A stack of microphones, signifying an illustration of Journalists
Charles Okogene started his journalism career in Daily Times in 1991. About 12 years after, in 2003, when an offer came from Independent Newspaper, he made the switch.
Mr Okogene worked first as a correspondent, then as Saturday Editor for the newspaper, headquartered in Lagos. Everything went smoothly until 2015 when his employer could no longer pay his monthly salary.
From 2015 to 2016, Mr Okogene struggled to send his four children to school as a result of his unpaid salaries, which had accumulated.
He said for 16 months, the Independent Newspaper failed to remunerate its workers. Eventually, Mr Okogene said, he was asked to leave in October 2016.
“As of the time I was asked to go, my salary was N150,000 and I was owed for 16 months. I was asked to leave because the company said my services were no longer required. I was sacked via an e-mail by the Human Resources Manager,” he lamented.
In an effort to see that he was paid his salary arrears and gratuity worth over three million naira, he hired a lawyer, Osa Director. Mr Okogene and the lawyer held several meetings with the Managing Director of the newspaper, Steve Omanufeme, but all to no fruition.
When this reporter contacted Mr Omanufeme, he blamed the development on the economic situation in Nigeria, which he argued, had forced many organisations to owe salaries and that the Independent Newspaper was not an exception.
“I am the MD but I did not meet Charles Okogene in the company, he left before I became the MD. Yes, there is a continuum but Charles has personalised it by using my name as if I owe him”, he told this reporter over the phone.
Mr Omanufeme added that he and some of the people who are owed by the Independent Newspaper have mapped out a scheme to offset all wages.
“We even have a scheme. You bring an advert and collect the money, that way, we pay you,” he said.
That repayment proposal is, however, not recognised by any Nigerian law,
Mr Okogene’s experience with the Independent Newspaper captures the experience of many Nigerian journalists.
Digital disruption, which had drastically reduced circulation of print, dwindling economy, and an unethical culture of ‘your ID card is your meal ticket’ has kept many journalists at the mercy of media executives.
Although item 7 of the Nigerian journalists’ code of ethics clearly frowns at gratification, some media executives reportedly encourage tips and payment to publish (or not publish) stories.
For instance, the publisher of Tracknews blog, Bara Ogidi, was arrested by Nigeria’s secret police for a blackmail scandal in January 2022. His name came up in a U.S. court in a libel suit by the Executive of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board, Simbi Wabote, against Jackson Ude, publisher of Pointblanknews. Mr Ogidi was said to have demanded payment to ‘kill’ a story published against Mr Wabote.
In 2018, Abubakar Sadiq, a young graduate of Mass Communication from Bayero University joined a state television in Nigeria’s North-east as a correspondent for the state’s House of Assembly.
This was his first job and he had a remuneration of N12,000.

“I can remember being owed for four months, but it’s more than that because the payment was irregular, sometimes we would be paid salary for the previous months and then deliberately ignored.”
Mr Sadiq said he believes that poor management and poor governance contributed to the irregular payment of salaries of journalists at the television station. “I say this because despite having miniature funding from the state government, when the money comes, it is usually diverted to negligible goods like buying generators for the management staff.”
It became unbearable for him when he could not care for his siblings and parents. He joined other unpaid staff in writing letters to management, expressing their grievances, and also lobbying through close friends to their bosses. However, their efforts were to no avail.
“The management saw the letters the wrong way and subsequently decided to disengage my (our) services in April 2021.”
Mr Sadiq now works with a paramilitary institution and receives his salary when due.
Nevertheless, a former colleague of his, Salmanu Isah, still works at the television station. He has worked as a temporary staff with the organisation for seven years and has supplemented his income by teaching at a private school in Bauchi state.
Although casualisation of workers is seen as a cost reduction strategy by employers, it is only allowed for a three-month period by the Nigerian Labour Act.
Section (7)1 of the law states that “No later than three months after the beginning of a worker’s period of employment with an employer, the employer shall give to the worker a written statement specifying the nature of the employment and the duration a contract expires”.
A bill to amend the law seeks to extend the duration of temporary staff to six months.
The bill, which has been passed by the House of Representatives, mandates the regularisation of employees after six months of employment.
Mr Isah said a week after many officials (including Mr Abubakar) were laid off at the Bauchi State Television Station, the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), intervened.

“As a result of the intervention from NUJ, half of the backlog allowance was settled”.
Nonetheless, he is sceptical that the salaries for the remaining months would be paid.
 
A survey conducted by Cosmas Obateru in 2017 on 204 journalists in the dissertation “Socio-cultural Dynamics and ‘Survival Struggle’ in Professional Journalism Practice in Nigeria” surmised that 42 per cent of the respondents agreed that they were paid regularly, while 37.2 per cent did not get regular payments from their employers. About 20 per cent chose to be ‘neutral.’
Since it was impossible for respondents not to know whether their salaries were being paid regularly or not, choosing to be neutral suggested that they were freelancers who were not receiving regular salary or were, in fact, being paid irregularly, the researcher noted.
In Abuja, Asari Ndem had to resign as a copy/managing editor with her former employer in December 2018 having been owed a salary for six months. The management failed to state the reasons for the lack of payments.
‘We are not the first to owe our employees salaries, even big newsrooms owe their staff’, that was the only reason they provided,” Ms Ndem said
“When I resigned, I noted that I am still waiting for my remaining pay. I sent them a follow-up email after that but I received no response,” she added.
 
Apart from irregular payment of salaries, another factor that characterises Nigerian media is gender disparity.
According to the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report authored by the World Economic Forum, in Nigeria, a man earns on average 71 per cent more than a woman.
Also, there are fewer women in journalism in Nigeria compared to men: women make up seven per cent of print reporters and 36 per cent of radio reporters. Less representation of women in the journalism field also adds to the challenges they encounter at the workplace, especially during remuneration.
The welfare of journalists has been a significant concern for media practitioners all over the world.
Poor remuneration and unpaid salaries have forced many journalists to opt for “brown envelopes,” a syndrome that has corrupted the sector. It involves monetary bribes enclosed in envelopes and seeks to influence journalists to produce more positive reporting on an issue or to kill a negative story.
Lawyers have stated that non-payment of salaries is a breach of contract under the current Nigeria Labour Act. Section 5(1) of the law states that: “Except where it is expressly permitted by this Act or any other law no employer shall make any deduction or make any agreement or contract with a worker for any deduction from the wages to be paid by the employer to the worker, or for any payment to the employer by the worker, for or in respect of any fines…”
 
The President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Chris Isiguzo, admitted that many journalists are either poorly paid or not paid regularly by their employers.
He noted that at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, many media employers complained of limited revenue to pay workers’ salaries, forcing them to disengage some of their workers.
“But we did not listen to all that because we also have our own way of ensuring that people who work are paid…our engagements are yielding results.”
When asked why the NUJ is not embarking on mass protests or industrial disputes over the non-payment of journalists’ salaries, he said the union must first exhaust all internal mechanisms for resolving problems before taking those steps.
“It is when we have tried all of them and we don’t get the result that we expect, that we may have to resort to an industrial dispute. We believe that something positive comes out of it.”
Meanwhile, a lawyer, Olumide Babalola, said journalists who are not being paid on the job by employers can reach out to legal firms who offer pro bono services to seek justice.
Stephanie Adams-Douglas, a media rights activist with the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), advised journalists to engage the services of the judiciary rather than settling for out-of-court as a means to get justice. She said media independence has been interpreted in political terms without due consideration to the economic conditions such as remuneration and adequate welfare, which allows the media to function.
“Non-payment of salaries contributes to the economic conditions of the newsroom which affects the ethics of journalism and influences report in a subjective manner,” she said.
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