The Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Akwa Ibom State Council, Elder Patrick Albert in an exclusive interaction with Newsfront crew led by its Editor-in-Chief, Saviour Ekpe and Uduak Nsisong recently spoke on some topical issues including the state of the union, welfare packages for members, government relations with regards to the NUJ and the state of Godswill Akpabio International Press Centre among others. EXCERPTS:
NEWSFRONT: Let’s meet you Sir?
PATRICK ALBERT: Patrick Albert is my name and by the grace of God, the chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalists, Akwa Ibom State Council. I had the rare opportunity to be invited by my colleagues to chair the Union, that was made possible formally on the 1st of August 2013. For me since then, it has been a call to duty and it has been one very interesting, it has been one very challenging and it has been one very endangering. I often said that for me, leadership is like throwing a fish into the river, you will not teach the fish what to do because the fish is in its usual domain, that is its life and that is its world. Why do I say so? I’ve had the challenge of leadership right from my younger days in life and throughout the stations that I’ve served, I’ve always seen myself being asked to provide one form of service or the other and to God be the glory, I’ve always been doing the will of God, because leadership is essentially doing the will of God, I’ve been doing the will of God and so I am happy to have you today.
NEWSFRONT: Are you married, how many children do you have?
PATRICK ALBERT: By the grace of God am happily married with five children two have already come out of University one an electronic engineer the other graduated this year from covenant University, the one who will be taken after me, I started everything early in life at 51 already have two graduates, I have one who is in 300 level altogether two girls and three boys. So I fell very satisfied that I didn’t make mistake of kick starting at the very tender age. When I turned around, I see some of my colleagues are not being able to go this far and I said to God be the glory.
NEWSFRONT: What inspired you for journalism?
PATRICK ALBERT: Basically, I started as a journalist in 1985 after my internship with the Nigerian chronicle at the age of 21, I attended the institute of Mass Communication Technology Jos, fresh from school, from secondary school after some years at home I had had the desire to be a journalist after the lives of Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu and the likes. Then till when I had the opportunity to be admitted into the institute of Mass Communication Technology Jos, I didn’t waste time than to do so and when I finished, I had my Internship at Nigeria Chronicle and thereafter was appointed the correspondent for Itu Local Government. That is where I kick-started. It was very interesting that fresh from school and after my internship was already found worthy to be taken not just taken but sent to cover a Local Government at that time. It was Itu and Ibiono and suddenly Itu became the base for story that made front pages, back pages atleast front pages and major news analysis. I worked with them and when the state was created, I switched camp and effectively in 1991, I was employed by the Akwa Ibom Newspaper Cooperation and thereafter deployed to Kaduna as the Bureau Chief in-charge of the Northern States. While there, I came in contact with the number of our indigenes who were in the journalism profession.
NEWSFRONT: How did you come into the politics of Akwa Ibom Community in Kaduna?
PATRICK ALBERT: Akwa Ibom Indigene who were in the journalism profession were excited to have sombody coming to represent the state paper in Kaduna which as you may know has been the Traditional Headquarters of Northern Nigeria, the political hot deck of northern Nigeria. So we came together and formed Akwa Ibom Journalists Forum. I was the youngest, the youngest in the profession, the youngest in terms of age, they unanimously elected me to be the pioneer President and we were able to host several governments in Kaduna there, we made quite tremendous successes to the point that we almost rivalry the community in terms of receiving government attention as per our events and programmes so it was not long I was invited to be the Secretary to the Akwa Ibom Community, I was invited by Akwa Ibom Community to bring the same mantra into the community’s activities because they rarely had event that they will invite the governor to attain, they didn’t used to succeed in getting governor or government present, so they came discussed with me, I said well I’ve not been a member of the community. They said well election will soon be due, they know what to do we will encourage and we will campaign for you and that was done, I was elected the Secretary of the community after two year I was able within two years be able to bridge the gap between the community and the state government, I was able to help them buy a bus, I was also able to get them to have the Nsobom of Akwa Ibom Community in Kaduna officially crowned by the State Government. I also promoted the need for government to see us as the 32rd Local Government in Diaspora to an extend we succeed, because we got our members appointed into Boards, Chairman of a local government and so on and so forth. Thereafter they said I have been a successful fire talker for the community that I have to take up the number one slot. So that’s how I was elected the President of the Community. I stayed for two terms. The tenure ran two years each, I stayed for 4 years and just dramatically, a month to the end of my tenure, I was appointed Personal Assistant to the then governor, Obong Victor Attah and to head the Press department in the liaison office Abuja, I did that very successful by the grace of God and when there was a change of Barton and Godswill Akpabio was elected and sworn in as governor, he retained me. One interesting re-collection about my stay in the liaison office was that I had the opportunity to hold fort as liaison officer in two capacities before I was redeployed in 2008 back to Pioneer Newspaper and I thought for me it was going to be a break, a break after many years of staying outside and working to promote the interest of my newspaper, the interest of the community, the interest of the state, but that was not to be, I was soon called to show interest in the leadership of Pioneer Newspaper Chapel of the NUJ, I contested and won the election and bearly one year and four months I resigned to contest for the state chairmanship. The NUJ and God helped me also to win so for the last two years, I have been here as the state chairman of NUJ trying to interpret the dreams that our founding members and all our members have been having.
NEWSFRONT: What actually inspired you, what motivated you to contest for the chairmanship?
PATRICK ALBERT: Well for me considering the circumstance, I desired to be a journalist from the scratch and considering the tremendous success that I made out of journalism. Journalism gives me all that I have in life, so for me the interest shown by members to come and provide leadership was like a pay back time, this is the profession that has brought me into the public head light, this is the profession that has developed me intellectually that has make me to know Nigeria to know things about myself so for me, it was a payback time to also try as much as possible to interpret the dreams of our members and take to fruition their desires and the will of God.
NEWSFRONT: NUJ is a very large organization and here are you as a clergy, how do you combine your Unionism with elderism without conflict?
PATRICK ALBERT: Thank you very much, right from my childhood days, I have always doing my best as a servant of God, as a young child, I was an altar boy a server because we were in the Roman Catholic Church. I followed up my desire to serve God by attending seminary, Cardinal Ekanem Seminary. I was on the road to becoming a priest, my father said that is not my ultimate vocation but I will still serve God and truly when I took to journalism as a career, I was still doing my normal service and maintaining my relationship with God as an elder in Mount Zion Light House Full Gospel Church. When I was posted to Kaduna, I combined it effectively, I was the Secretary of Diocese and the presiding elder also of my assembly and the overall presiding elder in the Diocese of Kaduna and so it is the background that I even use to service what am doing because as a servant of God, you are in the better state to serve than ruling from human perspective. So there is no conflict at all infact, the advantage I enjoy is that I hold firm to my faith and to serve God effectively. You can see that immediate I came here, I decided to raise an altar for God though the establishment of NUJ choir and also the establishment for the first time, the NUJ chaplaincy. no state council of NUJ current have a chaplaincy, that shows that I know my calling, I know my vocation. I should introduce the union to God. I should also let the union know that nothing extra-ordinary can ever be achieved without God being directly involved. So there is no conflict that I have enjoyed that background to carry on and carry on well.
NEWSFRONT: You embarked on Renovation and changing some of the facilities at the Press Centre, How did you do it?
PATRICK ALBERT: If you have been privileged to see a copy of my manifesto, I had had the privilege to know exactly what my mission here will entail, so right from the first day I hit the ground and started running. It was both the short term and the long term. The short term was that in view of the improving status of the NUJ the renewal that my leadership was going to create, we needed a conducive atmosphere so that the visitors and members will see the difference between yesterday and today and so we started the renovation of the existing one story office complex which was already dilapidating, some areas wooden doors almost fallen off, we did’t have the types of facilities that we have so we say this place is not good enough for journalists so we started renovations, we provided ICT Center, viewing centre even changed the seats that we used to have which I came to meet, and also furnished the mini conference hall to give the type of siting arrangement that we need and also to accommodate the events so when we were atleast 80% done with the renovation of the existing building by that time we have sufficiently come on board to lunch out and do other long term projects. One was the fencing around of the expanse land to take full ownership and also to build a security gate house, mini club house supported by state-of-the-Art kitchen and then we lay the foundation and kick started for the international wing of the new NUJ which has three component projects; A-2-story office complex very massive with about 20 rooms apartment. It will have two mini conference rooms, it will have a capacity for 300 capacity ICT, it will also have a library and it will have offices for some levels of the key staff and then other apartment that will be rented out. It’s a multi-purpose building and by the time we are done with that, we have already kick started as you can see, we started on the 2nd of July and by the grace of God, ending of October or 2nd week of November, we would have been through with the roofing atleast other aspect of the finishing can be coming gradually, but we intend to have it roof ending October or before the middle of November, we will have it roofed and thereafter, we will now go into the 28 bedroom guest house because we believe that we should have, the land we have is enough for us to put all these projects in place, it was well conceived, we are not just putting project because we have land but are well conceived both for the interest of the members, interest of the public and we can generate revenue out of it also when we are through with the guest house, then we will venture into 1000 sitting capacity auditorium. That one will be very unique because the architectural design is very very appealing so when we are done with the three unit components, then we will now venture into other esthetics and the landscaping but we have started some aspect of the landscaping already, so that we can have a near resort center for journalists in Akwa Ibom State a plaze-like complex. So these are projects we believe will not only change the case of the union, but the case of members and also accept our relevant in the larger society.
NEWSFRONT: How did you come with the idea of these projects?
PATRICK ALBERT: Before the election, I came around to see the land and made enquires and I was informed that the land stretches to inside and I said, “why have you not utilized it or even fence? Well no answer very satisfying was given so in the course of praying about my leadership if God agrees, I was opened-up to the vision that I will win the election and that I am coming there for a purpose. If you go through my manifesto in what I title, “My mission my vision” with the rider “let get it right,” it was almost a detection, I was taken into a trance and showed exactly what is gradually coming to play so my coming here is divine because it cannot be human, the speed we are going, the accomplishment, the successes for a union that is not sub-vented that the members’ dues cannot be up to 2million naira in a year, it would have been totally impossible to have achieve what I’ve achieved here, so God has proven that He was the one that brought me here in a dream state and shown me what He was going to use me to do.
NEWSFRONT: How did you source for founds since you said the place is not sub-vented?
PATRICK ALBERT: Well it is a story, we depend on good will you can see immediately I came, I started articulating. NUJ is the face of the forth estate of the realm, so by what the society knows and by what it should be, we have been neglected, we have other estate, we have other estate that are well taken care of by the forth estate, because the structure of the society we have the executive, the legislature and the judiciary and we are the forth but we are detached from the revenue in servicing the three others arms, there is this moral cage build around the media and said no don’t associate yourself with money, don’t take money, but state funds are being used to service the executive arm, the legislature and the judiciary and yet the media we have very very essential job to do so as the face of the forth estate of the realm, we are changing the perception even within government cycle. Everything in the society answers to funding; we cannot fund ourselves and be expected to perform optimally from our own contributions at all. Other arms are not servicing themselves and performing their function base on their own personal contributions, so when I came in we started this articulation that we need to be recognized so that we can be more responsive to the needs of the society to an extend this has yielded the result that we are having from both members of the public and the government. Institutional support? Yes but not yet to the extent that we want. We were only able to get 75 laptops from Mobil, there are other oil operating firms that we believe we should draw support because any media that is not well funded or organized cannot be as responsive as expected so that is where we are and we believe with government looking in to see what they can do for us, with government looking in to see what to do for us, with government looking in to see how to help us achieve our aims and objectives, then surely we will be the desirable press that governnent and the people will be very satisfied.
NEWSFRONT: In view of these what are the challenges so far?
PATRICK ALBERT: Well, the challenges are both external and internal. Challenges of not being able to meet up with our desires particularly training and retraining for our members, equipping our members. So far we have only been able to have 175 laptops for our members and we have over 700 members. I came in with the policy that every journalist in the state should have a laptop and should have an Ipad so we started, it is an ongoing exercise
and also the issue of enhancing mobility for our members we were able to get five buses to give to some chapels, we still have more chapels who are yet to be given buses to enable them confer their members or during news break that they may want to mobilize and also the issue of insurance, getting our members insured due to the hazard involved. Within the government sector, there is the issue of 22.5 per cent weigh in allowance. So far, that is yet to be achieved in Akwa Ibom State but in other states altogether about 22 states have been implemented. Akwa Ibom is yet to but we believe that in no distance time, they will do it and taking arrears into consideration because the policy started some years ago, so when eventually they will do, we will ask for the arrears. Internally, these are the challenges and then the other thing is to get our members on track to really know that journalism is all about service to the society, it’s all about enlightening the value of the society and not bring down the value, we should have in the society as I said earlier, I talked of support we should have.
NEWSFRONT: As chairman of the NUJ, How would you describe the relationship between the media and the present leadership government?
PATRICK ALBERT: Cordial! Cordial!! We have a cordial relationship, we should have because I have said it that the media cannot be wished away, it’s not possible and so also the government cannot be wished away so with the responsibility that we have to ourselves and the society, we had to cooperate. Government needs the media more than the media need government. So for the present state administration headed by Deacon Udom Gabriel Emmanuel as governor, we have a very good relationship. He was part and parcel of the ground breaking ceremony here for the take off of Godswill Akpabio International Press Center as the Secretary to the state government, I’ve had the opportunity of hosting him in this office when he was the SSG and even the current SSG who was then the Chief of staff with the governor then, who is now a senator, so this relationship is there and we try as much as possible to improve it to see that we are responsive to the need of the society and the government. The challenge that we have about our relationship is that we have a section of the media that have completely refuse to see anything good in government and this is not good enough and I have said it that no matter the ownership influence, the media should try as much as possible to remain neutral in the political life of the society. Let our commentary be balance such that it will not injure the collective interest of the society, we should not amplify or create division between the political class but we should try as much as possible to cement and bring political leaders together. Election is over but unfortunately a section of the media has refuse to see that the elections over. It is an issue of concern because it comes up sometimes when we meet, and I said it is not good enough. Publications should have the same tone as per pre-election period. And It is not good enough for the society that want to develop.
NEWSFRONT: Sir, how do you relax?
PATRICK ALBERT: (laughs) To God be the glory. As I often said it is very very tasking. A friend, Barrister Essien Essien came here and he saw the number of people coming; files being brought for me to treat, the man asked after the last person went out and said, “are you working here on a full time basis”? In other for us to achieve what we want to achieve, NUJ has been in existence in Akwa Ibom State in the last 27years because this is our 28 years. For us to quickly come to terms to where we should be, we have to do this sacrifice, we have to put in all that we can put in to be able to bring the union at par with other institutions if not ahead of other institutions.
NEWSFRONT: As NUJ Chairman and as somebody who has been serving the public throughout your life, what has been your regret?
PATRICK ALBERT: I don’t have, I have sufficiently addressed myself to the issue of challenges to know that leadership has challenges; sometimes people are not appreciative of their services. They will only come to appreciate after you must have left. I don’t have regret instead I face what would have amounted to regret or challenges to keep moving forward. I enjoy my work because it borders on conscience. So far I’ve not done anything that my conscience has pricked me which is the most important thing, I put everything on the table always and always, and I try to ensure that I do the will of God so no regret. I still move on as happy has ever, I have enjoyed the grace of God that I have never slept in the hospital, I’ve never gone for checkup and I will never go. Once I sleep, Holy spirit will attain to me and I will wakeup stronger.
NEWSFRONT: What is your relationship with your Exco Members?
PATRICK ALBERT: Ok! Very very sound relationship, you know between a man of vision and followers. Vision is not like the supermarket where you can go across the counter and pick. These are visions that you are only been permitted to see, sometimes it is difficult to explain to ordinary eyes or persons who are not spiritually elevated, but I want to say this which is of course is true, no leadership of NUJ has enjoyed the grace that we have enjoyed and this has rob not just on the members of the Excos but on the majority of members. No leadership of NUJ in the state has ever enjoyed the grace that we have enjoyed and this has rob not only on the members of the state working committee but also on the majority of members let me not say all.
Why do I say this? If you look around the faces of journalists today, even the cloths they wear, you will see a mark of different as to what it was in time past. Today we pick bills of members of Exco bothering on rent, school fees. We do same for some members, we attain events of members and we provide welfare buses from the union that is not sub-vented, the union that does not draw any statutory allocation these are the grace that we all talking about. But you know that in human environment, the more things come seemingly free, the more they want, so for some members not just Exco members, this is the period of manner so they want more. I pray that God will give us more manners so that we can give to as many members as possible including Excos.
NEWSFRONT: On a final note Sir, what is your advice to members of the union and of course, the government in relation to NUJ?
PATRICK ALBERT: well for our members I say keep the ethics of the profession in vew in all that you write, practice the profession as a profession, have the fear of God, know that to any man where ever he finds himself is the will of God and for the government equip us, strengthen us and we will serve you better not just to the government but to the society they should understand with us we are the watchdog of the society yes, sometimes our reports may not be as suiting as should be expected, we should be objective enough to say this is wrong this is right, I have canvas this position, let every criticism be provided an alternative opinion so if we provide alternative opinion, it should be taken in good faith.
NEWSFRONT: Thank you very much, Sir
PATRICK ALBERT: Thank you too.