(By Sylvester Udemezue)
Key Words: queries, query, professional journalism, journalist, employee, worker, salaries, salary arrears, demand, request, government, organization.
I have just gone through a Sahara Reporters’ news report published under the head, “Imo Government Queries Journalist For Demanding Three Months Unpaid Salaries” (published on www.saharareporters.com), which states, in part:
“The Imo State Government has queried a senior editor with the Imo Broadcasting Corporation, Mrs Ottih Vivian, for complaining of non-payment of her salaries and that of her colleagues. Ottih, a lawyer, had on May 4 in a Facebook post pleaded publicly to the state government to pay her colleagues and herself their over three months salaries…. entire staff of the only electronic media establishment owned by the state Imo Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), the famous Orient FM and Television have not received salaries for the month of February, March and April. It could be that His Excellency is not aware of this ugly situation…. the worst of the whole scenario is that, I … who just put to bed barely three weeks now, [am] languishing in hunger, lack among others. During the COVID-19 lockdown era, IBC staff were never found wanting on their duty post doing what they know how best to do on empty stomach and starvation. From my omugwo domain, I learnt that many have fallen sick without any kobo to seek medical services. The situation is as bad as that. Let me stop here so far as we wait for a fast positive response and reaction from His Excellency.”

I have also gone through a copy of the query said to have been issued to the affected civil servant, Mrs Ottih. In the query, dated May 8 2020, and signed by one S. O. Osuchukwu, for the Ag. Director-General, Imo Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), Mrs Ottih’s action was described as “ridiculous” and done “with the sole aim of sabotaging the government.” Continuing, the Query declares, inter alia:
“I am directed to issue a query to you for granting a press conference without approval from the government (being a public servant) where you informed the world that government was unable to pay your salaries… this attitude caused serious embarrassment to the Imo State Government…  ridiculing the government in the eyes of the public with the sole aim of sabotaging the government….”

I feel myself obliged to react to this development, not only in respect of the news report by Sahara and on the actions of the Civil Servant as well as her employers, with a view to, in a disinterested manner, calling a spade by its proper name.
With due respect to the news medium, I respectfully hold the opinion that the report by Sahara Reporters is somewhat misleading. As seen from the query issued by the IBC, and contrary to the news report, the said journalist (Mrs. Ottih) was not queried for “demanding her unpaid salaries” but for “granting a press conference” (I think, this refers to the Facebook publication/statement) which the State Government considered “embarrassing” and “an attempt to ridicule the Government.” I therefore suggest that journalists should always place issues in proper perspective, report the truth as it, in order to leave all records straight. As I pointed elsewhere, quoting from journalismdegree.com, ethics in journalism are based on professional conduct, morality and the truth. Not adhering to these fundamental principles leads to misrepresenting or misleading members of the public, and in some cases jeopardizing their lives. Professionally, betraying media ethics could result in a journalism career being destroyed. See, “Determining Whether WhatsApp Is A Public Place: The Legal Perspective”by Sylvester Udemezue (<https://thenigerialawyer.com/determining-whether-whatsapp-is-a-public-place-the-legal-perspective-by-sylvester-udemezue/ accessed on June 02, 2020)

The affected journalist is entitled to be paid her salaries promptly and regularly. It is cold-hearted, insensitive and unscrupulous for any government or organization to owe its workers, while, at the same time (the handwritings are on the wall) dissipating available funds on frivolous political affairs that have no direct impact on the lives, welfare and wellbeing of citizens or indigenes.

Prompt and regular payment of workers’ salaries and other just allowances, as well as paying due and honest attention to promotion of workers a’ welfare and employee motivation, should be among the top primacies and supremacies of any responsible government, institution or organisation.

It is within an employee`s lawful and just rights to lawfully and respectfully request or demand prompt and regular payment of his or her salaries, which, upon becoming due and not paid, have become a debt owing to the worker.

It is inappropriate and indecorous for a worker to call a Press Conference or issue a public statement (such as on newspaper, magazine, Facebook, Twitter, website other public platforms) for the purpose of demanding payment of his or her salaries or salary arrears from the worker’s employer, unless such public or published demand is being made by a workers association or group (trade union, pressure group: ASUU, NUJ, NULGE, NUT, etc.), to deprecate non-payment of its members` salaries and to demand payment of same.

There are many lawful, apposite, BUT INTERNAL mechanisms, opportunities and possibilities available to an employee in making a demand for his/her salaries or salary arrears, without resorting to publication in the media, which may be (is indeed often viewed) as calculated to subject the affected worker`s employers to public ridicule or embarrassment. A few examples would suffice: negotiations; letter of request or demand addressed to, and served privately on, the employer; court action following laid down procedure, etc.

A worker is entitled to go public only where his/her employers have first gone public. An example is a situation in which the employers have publicly taken steps or done anything which could reasonably be interpreted as calculated to tarnish the image of the employee or otherwise, to publicly oppress or suppress the employee. One other instance in which the employee may be justified in going public is where the employees life or liberty is threatened or is reasonably under some imminent danger in the hands of the employers, their servants, agents or privies, on account of the employees lawful demand for payment of his/her salaries or salary arrears

Based on the above, it is submitted that it might be difficult to justify the actions of the journalist (Mrs Ottih) in having resorted to issuing a public statement on Facebook or in having granted a public press conference, for the purpose of demanding her salaries, she being a Civil Servant who has an obligation to comply with the rules and regulations governing the conduct of the affairs of the organization whose employee she is. It was Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu who once gave a fair summary to serve as counsel for all to follow: when you belong to an organization which operates under some rules and regulations, you’ve either to comply with the rules and regulations or you bow out of the organization. In the same vein, this time, borrowing from Pius XI, Italian scholar & Pope (1857 – 1939), “justice requires that to every lawfully constituted authority, there must be given that respect and obedience which is its due…”

Finally, at this juncture, I think I need to say a word or two on the rampant, habitual attitude of much of Nigeria’s employers (in both the private and public sector) to issue Queries to employees as a means of correction or discipline., Although a segment of the membership of the top echelon of the Nigerian public and private service has been (mis)led into supposing that issuing “queries” regularly accords with the requirements of audi alterem partem, nevertheless, experience, over the years, has proven beyond doubts that in most cases, “queries” are viewed negatively (by the employees and their colleagues, as well as the watching public) as a punitive action against a supposedly defaulting staff member.  Consequently, even when the recipient of a query does not ultimately get “disciplined” as threatened, or is later let off the hook, perhaps because his/her explanation is found satisfactory, the truth remains that, as they say, “the damage has been done.” Truth be told, queries send negative signals and present their recipients as bad-eggs, never-do-wells, and in few other circumstances, yes, as a bunch of personae non grata. Accordingly, if I were in the shoes of the managers of our public and private service institutions and agencies, I would use queries most sparingly, indeed only when the occasions so reasonably call for them. Maybe I should put it this way, for easier appreciation: queries are counterproductive, save for reasonably exceptional situations. Anyway, lest I be misunderstood, I am only reminiscing on what I humbly believe would promote hard-work, and activate or extract more hard work from already hard-working servants, and in the end promote the organization, by encouraging its employees to give more value, selflessly, and be even prepared to lay down their lives for the success and improvement of the organization. Employee motivation is a major foundation for successful organization management and rapid growth. I therefore unhesitatingly implore managers and leaders of organizations, governments and government departments and agencies or institutions, to be in the main, more givers of commendation than of queries. Or, at the worst, unless under exceptional circumstances, to render to their subordinates and employees, more friendly corrective measures short of outright queries. A German writer and statesman, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, recognized this much when he declared, “correction does much, but encouragement does more.” There are more philosophies behind my advice, especially when one recalls how the woman at the centre of this whole incident, had emotionally recounted in her public statement, that she had just put to bed and had worked all through the COVID-19 total lockdown period, in hunger and starvation occasioned by nonpayment of her salaries for three months. Marcus Goh said, “never push a loyal servant to the point where they no longer care.” As Tim McClure, Professional Speaker and Brand and Leadership Consultant, puts it, “the biggest concern of any organization should be when their most passionate people become quiet.”
Sylvester Udemezue.
(June 02, 2020)

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