Saving SWAN from an Overbearing Big Brother

OPINION

By Barrister Steve Alabi

Again, like it happened 29 years ago, history beckons on Sports Writers to defend their turf with every fibre of their being. 29 years ago, the battle was to save our Association, the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, SWAN, from self destruction. Today, it is to save it from being poisoned to death by an overbearing big brother. The irony of it all is that it was the association that chose on its own to make the brother its big brother so that the sanctity of the pen profession could be protected, not knowing that a time of arrogant impunity would come.

One of the challenges that faced sports writing three decades ago was the invasion of the turf by non-journalists. In fact, there was credible information that the man elected as the national leader in 1988 at Ilorin was not a journalist but a broadcaster. For the benefit of readers who may not know, a broadcaster is not a journalist if he does not earn his living as a journalist in the broadcast medium where he works. There remains a distinct difference between the two despite the similarities. In addition to pretenders, there were other self-destruct issues like factions and fights which threatened the very existence of the Association.

The lot fell on my humble self and fellow stakeholders from the then 19 states of the federation in 1990 to take up the gauntlet to wrestle these issues to the ground and save the association from dying. At the risk of being accused of immodesty or self glorification, it is on record, and it was so acknowledged in 2004 at an elaborate ceremony in Umuahia, that we provided the required leadership that effectively resolved the divisive issues and restored the association to high respectability.

It was under my leadership that we decided to affiliate SWAN with the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, by amending the constitution to make it mandatory for full members of the Association to be registered members of NUJ. Others so interested could only come in as associate members with limited rights. The whole idea was to ensure that those who were not fully in journalism but merely engaged as stringers, freelancers, Sports Councils’ PROs, occasional writers, coaches or organizers did not continue to populate the pen profession. Not once did we think at that historic Constitution Review Conference held at Larex Hotel, Lagos that the revolutionary step of sanitizing the profession would one day be used by NUJ to attempt to hammer SWAN into oblivion.

29 years after, sportswriters have had to divorce our Association from NUJ. We are practically forced to bring the affiliation with NUJ to a decisive end on account of the intolerable behaviour of the NUJ leadership which inexplicably overreached itself in arrogant deployment of powers it does not possess. When a goat is pushed to the wall, the natural reaction is to turn and fight. Anyone with some measure of experience in leadership and public life in Nigeria knows that it is not unusual to have frictions and tensions whenever elections are to hold in any Association. Where such occur, the duty of a superintendent, if ever NUJ enjoyed that honour over SWAN, is to mediate, not to descend into the arena lest it becomes an impartial overseer.

That one or two aspirants felt unduly sidelined is not enough to go as far as suspending an election that had been in the works for at least a year and threatening SWAN states’ chairmen and secretaries who attended the election with suspension from the union. That is impunity. Directing the Rivers State Council of the union not to allow SWAN access to the Press Centre showed clearly the abject lack of tact ordinarily expected of such leadership as that of a professional body as NUJ. To surreptitiously back a parallel conference in Abuja is the height of impartiality.

If it had the power to use a sledgehammer, it would still be questionable to deploy it as the NUJ leadership tactlessly did. The sensible option would be to call the feuding parties, if any, to a roundtable parley. But first and foremost, the aggrieved party must exhaust internal mechanism for dispute resolution as enshrined in the Association’s Statutes. In the event that the election went ahead, the aggrieved party could approach the court for redress, either before or after. NUJ is not an appeal court over SWAN. Both have separate rules governing them.

It is clear from the history of the two bodies that NUJ did not birth SWAN. The Association was formed on February 1, 1964 by Sport Writers themselves to “create a corporate body to be known as the ‘Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN)’ charged with coordinating the activities of the Nigerian media in the promotion of sports and their socio-cultural values.” It is unlike the National Association of Women Journalists, NAWOJ, which was created by NUJ about 25 years ago.

It is quite instructive that 32 out of 37 chapters of the Association turned up at the 2019 Triennial Delegates Conference in Port Harcourt despite the intimidating threats from the NUJ leadership, perhaps the largest congregation of Nigerian sportswriters ever. It confirms the unity and commitment of the entire membership throughout the country. It also says so much about the firm and focused leadership of Honour Sirawoo who was resoundingly re-elected unopposed as National President for a second and final term.

We are satisfied that his shoulders are broad enough to continue to carry the weight of the Association. We trust his strength, wisdom and resilience to withstand the needless overbearing attitude of a territory grabber. If he fails in his duties to the Association, it is SWAN, and not NUJ, that will deal with him. There are enough rules in the Association’s Statutes to rein in bad leadership. We respect NUJ; after all, it is the professional union of all journalists. We however detest and resist the arrogant descent into impunity by a self-seeking leadership.

Barrister Steve Alabi, a former President of SWAN writes from Akure, Ondo State.

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