The suspension of a female journalist in Imo State has taken a strange turn.
A joint action committee of three workers’ unions, which includes the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), in Imo State on Monday submitted a letter to the Commissioner for Information in the state, Declan Emelumba, disowning Vivian Ottih, a suspended editor with the government-owned IBC Orient FM radio station.
Mrs Ottih, who is the chairperson of Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) in Imo State, was suspended indefinitely from her job at the IBC Orient FM a few days ago for taking to Facebook to request her three months unpaid salaries and the wages of her co-workers.
Officials of the Imo State government said Mrs Ottih should have used other channels instead of Facebook to request for her salary, and that her action was an “embarrassment” to the government.
The unions said in their letter to Mr Emelumba, “We hereby disassociate ourselves from Mrs Vivian Ottih’s publication and any other related matter therein”.
Apart from the NUJ, the Radio, Television, and Theatre Workers Union of Nigeria (RATTAWU) are part of the committee. So also is the Nigeria Union of Civil Service Secretarial and Stenographic Workers (NUCSSAW).
The joint committee said they were aware of why all the workers in the Imo Broadcasting Corporation are being owed their February, March, and April salaries, “and the efforts the state government was making to resolve the issue”.
They said the suspended journalist “did not follow the laid down rules and regulations which require her to pass through the Union, the Director-General (of the Imo Broadcasting Corporation), and the Commissioner for Information and Strategy before going to the press to publish her grievances”.
The committee’s letter to the commissioner was signed by Ike Igbokwe, Chikodi Agu, and Hyginus Nwachukwu, the chairman, secretary, and the treasurer respectively.
PREMIUM TIMES spoke with the committee’s secretary, Mr Agu who said the committee was “okay” with what Mrs Ottih wrote, only that “she did not follow due process”.
Mr Agu said Mrs Ottih did not inform the union before she took to Facebook.
“We are not condemning what she (Ottih) did. If we say we are condemning her, it means the government is not owing us.”
Mr Agu also said the committee went to the commissioner’s office on Monday to appeal for the recall of Mrs Ottih. PREMIUM TIMES, however, pointed out to him that there was no place in their letter where such appeal was made to the commissioner.
Mr Agu expressed surprise that their ‘appeal” was not captured in a letter he had co-signed. “Is it not there?” He asked the PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter who spoke with him.
Meanwhile, the information commissioner, Mr Emelumba, had told PREMIUM TIMES the government was not responsible for the delay in payment of the salary. He said the management of the Imo Broadcasting Corporation “refused” to submit the workers’ BVN and bank account details as directed by the government.
Mr Emelumba said the government wanted to pay workers’ salary ‘centrally’ in order to eliminate “ghost workers”, instead of allowing the various establishments to collect bulk money from the state government to pay their staff as was done in the past.
The commissioner, in response to a PREMIUM TIMES question, said the government did not sanction the management of the corporation over the delay to avoid being accused of being “insensitive”.
The commissioner said he sent out a statement last week giving the parastatals a deadline to comply with the government directive.
“IBC has complied anyway; I think they are about getting their salary if they have not gotten it.”
The workers are yet to get their salaries, three days after the commissioner spoke with PREMIUM TIMES.
On Tuesday, PREMIUM TIMES spoke again with Mr Emelumba who said he “personally intervened on Monday to see to it that the workers get their salaries”.
“When I went into the matter we found out that the management as of yesterday they had not even complied.”
PREMIUM TIMES asked Mr Emelumba why the state government was reluctant to sanction the management of the corporation for the delay.
“Punishing them does not solve the problem of getting the workers’ salaries,” he said.