A former staff of an Abuja-based media organisation who prefers to remain anonymous shared this really unfortunate work experience. It’s a familiar story of the kind of abuses some media owners are perpetrating and need to stop.
I joined a popular Abuja-based newspaper publishing company in 2008, shortly after graduating from the higher institution and completing my compulsory one year Youth Service, and the purpose was to thoroughly practise journalism and contribute positively to the advancement of media practice.
Prior to joining the mainstream media, I had worked with a health management organization (HMO) for a couple of months. I was very comfortable with practicing in my field of study, and a newspaper publishing outfit gave me that special opportunity. Then, I was being paid a stipend, but I was just okay that the payment came as and when due. However, years later, the story changed. Salaries stopped coming, and whenever plans were being made to continue the payment of salaries, members of staff were asked to forfeit their unpaid salaries so that a fresh payment scheme could be commenced. That too didn’t improve the situation. Later, the company decided to lay off many of its workers on the directive of the Chairman of the organization.
I was not perturbed by that development because I was told that old members of staff would not be affected. By then, I had stayed in the company for almost a decade.
When the termination of contract’ letters were been handed over to the affected staff, I was called to collect mine too. I was greatly devastated upon being laid off because I knew the weighty sacrifices I had made for the organization. I was the head of the Education Desk then, and that meant a lot of work and responsibilities. I went to complain to the then News Editor and Daily Editor and was simply told to continue my work, that things would be eventually rectified and that I would be called back. We were three who were so assured.
I remained optimistic and continued my work. Many of the laid-off staff came back to continue working as they were assured of a freelancing stake. They were offered letters of engagement, and I just continued working without getting any letter. I didn’t bother getting a letter because of the promise of reinstatement that had been made to me.
During that period, the company through the chairman’s influence landed a special project with a government agency that supervises tertiary institutions. I was swiftly directed to handle the project since it fell within my jurisdiction. My job was to fill the agency’s special pages with contents on a weekly basis. I found the job to be quite challenging because the agency could not provide the contents with which to fill up the pages.
It was such an irony that the Executive Secretary of the agency was accomplishing several laudable feats and embarking on a chain of commendable projects, and his media unit did not deem it fit to document all of that for reference purposes and for use by the press. The Executive Secretary was visiting various schools in Nigeria and seeking collaborations with educational institutions abroad, but his media unit could still not provide information on all of that. So I had to go the extra miles to source materials. I conducted interviews with directors in the various departments of the agency just to get contents for publication. I went through a lot of stress to continually fill up the special pages.
The department of my organization overseeing the project had resolved to pay me N40,000 monthly (out of the huge sum that was paid for the project), for all my troubles. I accepted the offer as I considered it better than nothing at all.
I received the payment for the first three months of the project and got nothing during the next phase of the project. Instead of getting commendations for a job well done, I rather got invectives and debilitating criticisms in exchange for my diligence and consistency. I was deeply saddened and disgruntled.
Around that time, however, the Communication Affairs Department of the government agency decided to reward the reporters covering their organization with adverts. I assured myself that relief and the reward for all my labours had finally come. I was given a seven-paged advert; two coloured adverts (estimated to be around N700,000 per page), and five black and white adverts (billed at 500,000 per page). The advert was awarded during the COVID-19 lockdown.
During this period, I continued to get calls from my organization’s advert manager who was always enquiring about the situation of things. I, however, kept him informed throughout the time in question. When the first tranche of payment was made, it was paid into a certain bank account that was commonly referred to as ‘Chairman’s Account.’ It was often said that any money that entered into that bank account was gone for good.
On discovering this, I wept because I knew that my 30% commission from the advert was gone. I complained to the advert office and was told to ensure that the second tranche of the payment was not paid into the ‘wrong’ account. My company’s Managing Director also advised me to do the same.
I quickly went to the government agency to plead with the head of the Finance Department to pay the next tranche of the advert fee into the appropriate account and waited patiently for the next payment which I hoped would favour me. But the next payment was made and it again landed in the Chairman’s Account.
Infuriated by the development, I contacted the office handling the special project and asked the head of the department to intervene and get me my commission. The head of the department directed his immediate junior to talk to the Chairman on my behalf. When I called to find out the developments, I was told that it was not possible to see or talk to the Chairman.
Now, before the whole advert saga, I had severally asked that my N40,000 entitlement be paid me, but I was always told that the Chairman had said that the agency’s special project came through him and that the whole money accruing to it was all his. The Chairman confiscated all the money that was generated through that special project and refused to pay me even a dime out of it all.
The immediate junior to the head of the Special Project Department of my organization, later advised me to write to the Chairman or send him a WhatsApp message to explain to him my concerns. I did as I was advised and the next day, I was barraged with numerous calls from the Human Resources Department of my organization, asking me to make an appearance at the office to verify my employment status.
As I was getting ready to leave for office, I got a call from the immediate junior to the Head of the Special Project Department of my organization, asking me to quit any further move in pursuance of my advert commission, that the Chairman had threatened to arrest me, and that he had deployed policemen to be on the lookout for me and apprehend me on sight. She further informed me that the Chairman had insinuated that I was not his staff and that I was an impostor who was seeking ways to divert his money.
Following this development, I became scared for my life. And, I didn’t want to be embarrassed like some other members of staff whose names and pictures were published in the newspaper for ‘thieving’ the company’s money. After that day, I decided to stop working for a company that had no regard for its staff.
I would have taken legal action and pressed charges against my organization, but the Chairman was somewhat right: I wasn’t legally a staff of the organization. My contract with the organization had been long officially terminated, and I was only a staff by virtue of the promise of reinstatement made to me by my editors.
And still, within this space of time, my organization sent a letter to the government agency, asking it to stop dealing with me, dissociating itself completely from me.
During this time, I just got newly married and was banking on my advert commission for the payment of some inevitable bills. My advert commission could have amounted to N700,000 which at that time would have been very useful to me, but it all went down the drain.
My colleagues from other media organizations who covered the same agency also got the same adverts and received their commissions, but not me, because I worked for an organization whose owner was dangerously greedy and self-serving. A total of over N4million accrued to that advert, but the Chairman did not deem it fit to hand a mere N700,000 to me.
I had allowed time to pass in order to let go of all the ill-feelings that had brewed in my heart against my former employer. I thought about writing him a “no-holds-barred” letter, expressing my grievances to him and telling him off in the best way that I can, but alas, I only woke up recently to the news of his death.
Now I have to move on and hope this kind of inhuman treatment of journalists will not be allowed to continue by those who are in the position to do so.