in the media. Though the author chronicled some of the sub-unions, he however left out many and ignored the controversies engineered by the publishers (NPAN) especially against the existence of these beat associations. One would expect that even if there would be no brief information on those other affiliates, the author would have mentioned them and any reader would have felt that there was no brief on them because of space constraint.

In all, the book is a must read for not just any aspiring journalists but also all practicing journalists. It should be a book available in every media house and every new reporter should read this before he or she is allowed to start his or her journalistic career.

This is because it provided the needed information of the journey of the umbrella body of the journalists and it would be a tonic to get inspired to take the union to greater heights.

Coincidentally, the national election for the executive of the association is coming up this week (July 23 to 26, 2015) in Abuja and it would have been a good test for all the candidates to be grilled on the activities of the union or even asked that all those who picked forms to serve the union should read the book and provide a summary of what they read.

This is important especially for the aspiring leaders to imbibe qualities required to rescue the union and put it back on the track of progress and innovative leadership.

Ogunlusi said in the introduction: “The media in Nigeria could be described as being lucky to have men whose determination and commitment were to make the media develop in leaps and bounds to enable them play major roles in reshaping the political, socio-cultural and economic development of Nigeria.

“The formation of most of these organisations, most especially the first three (NUJ, NGE and NPAN) has its pivot gravitating on one person who had the luck to be involved in the formation and who held important leadership positions at one time or the other in the organisations.”

One narrative in the book which the author did not deliberate state is that contribution of Lateef Jakande to having a very virile media industry in Nigeria since he played a critical role in setting up the major unions in the sector.

Though he might not be the person that suggested the idea of having those unions but one point was common in the narratives by Ogunlusi, Alhaji Jakande always helped in ensuring such unions stand and is functional.

This, no doubt, is a reflection of his passion for journalism.

However, besides would be journalists and journalists, the book would be a good read for any one interested in the politics of professional unions as well as ensuring a better and virile professional union.

Also, there were also stories in the book, which might be contentious, especially the area that gave account of the infighting in the union. In those times, the author was an interested party and might have narrated the story to suit his ego or probably leave out some details that were not favorable to his side. This is aside the other parties might have a different interpretation of the crisis.

In summary, the book is a good one for all interested in knowledge and history.

The author is from Esun-Ekiti in Ikole Local Government Area of Ekiti State and was born on September 25, 1934. He had his early education in Ansar-Ud-deen High School, Ikole-Ekiti and was the first prefect of the school though he opted out in Class IV due to funding.

Though he ended up as a journalist, while doing home study to write his Ordinary and Advanced level General Certificate of Education it was to study Medicine but as fate would have it, he picked up a job with Iwe Irohin Yoruba in 1963. And he never looked back, moving from there to Nigerian Tribune, then to The Sketch and later New Nigerian.

His journey into the NUJ started with being an Assistant Secretary, Lagos Council of the NUJ and went ahead to serve as the Protem Secretary of the Union without pay in 1977 and thereafter appointed the first Executive National Secretary in 1978.

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