Chat with a Former Journalism Helmsman – Omini Oden

-Chat with a Former Journalism Helmsman – Omini Oden-
Omini Oden, former Chairman of Cross River State’s Chapter of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), had a chat with LinCornellah’s blog on salient matters arising from the journalism profession, recently. Omini is a Voice of America (VOA) trained Newsroom and News Gathering Strategist.

journalism

He frequently anchors programs such as Insight and Diplomatic Ties in NTA International, where he works as a Newscaster and News Producer. Equally, Omini occasionally anchors Tuesday Live and features as Newspaper Reviewer on Good Morning Nigeria, an NTA network program.

He was Chief Press Secretary to the government of Cross River State during Senator Liyel Imoke’s tenure as Governor. Therefore, it was inevitable that our chat dwelled extensively on issues of governance in Cross River State. The first part of that chat was published on this blog yesterday. Please read the following concluding part of it.

As a veteran Journalist, what is your advise to practising Journalists and upcoming ones?

In every profession, passion comes before interest. If you have the passion without interest, you won’t go anywhere. But if you have the passion, it would drive your interest. Media in Nigeria is not properly funded. We have not yet gotten to the expected level. But with passion, so far so good.

Nigeria’s journalism practice is one of the best in the world. There is freedom of speech and we have an avalanche of media houses in the print, the electronic media and the social media and they are doing very well. One challenge to the practice of journalism in Nigeria is the issue of poaching by quacks. People who have no business practising journalism have infiltrated the profession. This is tampering with the good image of journalism in Nigeria.

If you are in a public function and you meet these kind of persons, you would feel like leaving the profession the next minute. Now that the Nigeria Union of Journalists is working towards elections, they have a strong challenge to elect a kind of leadership that would flush out quacks from the profession. The Nigeria Union of Journalists should review its professional capacity and capability.

For the upcoming ones, I would say that every profession has glamour and hazards. Some of us who have been in the profession for several years have almost reached the apex. It is an eventful and rewarding profession. We have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. The younger ones should not expect that they would see only glamour when they come in. Journalism is equally hazardous.

However, passion keeps journalism alive. The younger ones should be passionate about it. I have always said that if you find a Journalist, Medical Doctor, Lawyer or Teacher looking very rich while practicing, just know that such a person is doing the wrong thing in his or her profession. You must not be poor. But when you are passionate, doors would open for you and comfort would be your portion.

Some people regard the term “brown envelope” as a euphemism for bribery. What is your reaction to that term, with regard to the practice of journalism in Nigeria?

There is a popular saying that media goes with “brown envelope”, globally. But I differ. We are the Fourth Estate of the Realm. We don’t own a budget. We are not recognised structurally by the constitution.

If a Journalist asks for money in the course of duty before doing his job, there are aspects of such demand that may be justified. For instance, if anyone is asking for news of special interest to put on a newspaper, blog, radio or television, that should cost money. But if I am doing a report and I see that such a report is going to injure another person and I ask for money from any of the parties involved in order to publish or kill the story, that is bad. It is against the ethics of journalism.

Brown envelope given to Journalists as gratis is free money. It is tax payers’ money. It enhances the job as long as the job is done ethically. If you do a proper job and somebody appreciates it financially, that is not “brown envelope”. You didn’t ask for it. Therefore, “brown envelope” is not completely wrong. It depends on how it is given.

As a Journalist, don’t go into a report because you want to dent somebody’s image. You should know that as a Journalist, you have almost lost your opinion. Everything you publish or broadcast emerges from the public domain. Everything you give out is tied to experts or the voice of the people. It becomes a problem when you take sides. Adhere to laws and ethics at all times.

Although Governor Ben Ayade has only served for two years and still has some years to go, what is your assessment of his performance so far in office compared with the performance of former Governor Liyel Imoke?

Let me bend backwards a bit. I always said then that Donald Duke was a trailblazer. Imoke came and sustained the trail. I expected by the low hanging fruits and quick winds talking about the signature projects that Governor Ben Ayade churned out when he assumed office as Governor, I expected that the state should have taken a leap by now.

I expected that Donald blazed a trail, Imoke sustained it and Ayade came and leapfrogged it. But I have not seen any sign that Governor Ayade has leapfrogged it. We have heard so much about signature projects in Cross River state. Novel ideas. But those ideas have not been translated to reality. The people he is governing are looking up to certain things as yardsticks for assessing him.

It is not the media hype. It is not English. They are looking at the practicability of these projects. For instance, when President Buhari did the ground breaking ceremony of the Super highway, one would have expected by now that the earth work has started or that they have done the first asphalt. We understand very well that the business model behind the Super Highway is the PPP (Public Private Partnership) plan which is the vogue. But that has not gone anywhere for now.

We have heard about the Deep Sea Port. Where is it? We have heard about so many other MOUs (Memorandum of Understanding) in the state. We expect that they would have taken off by now. If he churned out ten quick winds and low hanging fruits which were his signature projects and we saw at least two practically on ground by now, it would have been good. In as much as I know that governance is not easy, I would say objectively that we are yet to see what the signature projects of Governor Ben Ayade are all about. This is because we have not seen them yet.

Ayade has not leapfrogged what Donald started and what Imoke sustained. If you go round the entire state, you would find a litany of potholes. That was never the case between 1999 to date. Go to the ranch. So much money was sunk in there. By now we are supposed to start reaping the dividends of that investment. There was a time when South Africans were managing the place. It was doing well. How is it being managed now?

I was disappointed to read somewhere that workers at the ranch were not paid. They carried placards. A government that takes pride in saying  that it pays salaries is not a government. Payment of salaries is a statutory obligation that you owe your workers. It is not an achievement. We must commend the Federal Government for giving bailout funds to states. They didn’t look at party principles. Some states have tried. But in Cross River State, where did this go?

I don’t know who Governor Ayade is in terms of how he assimilates or appreciates critics. But if you are a democrat and you are elected and you do not want to listen to people who criticise you, then you are not a democrat. Even in the biggest democracy in the world which is the United States of America, you could see the avalanche of criticism against Donald Trump. Some persons feel that he is doing well while others feel that he is not doing well. He still swallows this and moves on. I just hope that my comments would be regarded as fair.

I know that Professor Ivara Esu, Deputy Governor of Cross River State, is your friend. You may interact with him before you return to Abuja. If you meet him, what would you tell him about the state government?

Today, Cross River state is blessed that in the media, especially at the national level, we have a good number of Cross Riverians in strategic places and positions. I work for NTA. I am privileged to say that I am a good ambassador of this state, given the kind of programs I anchor and the platforms that I report for both from within the country and outside the country. I always have Cross River State and the South South where I come from, at the back of my mind.

So many persons were excited when they heard that two Professors were going to take over the reins of governance in Cross River State. But with the way things are going, that excitement has not been vindicated. If I am privileged to meet him, those things I know that should come to Cross River state are the things I would try to sell to him. Firstly, Cross River State has been properly put in shape for Nollywood.

However, when Lai Mohammed, Honorable Minister of Information and Culture had several sessions with the Creative Industry in Nigeria, I never heard about Cross River State. The outcome of that exercise was going to attract a lot of revenue. I made frantic efforts to reach out to those at the helm of government to ask why Cross River State was excluded. The whole thing has been moved to Lagos. There would have been a spread.

I am saying that it is not late. At least we are happy that we have a daughter of the state as a Permanent Secretary in that Ministry. When I meet the Deputy Governor, I would tell him those things I feel that Cross River State should do but isn’t doing well. I would tell him “well done. You can’t get it right in all things at all times. But some adjustments in certain areas would help.”  For now whether some people feel that the Governor and his Deputy are performing or that they are not performing,  they remain the number one and number two citizens of Cross River State and we must give them our respects.

When you were in government you must have been aware of several problems such as the issue of constant strike actions by staff of Cross River State University of Technology (CRUTECH). As a former union leader, what advice would you give to members of CRUTECH’s branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in their current disagreement with government?

Autonomy is good. But autonomy to CRUTECH was a hasty autonomy. I say this because being a new university, the pioneer administrators of the university like Professor Kevin Etta and Professor Eka Braide tried their best to give it that structure. There was a time when the issue was that of manpower. I remember a time when some staff were absorbed from the College of Education to join those that started the university when it emerged from the Polytechnic.

A good number of them went ahead to get their doctorate degrees. It raised the bar for the university. World class Professors were also brought to the university. Along the line, one of the strikes that happened when I was in office arose because they asked for autonomy. In his wisdom, the Governor at that time, bought into the idea of autonomy. But it should not have been one hundred percent autonomy at the time.

Compared to UNICAL, CRUTECH is a new university. The revenue base of CRUTECH has not stabilized. Therefore, autonomy should have been gotten in phases. Maybe it should have been fifty percent autonomy at the beginning. But the union leaders then did not look deep into it. It was after they signed the autonomy that they began to see that the Governor could say, “With the autonomy, it means after I give them subvention, I can walk away. Let them generate revenue and pay”. But the revenue capacity of CRUTECH cannot be compared to some old universities like University of Calabar that has several sources of revenue. The management of CRUTECH should call for a retreat and look at possible sources of revenue.

If you go to most universities, even the water that you drink within their campuses is produced by the university community. Everything you consume within the university including the paper that you use, is produced within the university. When I was in the University of Calabar as a student, all the notebooks I used were bought from the university’s bookshops. A good number of students used exercise books that were produced by the University.

Even the satchet water or bottled water in restaurants were produced by UNICAL Consultancy service. UNICAL farms also serve as a source of revenue to that university. So CRUTECH should review its revenue base. If that is done, the autonomy would be easy. If government is giving subvention and they have so much revenue generated from within, these strike actions would not be there.

I appeal that the union leaders should establish a relationship with government to say “This autonomy you gave us is good and fine. Can we have a review of it?” I think that we have a litany of strikes in CRUTECH because the subvention given by government is like a drop in the ocean. Over time, the staff strength has increased. You have Visiting Professors who must be paid. But the revenue base of the university is still very lean and what comes in is not enough to shore up the revenue base.

So, government needs to listen to them. The structure of this state and the reason behind the establishment of the university is to help build the manpower base of the state. If the university is not built to the expected level, where is the future of Cross River State?

  • Cornelius Ellah

Please See Related Post: Chat with a Former Chief Press Secretary – Omini Oden

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