Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Patrick Albert Reply Critics with physical projects *Says his drive in NUJ is for the unity and stability of Akwa Ibom state

Recently, the Akwa state council chair man of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Elder Patrick Albert was engaged in an interview by the E4plus media crew in his office. He ceased the opportunity to give answers to certain burning State’s and National issues; the NUJ he met, now and the future.
NUJ in Akwa Ibom has just concluded the 2015 Press Week. How will you rate the event?
Well, I must say that the event came and went but the memories of it will linger for a long time to come. On the side of performance or success, I will say it was far above average. Press Week is usually a period to give members the opportunity to appraise themselves, share banters and make the community they are operating to understand their roles better. It is also the time when we look at some members and appreciate them for their performances in their various areas of Journalism practice. Of course, we kick-started with a thanksgiving service because Journalists are also the creation of God. Knowledge comes from God. We also had other activities like the 2-day lecture sessions which provided an opportunity for intellectual meals to be served. This year, we decided to invite people from other disciplines, not just the media because a Journalist should attempt to be all knowing; a Journalist should reasonably discuss matters of law, medicine and other areas. So, if we do not give opportunities for other professionals to come and share some ideas with us, we will not really have that broad knowledge. So, we brought professionals from other areas and for the first time in our Press Week, we had the State Director of SSS coming to share his experience and words of advice with us. So it was above average.
What informed your choice of the theme of the Press Week; Sustaining Democracy through Professionalism in Media Practice?
Democracy cannot succeed without a very effective media because when you look at it, democracy is government of the people by the people and for the people. It is a process that is all involving. It has to do with us, our government and this cut across the executive tier and the legislature. It is only the judiciary that we do not have a direct representation by way of election but even then, the executive arm is headed by someone who is elected by all parts of the State. It is likely that those who will form members of the executive council will also undergo some level of informal nomination. But that of the House of Assembly has to be with direct representation. So, democracy demands that the people must be heard. 

The various sections of the society must be heard and the only arm that can easily circulate this information is the fourth estate of the realm, which is the press. That is why our theme was “Sustaining Democracy through Professionalism in Journalism Practice”. The emphasis on professionalism is there because it is not just being involved in the process of reporting event that happens. A Journalist is one who hears the people; who is with the people and is also on the side of the Chief Executive, the managers, the drivers of the society and so should be able to synchronize, weigh the views, the positions of the people and bring them to bear with the realities of the time and it can only be through professionalism. A Journalist should have depth of knowledge that should be able to meet the necessity of democracy.

Taking cognizance of the stress on professionalism, many are of the view that professionalism is the lowest ebb in Akwa Ibom state as regards the practice. Would that have informed your choice of trying to re-instill professionalism among your members?

Well, it is a continuous exercise even in highly developed environment because the only thing that is constant in the society is change. Change has to do with dynamism. How are we doing things today? How should we do it? What are the better ways of doing it? So, that is the emphasis. Yes, we have had complains and we still have complains of poor standard of reportage where persons are being looked at and not issues.

Professionalism will drive the mind of the Journalists to issues and even when it has to do with persons it has to be objective and not to thread on the part of defamation. That is what professionalism will do to every journalist. You can make fair comment if it has to do with a person but you look more to issues that should promote democracy; issues that should promote an egalitarian society; issues that will make the people have value for self rule. Those are the ambit that we should talk about professionally.

Many are of the opinion that the way you stress so much on professionalism in your administration and sometimes ability to regulate the local media, tends to affect it negatively. What is your opinion on this?

There was a time in this country that when you pick the newspapers, they will be urban centered. The contents will be urban centered. We rarely in time past had papers that were reflective of our communities. That was why Concord Newspapers came about with Community Concord; to have 36 local newspapers that will focus on the States they are domiciled with less emphasis on other States; just community newspapers to be able to carry the opinion of the people and talk about their feelings. But unfortunately, Community Concord did not go far. Even in Akwa Ibom State, we also had the challenge of effective coverage and reportage of the rural settings. That was not achieved until democracy gradually settled.

It was post 1999, 2005 -  2006 that we started having local newspapers that came to be and you know innovations need to pass through the crucible; needs to be moderated to meet standards. I think where we are today is as a result of local newspapers being taken along political paths. That is where we are. The yearnings for local newspapers was to serve as a conveyor belt for rural areas because sometimes you find some communities living in abject poverty; a community that is a food basket not having good roads for the evacuation of their farm produce. Local newspapers will be able to highlight on that but unfortunately, local newspapers in Akwa Ibom perhaps, in some other areas, came and went on political lines and so rural areas are not benefiting as they should benefit from the birth or the upsurge of local newspapers. So, when we emphasize professionalism, we are emphasizing it to bring Journalists to the realities that Journalism has a lot to do with development.   

Journalism has a lot to make the people realize themselves, realize where there are and where they should be in comparative terms. I always like to say that Dubai was a rural environment; it was a port but rulers there started conceptualizing a new Dubai and of course, we can see the benefits today. Our local newspapers should take on the food based industry in the State; how far have we gone with our food base? We went together on an inspection and it is an apology that Exxon Mobil has been in this State for this long and we can’t boast of a 12-lane road from Eket to their operational centre. It is a sorry state. We should try as much as possible to play down on politics and leave above board in terms of taking political positions. It is not possible to completely stay away from being political but in so doing, it must not be such that can injure the interest of the society or the profession.

It is not possible to pull everybody into one path but I think the convergent point is what we want at any particular time so that no matter how you feel, no matter how I feel, what we want at a particular time will now be what we now consider despite our own personal interest.

Looking at the NUJ today as compared to yesterday, in your opinion, what are the changes so far?
It will be immodest of me to start talking about where we are today but it is very obvious.

Time has changed, circumstances also change and this is Akwa Ibom at 28 years and NUJ has been in operation for about that age also. We’ve had chairmen who also had their priorities of what to do per time. There is usually no dormancy. They also had their challenges but fortunately for me, before coming to be the NUJ chairman, I have had the privilege of passing through leadership at various levels. I have been holding appointments here and there that must have prepared me to be able to come here and do some aspect of development that people have seen and appreciate.

Besides that, from the first day of my coming here, I started seeing the things that I wanted to do for the union. We were lucky to have this size of land. A particular administration came and decided to complete this building and then started another one. We also had chairmen who came thereafter. Armed with my background of coming from other engagements and with deep philosophical disposition to how results can be easily achieved, I said we have to clear the land, do perimeter fencing. The full development of the NUJ Press centre will be of immense benefit not just to Journalists but to the State as a whole because it is an image centre. The NUJ Press Centre is an image centre for members of the profession, the public and even the government.

Journalists are very critical; they have developed eyes, they have developed ears. If the NUJ Press centre is not developed, they come look at the infrastructure, they look around, they are not likely going to appreciate the State especially those who come from outside.

But if Journalists from outside will come to NUJ and there are infrastructures like the ICT centre, recreation centre and facilities here and there, they can build their impression even at the NUJ Press Centre. I had to quickly align that philosophical disposition with the development of International stadium. Of course, you were witnesses that during the inauguration of the stadium that the accreditation for Journalists who came to cover it was done here. So, it is an added tourism for the State and us to have this place effectively developed.

Your administration has done well and it is often celebrated even by the political class, owing to these facts, many people have recommended that you go for a second term.  Would you oblige to this call considering that your current tenure will soon end?

By the grace of God, if you count from January to August, it is eight months. Leadership comes from God. From the first month, I was able to interpret the reason of my coming here and I was in a hurry despite the fact that NUJ is an informal sector; informal in the sense that we don’t have funds running - we depend on goodwill. Fortunately for us, despite the fact that we don’t have support or administrative support, we have been able to develop this place and still talk of some welfare programmes for our members. It is unfortunate that a strategic arm like the fourth estate of the realm is not well funded. It should be funded at least if not for anything, for the training and retraining purposes. They should be able to engage personnel that can work in the NUJ Press Centre. 

Some members are saying we should have nothing to do with the government; we should depend on ourselves. I want to ask a question, is it possible to depend on ourselves? To depend on our dues; how much is our dues? It will be sheer dream to say that we can effectively manage this type of union at the level we are going with only the proceeds of dues. Of course, the dues are derived but distributed on percentage; National, Zonal, State and the NLC, at the end of it all, what we have as dues cannot even pay the work force.

Back to the question; I  have enjoyed support from members and even the political class. This is because they have seen someone who is likely to take them to where they should be. If you look at the history of NUJ, we always have more or less of transition chairmen. A chairman will come and before you know it, he is gone. For those who are students of management or public administration, they will agree that we have not really had policy consistency because of constantly changing our leaders. 

One of the things I will do before I leave office is to impress on members for us to develop a blueprint that should be used at least in the management of the NUJ. You may have read a copy of my to be. I must thank God that under my leadership, we have been able to galvanize and make the society to realize that we cannot be wished away. If you have anything to differ with our practice, you can partner us to correct or you make observation but the practice is thriving. Earlier on when we talked about professionalism, we talked on our expectations on our members to realize the power that they have. A Journalist with a biro is also like a soldier with a gun; he can choose to use it to protect the society or he can choose to use it to kill. The pen is as potent as the gun if not more potent than the gun. 

But before a soldier is given a gun to hold, he passes through training and retraining and is told to use the gun only when commanded or only when he is at the risk of losing his personal life that he can use in self-defense. It is their ethics to use the gun only when necessary. For us too, the charge is for Journalists to use the pen for the benefit of the society. I have been privileged to stay in the North so I know what riot is; I mean riot not war. 

That is why I drive the union towards the path of unity and togetherness; I drive the union the path of stability. The way I am talking today is the way I will still be talking even if we have an APC governor. Because, if I drive Journalists on the path of violent practice, Akwa Ibom will be consumed and that time, neither myself nor the other Journalists will be better for it. Journalists have the responsibility to manage our feelings for us to tolerate ourselves as persons of the same State. Having realized that journalism practice is a veritable tool for development, I have to drive to promote unity and togetherness of Akwa Ibom State away from political lines that will cause social mishap.

manifesto; I completely conceptualized my administration; where we should go and why we should go in a particular direction. We believe that within the next months ahead before my tenure ends, we should be able to complete the two storey complex and try to see what we can do with this other one and the hotel.

If you pick the NUJ constitution, it will not have some administrative consideration that I tried to bring to NUJ but you know administration is interpretative. The constitution cannot write everything. Even the Nigerian constitution only captures office of the Attorney General. It is incumbent on the President and the Governor to decide on the basis on how they want to run the government to bring out the ministries. The administrative purview is on the exclusive list of the chief executive. So, if journalists who will be the voters will say Mr. Patrick Albert we have seen what we have not seen before and we are ready to do what we have not done before, I think at that point, I will make sufficient consultation to ensure that the demand is genuine before I commit myself.

Recently, there has been a misunderstanding of the union’s cordial relationship with the State government. Many are of the opinion that Journalists are now beggars. What do you have to say?
I don’t think that we are beggars and we cannot be beggars. I don’t know of any Journalist who has been molested at the gate of Government house or going to beg money or even beaten to stupor at the residence of a Commissioner. We are not. Even in my statements, you will not hear me beg government. I am talking about what should be due Journalists. You can see that the other arms of government are situated within the resources of the State. The executive arm is situated within the resources of the State; the legislative and the judiciary are provided and cared for. But we are called the fourth estate of the realm yet we are not cared for. Everything about the media industry, even the business of newspaper is more or less like a social service; they will tell you it is social service.

This is because if we have the economic  power plus the media power, they know they will not be able to control us. So, we are left at the level that we should be controllable. You can even see that within the structuring of government, the chief dispenser of the resources is the Governor at the State level and the President at the Federal level so that he will use it to control the behaviour of the other arms and individuals. 

But here, we are completely left out. So, we have to bear the burden of our training, we have to bear the burden of our individual development. If you look at the local newspapers, 90% of Journalists in the local newspaper sector do not earn regular salary. Should we continue like this? 

If you leave the university as a graduate of Mass Communication and you had a co-student there who left as a graduate of Engineering, Architecture or even Law, he will be introduced into a profession that collects money. They call legal fees or professional fees. But for Journalists, they will say it is not decent. Is it possible in the present society to survive without money? If you are working in a local newspaper, your employers are not paying you and have nothing to fall on. I think our own critiques should be reviewed.

As part of the activities to mark the Press Week, Journalists embarked on projects monitoring. Would you say you were satisfied with  the project  saw on ground?

Yes, I am satisfied  because it is the initiation; an ongoing work not completion. We can only thoroughly examine after the completion and see the durability of the roads. The government came in and within so short a time launched out on those road infrastructures. It is very encouraging I will tell you from my experience. The administration of Obong Victor Attah, if you can recall, apart from scarcity of funds, stayed for sometime without starting projects and people were wondering what happened. Well, you know the attitude of an architect; an architect wants to come out with his drawings. But that was not really it. 

The issue is this, for you to know these roads you have to engage experts to work on the design. Sometimes it takes six months and sometimes, one year. From one to the other, so, the processes of road construction can take up to a year if you don’t introduce some kind of urgency. And because of that urgency, you have to bridge what they always consider as a rule. So, for a government to come on May 29 and now there are certain things to be seen as initiation is encouraging rather than giving excuses. Some of those contractors have been mobilized. We even saw that some of them are local contractors. 

We have been crying about our money going outside but now these local contractors have the opportunity to carry out these projects. We have to hold them accountable by ensuring that they deliver quality projects. So, Journalists are not beggars, we cannot beg. As far as this State is concerned, we should be treated favourably in all areas. I cannot go on air and begin to make demands. We discuss as other professionals do discuss. NBA will have an event, government will support and nobody will hear. Other professional bodies will have events and they also enjoy government support but unfortunately, since we are a very critical sector, sometimes we even criticize ourselves for even having a handshake with people in government.

While trying to garner this support from the political class, how do you manage being tagged as pro-government and at the same time not compromise the interest of your members?

Let me say this, sometimes, you give a person a more valuable advice when you are closer to the person. At the level that I am as a manager, I can say that you can give a person a more valuable advice when you are together. For instance, we have seen the number of times and the various avenues even in a communiqué that we have called on government to construct the Information Drive.

It went as news and we even went to NLC to pass as a resolution at the last NLC Quadrennial delegates’ conference. It would have become a matter where NLC in the State including NUJ would have gone on strike because we took it to that extent but it didn’t work. It needed some level of interaction at a closer level. Whether you like it or not, the structure of the society gives the executive arm the power to think for all of us. So, if you cannot influence their thinking towards the development of the society including yourself, then you will be sitting on the fence for a long time.

There is an anti-social media bill currently on the floor of the Senate which has already been condemned in many quarters. As NUJ Chairman, how do you see this bill?

Well, I have not really seen the full content of the bill because basically, we should look at what the bill seeks to achieve. Is it to completely censor the operation or comments of citizen Journalism? If that is the purpose, then it will die a natural dead. It should not be supported.

One of the guest speakers at the NUJ Press week lecture said in speech that Freedom of Information Act is not applicable to the State . What is the NUJ doing about it applicable?

Since the judgment, we have not had the opportunity to discuss that version because as far as we are concerned, it was an act of the parliament signed by the President. It was taken that it applies to all sections of the country until that judgment. It has to be domesticated. You know we constituted a freedom of information desk to look at how members will benefit from the act until we heard that it has to be domesticated. I will still follow up on the issue of pro-government. There is nothing like pro or anti-government. As I said, the development of the society centers on the arm of government called the executive and the legislative. 

The Judiciary is simply the dispenser of justice. But sometimes, it also comes under our purview; how is it operating. Now, at the level of a professional body that we are, we can sufficiently influence development. For instance, look at the Information Drive, it is not only leading to NUJ Press Center because so many organizations are within but we are the main driver. 

Besides, there are locals living here and the road will serve them. So, there is nothing like pro-government and anti-government. It is the making of the society. It is the structuring of democracy that you have to be a key player. So NUJ, like other stakeholders, is also a key player. We must not be dormant in how the society is being managed. If we are dormant, then we will not be useful to the society and even to Journalists.

Few days from now, the year 2015 will be over, as the State Council NUJ chairman, how will you appraise journalism practice in the State in 2015?
Well, I will say that even before the freedom of information bill came, journalism practice in Akwa Ibom was very free. The practice is high and we have had many individuals even non-Journalists showing interest in the practice of journalism. Journalism practice today in Akwa Ibom State is highly respected. We have driven our presence stronger than how it used

No comments:

Post a Comment