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Stakeholders bemoan NAWOJ election, call for fairplay

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Adeola Ekine


Barely three weeks after the Nigerian Guild of Editors’ controversial election, members of National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Lagos chapter, have also held what many stakeholders described as another controversial election in the media industry.  
 
Many have expressed concern over the developments in the industry, saying journalism is gradually being taken over by ‘political jobbers’ who now control it. In the build up to NAWOJ election, a credential vetting committee was set up in February at the 2019 congress of women journalists in Lagos. But the committee couldn’t do much.
 
However, former chairperson in the state, Sekinah Lawal, told The Guardian that due to the raging housing fraud matter involving the national leadership of the women group led by Ifeyinwa Omowole and the inaction of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) national leadership regarding the issue, some subscribers had reported those involved in the scam to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). 
   
“She (Omowole) openly boasted that nothing will come out of EFCC and truly, EFCC has stopped work on the matter. As a result of this, as the chairperson of women journalists in Lagos, I wrote petitions to the national NUJ leadership on the need to use internal mechanism to resolve the crisis. I equally told members that NAWOJ national, under the leadership of Omowole, would not be fair and just in the planned Lagos women journalists’ election.
 
“But no solution was forthcoming as the Omowole-led national NAWOJ dissolved the committee comprising those she felt wouldn’t do her biddings. She replaced them with her own people.”
   
Omowole told The Guardian on phone that the NUJ constitution specifies that everything done at state level must be in cohesion with the national. “Lagos NAWOJ set up a credential committee for weeks without informing us, we overlooked it when they eventually got across to us. There were petitions from two members of the committee and some contestants,” she said. 
   
The NUJ constitution stipulates that for anyone to qualify to contest for election, he or she would have met about 50 per cent attendance of the congress, and must have risen to be an editor in print or news manager in the broadcast section. And for the ministry of information, must be a director. 
   
Precious Igbonwelundu, a journalist with The Nation, lamented the situation, saying, “the credential committee had these facts but decided to set the constitution aside just to pave way for some people who are not qualified.”  
     
The Guardian findings showed that delegates from the Lagos State Ministry of Information far outnumbered core journalists and the committee had suggested that for fairness, there should be specific number of delegates from each media house. But the supposed Abiola Beckly-led committee, which was set up by Omowole, declined the suggestion.      
   
According to Lawal, “the committee already had a written script from the Omowole leadership, which it wanted to execute. The union couldn’t intervene, and as peace-loving people, the best option was to seek for court’s intervention. The most surprising incident was the gestapo style in which the staff of the ministry, led by the Permanent Secretary, Mr Fola Adeyemi, stormed the venue of the planned election. Available list showed there were about 300 women from the Ministry of Information alone, rubbishing the core media houses who did not have up to 150.”
   
Lawal said she had suggested to Beckly that the committee should be fair to all by giving each media house certain number of delegates, adding, “for instance between 30 to 50, as done by Dr Akinreti in Abeokuta last year, whereby each chapel was asked to nominate two persons. They said no and the committee found favourable ground in the uncontrolled number from the ministry.
 
Reacting to the large number of members from the Ministry of Information, Omowole said, “I have been an NUJ member for 27 years and there has never been a time where female journalists were more than the members from the ministry.”
 
The new chairperson, NAWOJ Lagos chapter, Adeola Ekine, who is from the Ministry of Information, told The Guardian that she had to resign her position as the sitting secretary to contest the election.She said, “To the best of my knowledge, the election was free and fair, the only issue we encountered was when they said my chapel members could not vote, but the issue was resolved and they voted.”
 
Ekine and other executives were sworn in immediately after the election. On the issue of disregarding the NUJ constitution, she noted that all contestants and delegates are supposed to meet the 50 per cent attendance to participate, but most members fell short, hence the need to overlook that part of the constitution, which paved way for all candidates to contest.
 
She said, “Some of us were disqualified under the constitution. At the national level, they decided that let everybody had a level playing ground to contest. Election is over and we need to work together to move NAWOJ forward.” 
   
Lawal continued, “The DSS and police assisted them in blocking the bailiff and myself from entering the hall in the presence of Toro Oladapo, Bimbo Oyetunde, Julie Ekong, Odifa Alfred and others. I was rough-handled, with Tunde Olalere saying they should beat me up. Dipo Kehinde and Tessy Igomu of The Sun were molested with Tessy landing in hospital. Beckly gave specific instructions to the security at the gate not to allow me and the bailiff in. They want to set aside the constitution where it pays them and at the same time use the constitution where it pays them. That cannot stand.
   
“People are here talking about ‘free and fair election’. Where is the fairness, hence the court injunction to stop their unconstitutional action. They flouted court order by doing everything to prevent the bailiff ‘s entry and status quo remains until the court of law decides for us. If we cannot get it right as media practitioners, we will continue to lick the boots of politicians, our country cannot get it right. If we cannot fight corruption in our own professional body, how do we do that effectively in the larger society.”
Omowole said she was yet to see the Lagos State election report and was, “not aware of any physical attack on the women.” 
   
NUJ Chair, Lagos chapter, Dr. Quazim Akinreti had stated on television, “We had an issue with a part of the union’s constitution in Ondo State and a member went to court. The court ruled that the state council could no longer bring members of its credential committee but the national would do that, and before now, the court would supervise the election, but it now over turned the election. I called the president for the need to appeal because it had to do with the union’s constitution. I still maintain that we need to rework the constitution to bring back that part of integrity to the union.”
   
Chinyere Ogidi, a member of the committee, said the election was peaceful. “Our people complied except for a certain Joy from the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), who was talking uncontrollably, we later found out that she was trying to buy time for the court injunction.”
   


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