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How NAN changed under 2 years

Reporters with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) nursed for decades the desire to have their names appear against the news stories that they wrote.…

Reporters with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) nursed for decades the desire to have their names appear against the news stories that they wrote.

“I suffer anonymity. If I sometime desire to be a newspaper writer, it is because of byline. My work will carry my name and I will be known for what I do. But at NAN, I am nameless,”one of the reporters once remarked.

Newspapers and news magazines in Nigeria typically carry the names of those who write the items that they publish. The reporters with such print outlets are therefore widely known for the pieces that they write. 

Not so for NAN. Not until recently.

News reports from NAN had from start of operations 39 years ago always been without the names of those who wrote them. But NAN is reborn and the new NAN has given its writers the identity they had always craved.

The Managing Director of the agency, Mr Bayo Onanuga, made this possible as quickly as it took him to assume duties last year. 

“We have resolved that reports from our correspondents will carry their byline in line with modern trends,” Onanuga told the staff at the agency’s Jos zonal office during his familiarization visit.

The byline culture for NAN thus became a reality.

Onanuga was about three months old on the job when during a visit to the ThisDay newspapers he articulated the launch of photo and video portals to accompany NAN reports. 

He said, “very soon, we are going to launch a video portal and a photo portal. As of now, subscribers get photos by e-mail, but we are going to put everything online, so that they can access it. We are also going to upload into that portal all our historic photographs, because we have them in the archives.”

Onanuga who boasted that NAN had facilities ‘to do video interviews or television interviews and run like a normal television station,’ said the portals would enable NAN to provide videos and audios to its television subscribers. And NAN websites now have the complement of photo and video clips.The idea from the beginning was to make NAN an all-round news medium. He said this was imperative as NAN was expected to be a multi-media agency like other modern news agencies around the world.

Onanuga practically hit the ground running May last year when he assumed office as the NAN MD, as remodeling of the NAN platform, providing reports for free in addition to the usual ones to which users subscribe, have become a reality.

He had given a hint of what to expect during his inaugural address on May 26.

 He said, “I want to assure all of you that I have not come to disrupt things here. I have not come to take anybody’s job; what I have just come to do is to see how we can improve things in NAN; that is my own mission – to see how we can get better.”

Allowing reporters their bylines, launching of audio and video portals, and refocusing a free news website have constituted the new face of NAN since Bayo Onanuga was named the new NAN managing director and chief executive.

The agency has also become proactive, quick to get at newsworthy issues or breaking news and staying on it with follow-ups that readers find refreshing. 

And to further enrich its offerings, NAN not only thread its traditional one-way traffic of just releasing stories for use by its subscribers, it now also publishes stories sourced by other media outlets.

But much of the old NAN remains, mostly in matters to do with staff welfare. The workers speak with nostalgia of the ‘good old days’ when they looked forward to much more than their usual monthly salary. 

“A lot of things are down and would not pick up. I’m supposed to have imprest where I operate but I don’t know what has happened to that because the last time I got it was a couple of years ago. Even  monthly transport allowance for reporters has stopped,” one of the workers said.

Another one added that some years back if a staff member had an important occasion such as the funeral of a close relation, the staff received some money from the office.

“Things have deteriorated badly,” a NAN worker said, adding, “many benefits have stopped. Those that still come, come in halves. They keep telling us there is no money.” 

The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) has a perspective on the complaints of workers at NAN. The complaints, the union said, are not different from those by staff of the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), and the Voice of Nigeria (VON). 

The National Secretary of the NUJ, Malam Shuaibu Leman, said in an interview that federal government-owned media houses were poorly funded, leading to poor staff welfare and shortage of working tools and facilities. He said the treasury single account (TSA) being implemented by the Muhammadu Buhari government worsened situations that were already bad.

Leman said, “this issue of TSA that I was told media organisations have keyed into makes it difficult for them to operate with ease. They are media organisations without the civil service structure or the straitjacket schedules to do what TSA requires. Money can be required at any time. Something can happen anytime and money should be promptly made available for journalists to do their reporting. The system should be flexible for journalists to do their work seamlessly.”

The NUJ national secretary said facilities at the various federal media organisations had become threadbare. 

He explained, “I visited some of these organisations and I was not impressed by what I saw. The newsrooms and the studios where journalists operate are not well equipped and journalists work in very difficult conditions and are poorly paid. The media houses need massive injection of funds to function properly because you cannot condemn them for not performing optimally if you don’t give them what they require. I know of media organisations that would be grounded once the public electricity system is not there. They can’t buy diesel to run their power generators.”

Speaking on news content management by the media houses, Leman said although he had not observed any deliberate or open move by the federal government to interfere, he sensed that the media houses were largely perpetuating self-censorship. 

He said, “A lot of times when some reporters go out, they get certain stories that they do not report because they feel that such stories may not be pleasant to the government, and that should not be the case because the citizens’ benefit in such stories should not be sacrificed for the pleasure of the few people in government.”

The workers have fond memories of the late Remi Oyo, the NAN MD from 2007 to 2013. Now, Bayo Onanuga who knows about the nostalgia of the workers for the Remi Oyo years, said those were years of greener pastures in Nigeria.

“The marriage and burial allowances they talk about were introduced by Remi Oyo at a time when NAN was collecting N40 million every month for overhead expenses. The allowances are illegal, according to the federal government and the National Assembly. And it is no longer feasible to pay as we are collecting N12 million and this is not regularly available,” he said, adding that rather than being buoyant, NAN was struggling with indebtedness. 

“I inherited huge debts. We owed sister agencies, who provide us services in double digit millions of naira. We owed Galaxy Backbone that provides internet services. We have been reducing the debt. We owe Abuja Environmental Agency. We also have been paying them. We owed our staff and editors claims dating back to three, four years. We have almost finished clearing the backlog,” he said.

He said the workers were wrong if they thought he was enjoying himself at their expense, adding, “when I came and I realized our financial predicament, I started by hurting myself, by denying myself some entitlements. My fuel claim, my telephone allowance, the imprest for my office: I slashed them.  I declined collecting allowances when I travelled for official duties to Lagos, which I regard as home. I wanted to demonstrate that all of us, not just the staff, will feel the austere regime that is in place.Since I came, whatever we could do to ease work for  the staff, we have done. We bought 40 laptops and 300 midgets because our staff members need those things to do their work efficiently. They need those things in today’s world.  We have been sponsoring training opportunities for all staff. “

He advised the workers to see their pains as part of the general situation. “It’s not as if I blame the Federal Government (for NAN’s underfunding). As everybody knows, these are difficult times for even the Federal Government. The money is just not available. Everybody needs to wake up to this reality and cut his expectations according to this reality.”

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