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Yusuf Alhaji Isa is the Chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalist (NUJ), Yobe State Council. In this interview with Mohammed Abubakar, he spoke on how the Boko Haram insurgency affected the work and progress made by the union in cushioning the sufferings of its members. Excerpts:
How has press freedom been in Yobe State, are your members operating freely?
Going by the definition or contents of the Act, many states in Nigeria are not complying with the Act. Coming down to Yobe, whether the Act has been domesticated or government has set machineries on motion towards that direction. Take budget as example. People thought it is a secret document but in Yobe today, the 2017 budget is online left for our members and other interested groups or stakeholders to track. I think what we are lacking here is more awareness on press freedom from both side of the journalists and the custodian of the information
Above all we have a cordial relationship with government. Its Ministries, Departments, Parastatals should wake up in giving out publicity to their activities.
Yobe has witnessed Boko Haram insurgency, how has it affected Journalism in the State?
Yes, Yobe is one of the few states hit by the disaster of Boko Haram insurgency , Journalists too were not spared by the calamity, many of our members were severely affected, many flee the State for fear of Boko Haram. As I speak to you now, many have refused to return back to the State.
We really faced series of challenges as the people rely on us to give them information on the happenings around, we were exposed to so many intimidation, harassment and threats. Whenever there is attack, people would be busy running for safety while journalists are trying to get information. We are all human beings, we can only report when we are alive. Yobe and Borno State journalists deserve a special commendation for the rigorous work they did in the restoration of peace in the areas. You cannot report from the grave, there are places where you can’t reach out. A lot of journalists have been displaced by the insurgency saga , others moved their families outside Yobe and continued with their social responsibilities. This problem has seriously affected our members in so many ways.
How can you asses Governor Ibrahim Gaidam administration in terms of relationship with the press?
Here in Yobe State, we have continued to sustain a cordial relationship with the Governor Ibrahim Gaidam, his executive, the State House of Assembly under its Speaker, Adamu Dala Dogo and other newsmakers. Although there are few problems sometimes and you know this is normal in life. There was never a time my member was dragged to court for publishing or broadcast. You do not expect 100 percent support from the government but thank God we have remained and adhered to the ethics of our profession. We always try to make them understand that Journalists are partners in progress, we watch and report for the benefit of the people of the State.
What are the major challenges affecting the union in the state?
Well, some of our greatest challenge is sourcing or accessing information from the Commissioners, Heads of Government Agencies, Chef Executives and the few legislate members. If not for the efforts of the Press Secretary to the Governor, Abdullahi Bego, our challenges would have been more than this, the Government house Media unit is our greatest partner, they give us information about government activities. But it has made the story to be one way always from the Governor only, others are not willing to speak out.
What change do you want?
I strongly appeal to all government agencies, ministries, boards, extra ministerial department to open up for the press, we should not continue to govern people in secret. They should stop hoarding information.
Yobe State Journalists are disciplined and hardworking, always ready to discharge their social responsibilities.
Is Governor Gaidam really working to the expectations of the people of the State?
Yes. Every government has it’s on policies and programmes, focus and determination. We have closely monitored the government since period of the 2015 electioneering campaign, alot of promises were made for the electorates and he is fulfilling especially the trans Sahara desert road network, renovation and expansion of the hospitals and schools, Policies of free health care services for pregnant women and children of zero to five years old. The reconstruction of the government structures destroyed by Boko Haram insurgents is also commendable.
As NUJ Chairman, how have you assisted your members to boost their morale ?
During my stay in office as the NUJ Chairman, I have the welfare of my members very close to my heart. We have done well especially in capacity building of our members, we have continued to mobilise trainings, workshops, seminars and courses within and outside the State. We partnered professional bodies and agencies.
Recently, we collaborated with Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) and distributed 110 laptops to our members to facilitate their official duties. It is first of its kind in Nigeria, I don’t think any State Council has done such to its members. These are the basic things a journalist needs, training and working materials, I can proudly say that none of our members was left out in one training or the other. Journalism is dynamic, we must be updating ourselves with the modern challenges, especially the influence of the social media is affecting the conventional media.
We equally assist our members with token gifts during festive season of sallah or social activities so as to keep them refreshed. I remember one of the things I promised during my campaign is capacity building of our members, welfare and ensuring that we have a beautiful and befitting NUJ Centre we have the large land but the structures are nothing to write home about. We have continued to mobilise and make consultations with all the stakeholders like the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Emir of Fika and Chairman Yobe State Council of Chiefs, the State Government and well meaning individuals who are willing to partner NUJ in remodeling the Center.
How can you describe Yobe journalists in terms of discipline and productivity?
In terms of discipline and productivity, we have always been watching the performance and conduct of our members, matured journalists usually have critical minds and high sense of discipline, majority of my members are very responsible in the discharge of their own responsibilities. I can say that 70 percent of our members are responsible. We closely monitor our members, we never allow any organisation to corrupt our members, our personality is very important to us.
Any appeal to the State Government and other stakeholders?
My special appeal goes to the State Governor Ibrahim Gaidam and his cabinet members , Speaker of the State House of Assembly to look on the erosion taking over our NUJ Secretariat, we need interventions for more structures to make the place habitable for our members.