By Isaac Asabor
It is not an exaggeration to say that 66 years down the line that Nigerian Journalists have been entangled in the dilemma of salary crisis. The foregoing view can be bolstered with the fact that one of the factors that led to the founding of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), on the 15th of March, 1955 in Lagos, was linked to the struggle for livable salary as young and enthusiastic journalists at the time were not well paid, and their desire for better conditions of service became more pronounced.
For the sake of clarity, a reputable online encyclopedia, “Wikipedia” defines a livable wage “As the minimum income necessary for workers to meet their basic needs. This is not the same as a subsistence wage, which refers to a biological minimum. Needs are defined to include food, housing, and other essential needs such as clothing. The goal of a living wage is to allow a worker to afford a basic but decent standard of living through employment without government subsidies. Due to the flexible nature of the term “needs”, there is not one universally accepted measure of what a living wage is and as such it varies by location and household type. A related concept is that of a family wage, one sufficient to not only support oneself, but also to raise a family.
As it explained, living wage differs from the minimum wage in that the latter can fail to meet the requirements for a basic quality of life which leaves the worker to rely on government programs for additional income. Living wages have typically only been adopted in municipalities. In economic terms, living wage is similar to the minimum wage as it is a price floor for labor. It thus differs from the national minimum wage in that it is not set according to a legal threshold.
Analyzed from the perspective of the foregoing definitions of what a “livable” and “subsistent” wages are, it is very obvious that Nigerian Journalists are neither here nor there as Mr. Rotimi Ojomoyela, chairman of NUJ, Ekiti State Chapter, few days ago, while featuring on a media parley coordinated by Fresh FM in the State, disclosed that many journalists in both radio and newspapers are currently being owed between five months and one year salaries or more.
Painting a pitiable graphic picture of the condition which journalists in the country are collectively facing, Ojomoyela described the situation “as criminal and callous, a situation whereby certain media houses continually owe its members across the country, several months of unpaid salaries”.
By virtue of what NUJ stands for, as a trade association, and the collective hope it elicits for its members, it is expedient to say that its leadership at different dispensations since its formation has never rest on its oars towards the betterment of Journalists. In fact, as a network of media professionals established, among other purposes, to advance the welfare of Nigerian journalists, and being an independent trade organization with no political leaning or ideological disposition, it is founded in the underlying belief that speaking with one voice as a professional body that it can push for the interest of its members particularly in the areas of salary and general welfare of its members.
However, it is sad that 66 years into the formation of NUJ that hope for livable and regular salaries for journalists have continued to dwindle trust. This is hardened by negative economic impacts caused by the pandemic, and a sense of undelivered promises by Journalists that have been at the forefront of unionism on the pedestal of NUJ. Right from the newsroom to where “Aluta Continua” is apt to be chanted to high heaven, the situation can proverbially be best described as “Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost”.
Against the foregoing backdrop, it would be recalled that the President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Chris Isiguzo, like his predecessors, during his first term in office in May 2019 assured that the union was determined, more than ever before to achieve a salary structure for media practitioners in the country.
To this end, he assured that the NUJ would engage other stakeholders in the media industry to ensure that an enhanced salary package was achieved within the life of the 9th National Assembly (NASS).
He made the disclosure in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Enugu where he said that the union had fashioned out ways to interface with the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Radio, Television, Theater and Arts Workers Union (RATTAWU).
Unarguably irked by the pitiable situation, he said it was unacceptable in the prevailing circumstance where media workers were either paid meagre salaries or left without salaries every month end, and concluded that it was unacceptable to the union.
He said, “The issue of enhanced media salary is one of our major agenda. It is one of the foundational challenges facing the union and media practice in Nigeria.
“It is important that we engage other stakeholders like the NBC, NGE and RATTAWU to work out something better and take the request to the NASS”.
Isiguzo, at the time, said that the union along with the other stakeholders would commence the process as soon as the 9th NASS was inaugurated in June.
Just as he promised, he has for the umpteenth time being berating media owners for their continued non-payment of journalists’ salaries in the country.
Being cognizant of the fact that the negative trend continues to impact negatively on the practice of journalism, he has at different events urged media owners who owe journalists to discharge their obligations in this respect, responsibly and as when due.
He had said, “A situation where some journalists are made to work for months without any salary is an aberration and should be condemned.
But alas! Despite Isiguzo’s inexorable efforts in ensuring that the wellbeing of Journalists across the country are bettered, and which unarguably culminated into his reelection at the Seventh Triennial Delegates’ Conference of the NUJ on Thursday last week, after polling 665 votes to defeat his opponent, Yusuf Idris, from Kaduna State Council of NUJ, who scored 15 votes, the situation still remains the same.
While he has assured journalists that he will redouble his efforts in his second term, I am in this context calling on all Journalists, particularly those at the top echelons of the profession to give him the maximum support to enable him and his team take the union to a greater pedestal as we (Journalists) cannot continue waiting for “Manna from Heaven”. If I may ask, how long will Nigerian journalists remain hopeful for unpaid salary crisis to be resolved?