Senate President Bukola Saraki is behind a group of online media outfits planning to create a parallel Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) at the National Assembly in Abuja with a view to waging war against media organizations which have been hard on him, according to a source in Mr. Saraki’s Senate office.
The source, requesting anonymity, said his boss has recruited the online journalists through the office of his Special Assistant on Social Media, Bamikole Omishore , to keep an eye on mainstream and online media organizations who have been reporting negatively on him.
He revealed that Mr. Saraki has been having sleepless nights particularly in connection with stories being published by SaharaReporters and that such stories have elicited several phone calls within and outside the country.
He pointed out that the group which has been assembled has had a series of meetings with the Senate President, who has assured them of his support, including a promise to secure an office and formalize their accreditation at the National Assembly.
At the monthly congress of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) FCT Council held on Septemeber 9th at the International Institute of journalism in Jahi District, Abuja, the Chairman, Paul Ella, read a letter from the Association of National Assembly New Media Chapel signed by its coordinator, one Yemi Itodo, seeking a special status and recognition to operate as a union at the Assembly. The letter generated a heated debate among the journalists present, with some members calling for caution concerning the request.
They argued that it would amount to legalizing quacks and fake journalists who usually go around to blackmail and extort money from the public, thereby denting the good image of the profession.
They maintained that the union should resist any attempt by politicians to infiltrate their ranks by means of a parallel and splinter body. The union, however, was unable to agree on a definite position on the matter.
It was gathered that the national body subsequently took up the matter and will come up with a position.
Meanwhile, the press corps of the Senate and the House of Representatives has also objected to the request by the Yemi Itodo group, warning that it will promote mediocrity and unprofessionalism, and bring the integrity of the profession to question.
The corps argued that it has laid-down standards and procedures for all journalists in its bye-laws to be met before anyone may be accredited to cover the National Assembly.
They explained that giving a blanket accreditation to all online platforms would spell doom for the journalism profession, as many of the online journalists are using it to extort money from their unsuspecting victims.
According to one of the officials of the press corps, who preferred to remain anonymous, media pluralism has long been regarded as a prerequisite for freedom of expression. He, however, called for caution and undue interference by politicians seeking to manipulate the journalism profession for their selfish interests.
He stressed that the corps will not be stampeded by external influence to act contrary to its legal framework and confer special recognition to the group.
As the National Assembly reconvenes following a two-month recess, tension is brewing between the registered and non-accredited journalists.
It might be recalled that a few months ago, some media organizations were prevented from the Senate chambers to cover its plenary. Investigations revealed that the media team of the Senate had connived with the office of the Director of Information to trim down the number of accredited journalists assigned to cover the Upper chamber so as to pave way for these set of people to operate in an attempt to inhibit accredited journalists.
Mr. Saraki has himself been in the eye of the storm in the media regarding several activities, and has been doing everything possible, and has reportedly been trying to use various tactics to slant stories in his favor, but has so far been unsuccessful.
His latest plot is said to be targeted at SaharaReporters, which has played a critical role in exposing many of his shadier deals.
On Mr. Saraki’s behalf Mr. Omishore in the last few days have been working with online platforms to carry out smear campaigns against operators of Saharareporters.