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Two groups, the Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) and the International Press Council (IPC), Lagos, have called on the authorities of the Imo Broadcasting Corporation to rescind its suspension of a female journalist.

Vivian Ottih, a lawyer and a senior editor with the Imo state government-owned IBC Orient FM radio station, was suspended indefinitely from her job a few days ago for taking to Facebook to request her three months unpaid salary and the wages of her co-workers.

The suspended journalist is also the chairperson of NAWOJ in Imo State.

Officials of the Imo State government said Mrs Ottih should have used other channels instead of Facebook to pass on the request for her salary, and that her action was an “embarrassment” to the government.

NAWOJ, South-East zone, said Mrs Ottih’s Facebook post was “innocuous” and that the action taken against her was “hasty, high-handed and against all known labour laws”.

“Apart from the ill-timing, which came shortly after Mrs Ottih gave birth, her claim on the outstanding wages has not been disputed by her station management,” the association said in a statement on Saturday from the NAWOJ Vice President, South-East zone, Chibota Edozie.

“We are persuaded to think that this action does not have the blessings of Governor Hope Uzodinma because he won’t sanction such high-handed action.”

The IPC in a statement on Sunday described the suspension of Mrs Ottih as “unjust and inhuman”.

It said the action taken against the journalist is a violation of her fundamental right under the constitution and international instruments, including Article 23 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The IPC statement, signed by its Executive Director, Lanre Arogundade, said “anti-labour practise of non- payment of salaries especially during the current pandemic is subjecting journalists to economic hardship, pains and penury”.

Mr Arogundade said, “The state governments, who ordinarily should be the most protective of their workers’ welfare, are now the biggest culprits needlessly owing salaries for periods up to three months thus threatening their workers’ welfare.”

He said the reaction of the state government to Mrs Ottih’s request for her salary “should have been one of sobriety and not anger leading to the victmisation of an innocent soul who dared to speak for others”.

He called on the state government to unconditionally recall the journalist and pay all salaries owed journalists in its employment.

The Commissioner for Information in Imo state, Declan Emelumba, told PREMIUM TIMES the government was not responsible for the delay in payment of the salary. He said the management of the Imo Broadcasting Corporation “refused” to submit the workers’ BVN and bank account details as directed by the government.

Mr Emelumba said the government wanted to pay workers’ salary centrally in order to eliminate “ghost workers”, instead of allowing the various establishments to collect money from the state government to pay their staff as was done in the past.

A journalist in Imo told PREMIUM TIMES that Mrs Ottih made the appeal for the payment of the workers’ salary because she was under pressure from fellow journalists who were also being owed by the state government.

Mr Emelumba said Mrs Ottih posted the Facebook message as an individual person, not as the NAWOJ chairperson.

“Even if she were to issue the statement on behalf of NAWOJ she would still be wrong because she could only speak for women journalists and not for all the workers of the IBC,” the commissioner said.

“RATTAWU (the radio Television Theatre and Art Workers Union of Nigeria) has the statutory duty to do that, but they didn’t do that because they were consulting (with government officials over the issue).”

PREMIUM TIMES asked Mr Emelumba why the government did not sanction the corporation for delaying to send the bank details of their workers as requested by the government.

“If we did it as you would expect, people would accuse the government of being insensitive,” he responded.

The commissioner said he sent out a statement last week giving the parastatals a deadline to comply with the government directive.

“IBC has complied anyway; I think they are about getting their salary if they have not gotten it.”

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