Visiting the IFJ member union in Nigeria, the Nigerian Union of Journalists, is always an electrifying event. This time the union hosted a meeting of the leadership of the Federation of African Journalists, their Steering Committee, last weekend in Abuja in the midst of an electoral frenzy.
With only two weeks to go before the presidential election involving sixty-three registered political parties, the federal capital was caught in a gigantic maelstrom of giant street rallies, wall-to-wall media coverage interspersed with scores of radio jingles and swarms of supporters bussed in for the occasion. Even the inevitable courtesy visit to the FAJ meeting by the Federal Minister of Information and Communication, Labaran Maku, had all the hallmarks of a political rally as the minister abandoned his morning electioneering and addressed the African journalists fully clad in his party’s colourful garb.
In the end the Steering Committee battened down the hatches and got on with the business of African journalists. As well as statutory matters, members of the Committee dealt with thorny issues arising from the many revolutions exploding in North Africa, in particular the demands by journalists’ unions of radical reforms of policies and laws concerning press freedom, labour rights, people’s right to know and human rights. They also sought ways of encouraging the member union in Côte d’Ivoire, the Union nationale des journalistes de Côte d'Ivoire (UNJCI), to remain united, maintain professional trade union solidarity and continue defending the rights and interests of Ivorian journalists despite the civil war. The situation of journalists held in-communicado for many years in Eritrea was one of the most important issues for discussion and the committee agreed to boost the campaign for their release. New steps were taken to help release Burundian journalist, Jean Claude Kavumbagu, editor of Netpress online publication, charged with high treason and increase support for Cameroonian journalists.
The Steering Committee also heard reports of union congresses in Somalia and Sierra Leone where NUSOJ and SLAJ renewed their leaderships and sent congratulatory messages to the new office bearers. Bigger congratulations should go to the NUJ and its leaders for achieving another remarkable feat in bringing together African journalists leaders during such challenging times.