A journalist with the Imo State government, South-East Nigeria, has been suspended indefinitely from her job for taking to Facebook to request her three months unpaid salary and the wages of her co-workers.
Officials said the Facebook post was an “embarrassment” to the Imo State government.
The suspended journalist, Vivian Ottih, is a lawyer and a senior editor with the government-owned IBC Orient FM radio station.
She is the chairperson of the Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), in Imo State.
Mrs Ottih, on May 4, posted a message on Facebook, appealing to Governor Hope Uzodinma’s media aide, Modestus Nwamkpa, to make a case to the governor on behalf of the workers in the government-owned radio and television stations who were yet to get their February, March, and April salaries.
Mrs Ottih described Mr Uzodinma as a “humble” and “performing” governor, and said the governor may not have been aware of the travails of the workers.
She said in the post that she was personally hard-hit by the situation because she just had a baby weeks earlier.
The journalist, in her subsequent post on May 7, thanked the Commissioner for Information in the state, Declan Emelumba for intervening on behalf of the unpaid workers. “God bless you, Sir,” she wrote.
On May 8, four days after, she was queried by the Imo Broadcasting Corporation.
The query, signed by the acting director-general of the corporation, Osuchukwu S. O, said to Mrs Ottih, “I am directed to let you know that this your attitude caused serious embarrassment to Imo State Government thereby ridiculing the government in the eyes of the public with the sole aim of sabotaging the government.”
Mrs Ottih’s response to the query was deemed unsatisfactory by the Imo government which went ahead to suspend her indefinitely from her job.
The state government queried the journalist again on May 15, accusing her of posting the previous query on social media.
The information commissioner, Mr 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).”
The commissioner said the NAWOJ chairperson could have used other channels of communication instead of taking the issue to Facebook.
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.”