By IFEANYI MADUAKO
Of all the 36 state chapters and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), it’s only in Imo State that the members are still disputing or contesting the result of the 2019 executive council election. Whereas other 35 states and the FCT Abuja chapters have since moved on and even had a re-election of their various executives, gladiators are still digging deeper in the Imo State chapter.
Some of the members in Imo State have yet to accept the outcome of the election of 2019 which produced Chief Chris Akaraonye as the chairman. Their contention or grouse with the election of Akaraonye as chairman was and still is that he’s a photographer, a retired one for that matter. One begins to wonder if photo-journalism is no longer part of journalism as a whole. Is journalism limited to reporters, editors, columnists, etc? Can a news report be complete without accompanying it with a picture?
Talking about Chief Chris Akaraonye. Here is a man who was admitted as a member of the union, he was the vice chairman during Sir Innocent Igwe’s regime. When he was elected as the chairman, those opposed to his election remembered that he’s a retired photographer.
Assuming without conceding that he’s a retired photographer, why was the photographer admitted into the union in the first place? Why was he allowed to emerge as the vice chairman? Was his right as a union member limited to certain positions because he’s a photographer? Does one even retire from a profession like journalism? If one retires from government service after clocking the mandatory age of 60 or 35 years of service, does it stop the person from practicing journalism as long as the person is still healthy and strong?
Journalism, as a profession, is like Law. Can anyone question the legality of a lawyer who retires from government service as a State Counsel, would it stop the person from practicing law as a private citizen? If a lawyer retires from government service, does it stop him/her from being a member of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA)? Once a person is admitted as a member of any association, he/she has the inalienable rights to enjoy the full benefits of the union including the right to stand for election in whatever position in accordance with the union’s constitution. Whether Chief Akaraonye was a mere photographer while in service was immaterial.
He was rendering services to the government, just like reporters under the ministry of information. He was duly qualified to contest the 2019 election having served as the vice chairman of the same union. If his credential was not questioned when he was a vice chairman, why should the issue of being a photographer crop up when he became the chairman?
On the issue of the 2019 NUJ general election. Every union election involves line-up or group aspirations. The national election of the NUJ executive members usually comes up first before the state elections.
Now, in 2019, Lambert Ojukwu, was a contender for the position of Imo NUJ chairman. Ojukwu (fondly called OJ) is a very respectable journalist, he’s a very orderly man and ably qualified to lead the Imo NUJ.
However, his line-up or group was said to have supported the re-election of the then NUJ national president, Waheed Odusile. Unfortunately for them, Odusile lost the election to Chief Chris Isiguzo whom the line-up of Akaraonye and his group supported. There’s an element of luck in every human endeavour or election. If Waheed Odusile had won the election held in his own state of Abeokuta in Ogun State, Ojukwu would have emerged the Imo NUJ chairman against all odds. But since his man lost the election, Ojukwu and his group should have taken their fate with equanimity and conceded defeat.
Since Ojukwu and his group didn’t support the election of Isiguzo, how did they expect to work harmoniously with the national chairman if he had emerged as the Imo NUJ chairman? Comrade Odusile lost in his own ground or state and accepted his fate, but gladiators in Imo State are still contesting the 2019 election. Can Imo NUJ exist in isolation among all the 36 states and FCT?
Now, the gladiators have taken the matter to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Imo State Judicial division. The matter has been undergoing trial since 2019 which is three years ago. The tenure of a NUJ chairman whether at the state or federal level is three years in the first instance. It grants the occupant another term of three years which cumulates to six years at maximum.
This writer is not a lawyer, but for a matter that has lasted three years in court when the first tenure of the occupant is three years, if the plaintiffs eventually win the matter, wouldn’t it be a mere academic exercise since the three years tenure has elapsed by effluxion of time? NUJ elections are not like governorship or presidential positions where the winner’s tenure starts counting from the day the courts make the final pronouncements.
Have those who approached the court realized that it could be impossible for the court to order a re-run for the election conducted since 2019? Even if the Industrial Court eventually does so, when does the tenure start counting? Have they realized that the Industrial Court is the Court of first instance in such matters? Do they know that whatever may be the judgment of the Industrial Court could be appealed up to the Supreme Court? So assuming the judgment is appealed up to the Supreme Court and the Apex Court finally gives judgment perhaps in 2040 (next 18years) in their favour. They would now return to re-conduct the 2019 NUJ election in 2040? If this matter could last up to this moment in the Industrial Court, only God knows how long it could last at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
The blame should not go to the eminent judges at the Industrial Court because they are not responsible for the duration of this matter, the blame goes squarely to the counsel of both parties who deploy delay tactics through long adjournments to frustrate the case. The matter is a civil case which has no constitutional time limit for its adjudication, so it can last as long as possible.
I would use this opportunity to beg the Ojukwu faction to settle this matter out of court. Chief Akaraonye had made a big sacrifice by relinquishing his constitutionally guaranteed second term for peace to reign. He could have sat tight on the seat without election until the matter is finally disposed of even maybe at the Apex Court. In fact, he could have been NUJ chairman for the next 10 years as long as the matter is still in the court without conducting any election.
Now, on the issue of Comrade Ifeanyi Nwanguma’s recent election as the new NUJ chairman. Since the tenure of Akaraonye’s executive had expired by the effluxion of time, nature abhors a vacuum. The national leadership of NUJ had the statutory rights to conduct a new election in Imo State.
There are speculations that there’s a Court injunction restraining the conduct of new elections. If the speculations are true, who are the parties to the suit at the Industrial Court? Is the national leadership of NUJ which supposedly organized the recent election a party to the substantive suit pending at the Industrial Court? If there was a restraining order, was it properly served to the parties concerned and did they reply with a ruling given? For such an order to be made, there must be an application by any of the parties to the suit and a ruling must be given by court. Did the applicants serve the respondents? If the respondents or defendants were not served with the order through proper channels, then the recent election of Comrade Nwanguma is very much in order and valid.
Comrade Nwanguma is a versatile unionist and a respectable editor of many years standing. I believe that he would pilot the affairs of the union creditably. It pleases the hearts of many Imo Journalists that a private print media man has emerged as the NUJ chairman after a very long while. Government-controlled journalists had been piloting the affairs of the union for decades now, and now that a print media man has emerged, I believe that there would be a paradigm shift in the affairs of the union.
I use this medium to plead with the Ojukwu faction to sheathe its swords and embrace the new leadership. Imo NUJ can’t afford to continue this fractionalization to the detriment of the media practitioners in the state. Whatever is their grievances should be ironed out amicably. This writer, as PGD alumnus of the International Institute of Journalism, Abuja (Imo study centre) is a qualified journalist by all ramifications.
Therefore, now that my namesake and my man is the new chairman, I may have to draw closer to the activities of the union. I wish Comrade Nwanguma and his exco members a successful tenure as I plead for unity because united we stand but divided we fall yakata.