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Journalists' Union Secures Insurance Scheme For Nigeria's Intrepid Reporters

posted 20 Jan 2014, 08:07 by Mpelembe   [ updated 20 Jan 2014, 08:08 ]

Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) secured an insurance scheme for practising journalists who often work in poor conditions across the country and fall victim to accidents and attacks by militant groups.

LAGOSNIGERIA (REUTERS) - Nigeria has a relatively free press by the standards of the region - top stories uncovering grand fraud, or a governor's sudden-found wealth, or the government offensive on militants in the north feature on the front pages of private newspapers and headlines of prime time news.

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But the hazards of the job have often been deadly, especially in a country where the media space is plagued by political interference. Reporters are routinely put under surveillance by Nigeria's secret service.

In a recent incident, three journalists lost their lives in a car accident while travelling to cover a story.

Television and radio stations in northern Nigeria operate in constant fear owing to threats from militant Islamist group, Boko Haram.

In 2012, suicide bombers attacked the offices of a media house in Abuja and Kaduna killing at least four people.

Nigeria's Union of Journalists (NUJ) has launched an insurance scheme for its members to provide a benefit not many employers offer their staff in the west African nation.

Chairman of the NUJ, Deji Gbolahan Elumoye said they had to create a system that caters for journalists regardless of who they worked for because of the increasingly dangerous situations many were finding themselves in.

"We just discovered that recently in the last few years, journalists in the country have been facing a lot of challenges especially when it comes to the hazards of the profession. You see people, you are in your house, maybe with your wife or with your husband and your immediate boss is calling you that man, you have to start going to Kano where they have this Boko Haram whatever, or you have to start going to Maiduguri to go and cover. One, you don't know the terrain very well, you don't have any policy, the management does not even bother about anything, their own is just deliver. So when we discovered that there were a lot of reports about harassment from one agency, from our members who cover different assignments, you see people harassing them........ so we said ah ah, all these things should stop, that the belief is that the media, the journalists are friends of the society," he said.

Through American International Insurance Company (AIICO), journalists are able to get get a discounted cover for permanent disability, injury and death while on the job, if they are members of the NUJ.

The yearly premium is 6,750 Naira - about 45 US dollars a year. The NUJ has already paid for 200 journalists in Lagos but there are 200 more that are making the payment for themselves and the union says hundreds more across the country have expressed interest.

Oba Adeoye is a journalist for new broadcaster, TVC. His crew has just arrived at a settlement in Lagosto cover protests over alleged land grabbing.

Adeoye, who has 13 years experience in the media industry says the NUJ brokered insurance is something long overdue.

"As a journalist that covers election, I cover protests as well that at the end of the day, most of them turn out to be violent, I will expect that an insurance policy like the one that NUJ is operating right now should be extended to an individual like myself," said Adeoye.

At a radio station in Lagos, journalists are hard at work in studio with news from local elections ineastern Nigeria.

Radiojournalist Tokunbo Ojekunle says the fact that many employers do not provide insurance as a benefit is something that has left many in the industry disgruntled and urged business owners to take care of their employees.

"When it comes to insurance, and it's coming from NUJ, it's credible as far as most of the journalists are concerned. They will take it hook, line and sinker and believe that this is a good story this time around because we have lost colleagues, recently, three people died, the lady, Kafayat Todosi, who passed on during that last trip on the.... I think Lokoja road I think, she actually has children, and she is also the bread winner, so they can't walk past these things. It's becoming very pathetic, I think the emotions are swelling. In Nigeria, when things begin to swell with emotions, there is a possibility that if care is not taken, it could explode to something more catastrophic," he said.

Nigeria is ranked 115 in the Reporters Without Borders 2013 press freedom index, which uses criteria such as violence against journalists and legislation. Eritrea, the last on the list of 179 is considered the worst country for press freedom, while Finland is considered the country that most respects media freedom.