Comrade Paul Ella Abechi is the Chairman, Federal Capital Territory Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (FCT-NUJ), in this interview with Juliana Agbo, is of the view that Journalists must be seen as nation builders and live above expectations at all times.
How has the journey been so far as chairman of the council?
It is a privilege for me to Chair the Council since when I was elected on October 3rd 2015 till date. I am so happy with the level of achievement with the promise kept.
I am driven with by vision and for the first time we have a Chairman coming on board, with a template, with a manifesto and with a brochure stating clearly what he laid down to achieve within the period of the three years tenure.
It gladdens my heart today when I look back at the manifesto. Thank God I have achieved all what I promised. You will be glad to know that my manifestoes stated it clearly that what we are lacking in the Union is capacity training and retraining of journalists which have really come to bear during my administration.
About 120 journalists, so far have been trained by the European Union on how it works. An average journalist in Abuja today knows how the EU works. Under my leadership, we have this opportunity for people identifying with the Council. Confidence has been restored. And once confidence has been restored and there is leadership, it attracts agencies and people to extend a hand of fellowship in areas they can assist the Union to build standards. That has been achieved.
Under my leadership, turn out in congresses has improved to about 80 per cent. Before I took over office, you could hardly have a 100 people attending a congress. Well attended Congresses had 45, 50 but today at each Congress, you have about 200 people. It means my leadership has restored confidence in members.
Last year we had Table Tennis Tournament with Chinese Embassy. And in July this year, we had the 2nd leg of it. All of these concepts and initiatives was under my leadership where cash awards were given to first, second and third winners. This brings sense of belonging to our members and arose their sportsmanship and at the same time it serves as talent hunt among us in terms of sports.
Recently, the US Embassy extended a hand of fellowship to the Council and seven of our members benefitted from the International Visitors Leadership Programme (IVLP) under the US State Department’s sponsorship.
Our members travelled to the United States of America in three different states of Ohio, (Cleveland), St. Petersburg, Florida and the Nation’s Capital, Washington DC. Different Journalism Professors came to brainstorm with us and chart a way on how journalism practice is applicable in the United States and in Nigeria.
The NUJ Abuja Chapter under my leadership attracted the Chief of Army Staff to a symposium to chart the way forward for the security situation in the North-East and the country at large.
In view of the awards you gave to journalists instead of politicians, most of your colleagues would want to know the type of relationship you keep with politicians?
Journalism is a noble profession. It is not to antagonise people. I don’t belong to any political party neither do I have a card of any political party. I am not a Politician. All I want is to ensure that Journalists live up to expectations. To be a good Journalist, you must be a nation builder. I don’t believe in destroying the nation, I believe in building. We have great role to play as Journalists and we will be held responsible if our nation fails.
I am totally against waking up and seeing Journalists mingling with politicians taking sides.
Everyday, we see so many cases of libel and retractions. I don’t believe in cooking stories in the name of supporting one politician and hitting another. That is not Journalism.
Some journalists have retracted stories because they have been threatened or taken to court. There is no need to air or promote fake stories.
As a journalist it is your responsibility to say the truth and stand by it. What kind of Journalism are we practicing today where you see people publishing and retracting? People lose confidence on their stories and is not good for our image. We can avoid it.
Because of the passion you have for the practice, you must be able to play your own quota to ensure what you are contributing to better your country professionally. What are you doing to ensure your country is tabled politically. But are our criticisms constructive? We should look inward to ourselves. If journalists put theirselves together today, we will have a great country today.
What measures are you taking to solve the issue of fake journalists parading in town?
I introduced and set up a Committee of Digitalisation of FCT Members in order to have the database of any practicing Journalists in Abuja. With this, we will differentiate between our members and the fifth columnists. The national secretariat borrowed the initiative and decided that it should be a centralised database and not on state by state basis. That is how and why we have the national biometrics of our members today.
What steps are you taking to ensure that the FCT Secretariat is completed?
The secretariat did not start under my administration. I did not promise anywhere in my manifesto about the secretariat or its completion because we were told by the previous administration that the money to complete the Secretariat was approved and was given to the Contractor. So it was a done deal as far as I am concerned. But to my amazement and to the shock of what later unfolded, today the work is yet to be completed.
What the previous administration told us was that the money had been given to the contractor so I had expected before now that the secretariat should be completed.
Do you have plans to extend your stay in the office or go in for second term?
I am not going to extend a day out of the day that I came on board which was 3rd October, 2015. Except the National Secretariat, which supervises the State Council Elections, decides otherwise. I have submitted notification letter of the expiration of my tenure. The letter has been served to national secretariat. As for second term, So many people has been mounting pressure on me to go for it, but I want members to compare and decide since the records are there.
Have you been able to accomplish the promises you made in your manifesto?
Yes, I have been able to accomplish the promises I made in my manifesto. I told NUJ members that the council will embark on training and retraining of members locally and internationally. It has come to pass. I took seven journalists to United States. I took five to the People’s Republic of China. I have taken the Council to European Union. You can see the Council is alive and matching on and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.