A former information officer now Permanent Secretary of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), Dr. Babatope Ajakaiye, recently created a storm in a tea cup when he was quoted to have described journalists as beggars and bewailed the profession as an awful career. His position was in sharp opposition with that of his boss who is the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Alhaji Mohammed Musa. To the minister, journalism is a noble career that provides an anvil for society’s progress through holding those in power accountable to the people. Perhaps, realising the fury that trailed his comments, the Chief Press Secretary of the FCTA and Deputy Director of Information, Mohammed Hazat Sule, later issued a rebuttal, claiming that Ajaikaye’s view was taken out of context. What Ajakaiye said at the FCT NUJ Press Week event was not strange. What is strange is that such is coming from a technocrat who in the course of his career has been a witness to the putrefaction that has permeated the journalism profession in the country. I have never met Ajakaiye in person, but I have read some of his press releases in several ministries he was posted to before his eventual elevation to a permanent secretary. He remains one of the few who read to become a Ph.D holder when many of his colleagues were only content swindling news reporters of “brown envelope” that has become a source of festering corruption and destroyer of the profession. The FCT Permanent Secretary should be commended for his boldness and courage. He needs not retract any of his words. He has in me an unwavering enthusiast. Is it not a fact that media owners have sacked hundreds of practicing journalists and turned them into freelancers? What has the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) done to stave off this flood of injustice against its members? How many journalists in private media are beneficiaries of healthcare, pension, insurance and other welfare programmes enjoyed by their colleagues in government media? For many journalists working in private media outfits, there is never pay day. When such pay day comes, it does not take the journalist home. In the absence of job opportunities, the journalism profession is the easiest one can lay claim to. Nowadays, all what one needs to being a journalist is ability to string some words to make a sentence. Little wonder, smart graduates are resorting to social media, online platforms and turning journalism on its head. What keeps many journalists going nowadays is what they get from the beat. If the journalist waits for salaries, he will end up on a death bed of poverty. Where the rules of engagements are sidelined, it is only the bellicose that gets to the finishing line. Why should Ajakaiye not be justifiably repugnant to this modern day Nigerian media practice that has been reduced to a survival game? The capacity of the media vocation to survive these times is for all and sundry to take a deep look at Ajakaiye’s dirge that reveals the media as large thriving pool of blackmail where only the smartest survives. Apart from government media organisations, how many private media outfits pay salaries to journalists? Very few! What has the NUJ done to teach these private media owners that they cannot toy with the welfare of its members? Physician, heal thyself! It is a paradox that journalists find it easy to castigate government for failing to pay salaries to its workforce, but suddenly becomes impotent in the face of persistent refusal by media owners to pay them. What a world of absurdity! The high regard hitherto enjoyed by the media profession has suffered monumental damage, following the emergence of the social media that has been made worse by many questionable characters whose only claim to journalism is ability to read and write. Thousands of online platforms and ill informed bloggers have seized the cyber space to unleash a reign of blackmail and cause irretrievable harm to the vocation. The prospects of genuine media development seem to have nosedived, as many online platforms are manned by so-called journalists that should have no business near the journalism job. Such is the tragedy of a profession that has become an all comers’ affairs. The only way to avert a catastrophe for the profession is to rein in the greed of private media owners and return the profession back on tracks. It is on this note that the NUJ and other relevant government bodies mandated with regulating journalism should take a closer look at the lamentation of Ajakaiye and seek ways to ameliorate the disgrace the profession is causing for decent members. The profession should not be an all comers’ affairs. Private media owners must be made to pay salaries to their workers. Where they fail, the full weight of the law should take its course.

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