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The Imo State Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) has come of age, being one of the oldest state councils in the over 50 years of existence of the union in Nigeria.

It is on record that the Abia State Council and by extension, the Ebonyi State Council were carved out of the Imo State Council, as a result of creation of states by the military regimes of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and late General Sanni Abacha, respectively.

With a Secretariat (Press Centre) located along Port Harcourt Road in Owerri, the state capital, which was donated to the union by the then Military Governor of Old Imo State, late Commodore Amadi Ikwechegh, the NUJ in the state has strived for years to ensure that it meets up with its constitutional responsibility as watch-dog of the society.

Known for their staunch campaign that change of leadership in any given society must be through the ballot boxes and not through the 'barrels of the gun', members of the NUJ in Imo State, just like their colleagues in other states in Nigeria try to choose their leaders through the process of a ballot box, which encourages democracy.

Few day from now, it will be exactly one year since journalists in the state converged at the Press Centre, Owerri Triennial delegates' conference. In line with the constitution of NUJ, the conference, which comes up every three years affords practicing journalists the opportunity to choose new leaders that will stir the ship of the union another three years.

At the end of the exercise, which was precisely on Wednesday, December 17, 2008, the State Correspondent of News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Chief Fidel Onyeneke, who had been on the saddle for the past three years was re-elected as State Chairman f the union.

Onyeneke's 'second missionary journey' to the Press Centre, Owerri was made possible by the disqualification of two other chairmanship aspirants, Lambert Ojukwu and Christian Nwokocha, by the Credentials Committee, thus making him to be returned unopposed.

Ojukwu, a Senior Editor with Nigerian Newspoint Newspaper, an Owerri-based bi-weekly, it was heard was disqualified because as at the time of the election, he was yet to reach the mandatory five years in journalism practice, which the NUJ Constitution said a journalist must attain before seeking for any elective position in the union.

On his part, Nwokocha, who is the Imo State Correspondent of Business Day Newspaper, was disqualified from contesting in the election because, according to the Credentials Committee, he had no evidence that he was in the full employment of Business Day.

Irked by the decision of the Committee to disqualify them, the duo headed to an Owerii High Court, seeking an injunction to stop NUJ from going further with the election. In a quick response, the union met and suspended both Ojukwu and Nwokocha.

It is no longer a secret that the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) is yet to come out with its findings on a petition brought before the commission by Ojukwu and Nwokocha accusing Onyeneke embezzled funds meant for the 2008 Press Week.

Close to one year after the election that brought the Onyeneke-led executive committee was held, those who felt aggrieved at the outcome have refused to sheath their swords in the interest of NUJ in the state.

The election has come and gone. Now is time for all members of the Imo State Council to close ranks and forget about the past. There is need for all to join hands with Onyeneke to build a new and stronger NUJ in the state, which all of us, including Imo indigenes who are practicing outside the state to be proud of.

Onyeneke, on his part should borrow a leaf from Chairman of the Rivers State Council of the union, Opaka Dokubo, who has opened the door to accommodate all , including those who swore that he will never be the Chairman. He should make moves to ensure that Ojukwu and Nwokocha, who were suspended by the congress, should be pardoned and brought back to the fold.

The time to move Imo State Council of NUJ is now and all lovers of peace, unity and development expect Onyeneke, Ojukwu and Nwokocha to lead the way, so that their supporters can follow.

Yes, we can do it.

Onukwugha is a Port Harcourt-based journalist.

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