Abdulwahab Umar is the chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Kwara State Council. In this interview with SIKIRAT SHEHU, he declared that welfare of members in the state remains top priority of his administration. He also discussed about rationale behind the establishment of NUJ Model School, his plans for journalists’ empowerment. Excerpts:
As the new chairman of the state council of NUJ, what are your plans for journalists in Kwara?
We are working with the National Secretariat to ensure that we provide training for our members. The other time former president Abdulwaheed
Odusile was here, he talked about training opportunities that are coming, some in China, and some in other African countries and even within.
Within the first three weeks of our coming in, we were able to sponsor two of our members; we secured a training slot for them with the assistance of National Secretariat. Two of them have benefited from a 4-day training workshop by PIP Petroleum Industry.
Because we need training and retraining, we are also partnering with National Orientation Agency (NOA), to organise training and even with Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), here in Kwara State before 2019 general election. So, we want to ensure that we train members on ethics of election coverage in particular.
Concerning our journalist estate, the first phase has been fully subscribed and we are moving to the second phase. It is part of measures to ensure that journalists own their homes. The payment will be paid gradually.
Again, we are also working with the Lower River Niger Basin to secure a land for farming. There is arrangement by the Federal Government for land and the River Basin is to provide the land, the NIRSAL, a unit within the Central Bank of Nigeria.
They are to do the funding so, as a member, you don’t need to engage your capital, all you need is just to show interest in the land, River Basin will provide the land and NIRSAL will provide the funding then you supervise the project. Part of ways of ensuring food sustainability and again thinking of how we can diversify, our members after retirement what will they settle for? So, that is our own form of empowerment. We have met with the people in charge and they have given us assurance. With cooperation and support of our members, we should be able to move the council forward.
Recently, you commissioned NUJ Model School, what is your mission and vision?
The NUJ Model School is one of the initiatives of immediate past administration of the state council headed by Abiodun Abdulkareem, who conceived the idea of the project, right from the period of execution and completion, but it was commissioned immediately after our inauguration.
We believe it is a project that we must consolidate on. I was part of the committee that started the project so; I knew all it entails to ensure we got it completed. Having done that, we have started our programmes, the first set of pupils have just resumed two weeks ago. We started with the crèche.
The main reason for establishing the school is part of our own effort to improve on the welfare of our members; especially female journalists by keeping their children within the press centre.
The fee is reasonable and affordable. We treat our members specially, because the fee we charge our colleagues is different from what we charge outsiders.
We have a block of three classrooms for now and we want to control the population as much as possible, we just want pupils like 10 in a class. So, as the kids are graduating – we will be expanding the school and we will later move to our permanent site.
That is our plan to improve on every stage; we are hoping to get more support from people out there, because it is not easy, financial commitment is very tasking, the project is still ongoing but for now, we have spent about two million naira now, we started with contribution from our members. We hope that we get support from philanthropists that will come to our aid because we still want to expand beyond this level.
Election is around the corner, what is your message to Nigerian journalists?
We are moving to a very sensitive period and what we need to do at this time is to make sure that we follow the ethics of the profession.
Already, guidelines of the election coverage and monitoring have been spelt out, we have a small election code which was distributed before
2015 election during our workshop with INEC so we are equally hoping that we have that kind of workshop this year where we remind our members.
One area that we need to be very cautious and careful is the announcement of the result, we must understand that it is only INEC that has the mandate to officially declare result, and so, as journalists, we should not be carried away or be overtaken by emotions. We must detach ourselves from politicians; we must detach ourselves from politics and do our own job by providing a level playing ground for all political parties.
I believe if we do that then, at the end of the day we will have our minds at rest. Again, we are also putting up the committee that will ensure the safety of journalists during the period of 2019 general election. We are talking with relevant agencies and NGOs in the state.
We have equally liaised with INEC on the issue of accreditation of our members; they should be given priority, we will ensure that we will not leave any stone unturned towards the safety of our members before, during and after the election.