Having observed with stoic silence the plethora of opinions, comments and claims flying around over the above issue, I feel obliged, for national interest and sanitization of the association to present to NEC the facts of the matter and try to put the record straight, even though NEC members are aware.
The inability of the association to forward names essentially follows non-submission of valid applications as requested by the AIPS and clearly published by SWAN.
As a background to the plot that has been playing out, it is imperative to understand the Constitution of NUJ, Statutes of AIPS and SWAN.
Article 3 (1a) of the NUJ Constitution says: “A person shall not be a member of the Union, except if registered by the National Secretariat of the Union on the recommendation of the state council.”
Article 3(2a) says: “In addition to the provision in Article 3(1), a person to be so qualified shall also possess a minimum of Diploma and cognate experience in Journalism or Mass Communication obtained from a recognized institution.”
Article 4 (1a) says: “A member of the Union shall pay 2% of his/her basic monthly salary through the check-off system, which shall be deducted at source. Such a member shall in addition pay an annual practicing fee of N2,000.”
Article 6.1 of AIPS says: “The only member associations of AIPS are the National Associations. Only one member association will be recognized in each country. A National Association is an independent, duly constituted group of professional sports journalists working in print or electronic media and professional sports photographers.
Article 12 (3a) states: “Professional sports journalists who are members of a National Association and holders of valid AIPS cards. Candidacy is personal and individual, but only National Associations have the right to present the candidature of their members. Only full time professional journalists can be candidate for any position.”
Article 7 of SWAN Statute says: “Any journalist with the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) employed or earning his living as a reporter, researcher, editor, commentator, producer, photographer or cameraman in the sports section of a newspaper, Magazine, news agency, periodical, radio or television station in Nigeria, shall be eligible to register as a full member.”
In contesting for the AIPS executive position, sports journalists in Nigeria were mandated to provide the following:
1. Valid AIPS membership card
2. Valid NUJ membership card
3. Valid SWAN membership card
4. Evidence of professional qualification
5. Letter of employment
On January 22, 2017, the SWAN Secretary General issued a press statement asking qualified members to send in their application for nomination and proposal to a dedicated e-mail address, [email protected] not later than February 5, 2017 to enable sufficient time to scrutinize received applications and ensure that only those with valid papers were nominated in order to save Nigeria from unwanted embarrassment as specified in AIPS Articles 19(1c) which states that “19.1 A member association may be suspended from membership by proposal of the Executive Committee and by a three quarter (3/4) majority of all of votes cast at the Congress, for the following reasons: (c) failure to comply with the provisions of these Statutes or the Bye laws appertaining thereto.
As at 12 midnight of February 5, 2017, not a single nomination had been received by the National Secretariat of SWAN.
However, on February 3, 2017, 48 hours to SWAN’s deadline for submission of application with supporting documents for nomination, our brother and incumbent AIPS President Africa and Vice President AIPS, Mr Mitchel Obi sent a personal mail, asking to be nominated for the AIPS executive election without any supporting documents, a development I frowned at and had to call Mr. Obi to do the needful.
On February 4, 2017, at about 8:53pm, Mr Obi again sent to me a self-written instruction, directing that I put the said letter on SWAN’s letter-headed paper and send to AIPS. I had to call him again requesting that he should act according to our press statement of January 22, 2017.
After the expiration of SWAN’s deadline for applications for nomination by 12 midnight on February 5, 2017, a further 48 hours window was given because of our desire to see that Nigeria is represented at the international body.
In the early hours of 7th February, 2017 I got information that there were moves to scan my signature to a purported nomination letter after persistent pressure on the Secretary General to endorse a letter failed. I quickly responded same day by sending a mail to AIPS to revert to me before implementing any request coming from SWAN.
However, despite Article 15(a) of the SWAN Statute bestowing special/emergency powers on the President and the Secretary-General, I still reached out to SWAN NEC members on the non receipt of nomination applications and my interaction with Mr Obi on the issue, members were unanimous in endorsing my subsequent communication to AIPS that SWAN had no applicant or nominee for the AIPS Executive Election. I conveyed the position to AIPS at about 7pm on the 8th of February 2017.
Then, on February 9, 2017, AIPS’ deadline day, between 12:31pm and 12.48pm, Mr Obi sent me a mail and whatsapp message which he copied Messrs Fred Edoreh, Alloy Chukwuemeka, Obinna Nezianya, Saidu Abubakar, Aisha Falode, Nduka Irabor, Shehu Dikko, Dan Ngerem, Nneka Anibeze, Gbenga Okegbenro, Kunle Solaja and Boye Ajayi, (perhaps after AIPS notified him of Nigeria’s position), directing me to send a self written nomination letter to AIPS. He also promised to send scanned copies of his SWAN and AIPS ID Cards.
These cards were not sent until about 7:01pm and 8:22pm respectively, after which I requested for proof of professional qualification. He claimed to have attended NIJ where he read Advanced Writing and Reporting and that his certificate was with The Guardian.
Please be assured that all these exchanges between Mr Obi and me are on record and provable.
In SWAN, just like its umbrella body NUJ, clearance of members and issuance of ID cards are preserves of the national secretariat.
Consequently, in pursuit of confirming the documents tendered, less than five hours to AIPS deadline and because of the time he said he would send the documents and when he eventually sent them, particularly, the SWAN ID Card, I reached out to two past SWAN Presidents and Secretary-Generals, Mesers Olu Amadasun, Saidu Abubakar, Richard Jideaka and Andrew Abah, respectively, who declared that at no time did they issue or sign any ID card bearing Mitchel Obi or had his name in any register.
In view of the above and Mr Obi’s NUJ ID Card that was signed by Funke Fadugba when she was chairman of NUJ, Lagos Council, over 10 years ago, meaning that he was not up to date in membership, coupled with lack of proof of professional qualification, Mr Obi’s ambition runs contrary to Article 4.2(A) of NUJ’s Constitution and Article 7(A) C (1) of SWAN Statute.
With the foregoing, it is hardly difficult to see that Mr Obi could not satisfy the provisions of relevant statutes of the associations. Truly, many stakeholders in the nation’s sports industry reached out to intervene on behalf of Mr Obi, but I tried to explain to them that the foundation of national interest should not be built on deceit and manipulation and to advise Mr. Obi to prove his eligibility, as the current leadership of SWAN cannot be swayed or stampeded into bending the rules or allow illegality to continue to thrive. We swore to uphold the Statutes of SWAN and that of our umbrella bodies.
In summary, SWAN did not nominate a candidate for the AIPS Executive Election because of the following:
1. SWAN did not receive any valid application from members
2. The request from Mr Mitchel Obi to my personal mail was found to be in breach of the conditions for eligibility.
3. Moreso, I believe that I took due diligence by consulting members of SWAN’s NEC in reaching the decision to inform AIPS of our position.
a. It is pertinent to note at this juncture that one can claim to be a journalist without being member of NUJ.
b. One can claim to be a sports writer or sports journalist without being a member of SWAN.
c. For one to be a registered member of either NUJ or SWAN, one needs to observe all the provisions of the respective statutes, formalize and update membership as at when due.
d. It is only an up-to-date member that can enjoy full privilege and earn the right to represent the association at any level.
e. It has become apparent that Mr Mitchel Obi is not qualified to be endorsed by SWAN to represent it at AIPS and perhaps may have gotten to ASJU and AIPS in error in the first place. This may have informed the decision of one-time ASJU Secretary-General, Mr Fan Ndubuoke to petition Mr Obi’s emergence as ASJU President in 2003 leading to the rejection of that election and non recognition of Mr Obi by AIPS.
Lessons in most cases emanate from others’ mistakes, consequently, it is our believe that sports journalists will no longer wait until they need the association before identifying with it through the payments of regular dues and observing the provisions of laws guiding the operations of members.
. Sirawoo is the President of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria.