The founding of the Nigeria Union of Journalists-NUJ, on the 15th of March, 1955 in Lagos, was linked to the struggle for the independence of Nigeria. The struggle, it would be recalled gave birth to many protest groups, all yearning for the country's independence from the British. The groups came in various shades. Some were political in nature, like the Nigerian Youth Movement, a platform for the nationalists, while others were trade unions and professional groups. Many of the journalists then had little education and with the ideas brought by their more enlightened colleagues, they began to agitate for better pay packages from publishers. As these young and enthusiastic journalists started to compare notes among themselves, their desire for better conditions of service became more pronounced. It however, did not occur to them that they could pursue the goal through a common point. One factor that must be noted about the birth of the union was that the late Chief Olu Oyesanya who spearheaded its formation was then an Information Officer in the Department of Information under the colonial Government. At the then second meeting of the NUJ, officers were elected after the constitution had been ratified.
The two principal officers that emerged were the late Mobolaji Odunewu, the first Nigerian Chief Information Officer as the President and late Chief Olu Oyesanya as the Secretary. Perhaps, it is only pertinent to reflect that though the first president of the union as well as its first secretary and other subsequent important officials were Information Officers, today, their presence in the union is generating a lot of controversy. Other members of the 6-man inaugural executive included the late Ebu Adesiye who was the Treasurer while there were three ex-officio members—Mr. Increase Cooker, Chief Bisi Onabanjo and H. K. Offonry. From the very beginning, the NUJ was a trade union body. This was reflected in the laws governing the body and the union was also registered under the then Labour Laws Cap 2000. But despite the fact that it was a trade union constitution that was made, it lacked the details that could make it function effectively as a trade union. The operators too lacked the wherewithal as a trade union. This was one of the observations of the Abiodun Panel in the Restructuring of Trade Unions, which led to the demand that full time staff of all trade unions must have some trade union experience and also be imbued with the knowledge of the industry in which they operate
The NUJ would have missed the opportunity but for the efforts of some journalists in Lagos and the old Western Region who used the pages of their newspapers to draw attention to the NUJ. It was through their efforts that the NUJ and other unions which had been deregistered before the exercise were included and got carried along in the Abiodun programme. This effort was misunderstood by some members of the union particularly those in the northern part of the country who were under the leadership of Alhaji Sidi Ali Sirajo. This led to the New Nigerian Newspaper publishing some materials critical of the Abiodun Panel. All the same, the panel called two meetings of the merging unions between October and November 1977. The first meeting was to discuss and carry out necessary amendment to the institutional draft given to each would-be industrial union. This was the golden opportunity that was used to introduce some ideas, which, today, make the NUJ an effective union and at the same time a professional body. The NUJ, after the restructuring became more effective as government required that all industrial unions must appoint a full time National Secretary who must not only have the knowledge of the Industry where he is to operate but must also have a good grasp of trade union practices.
Another meeting of the union took place in Benin in November 1977. This was when the first set of officers as an industrial union were elected. Before the new dispensation, the growth of the union from its first council in Lagos had been made easy by the high mobility of journalists with those initially involved in the activities of the union in Lagos moving either on transfer or on operation to other states. When the union was launched in 1955, Lagos accounted for 85 per cent of journalists operating in the country then. The proximity of Ibadan to Lagos as well as the existence of many media outfits such as the Nigerian Tribune Group, the Nigerian Broadcasting Service, the Western Region Television Service, coupled with the existence of formidable representation of other newspapers based in Lagos all worked together to make the launching of the Ibadan Council possible within the same year. The third council was that of Enugu for the then Eastern Region which was facilitated through the efforts of Chief Kens-H. Offonry, an ex-officio member of the first executive. It took much longer to launch the fourth branch in Kaduna. This was due to the lifestyle of the people in the region as well as the religious situation in that part of the country. Readership of newspapers in the region was also low hence not many journalists were there, since the southern papers did not all maintain offices in Kaduna. The fourth council was eventually launched there in 1958 through the efforts of newspaper correspondents who had one way or the other participated in the union in Lagos. Benin Council came next in 1963.
The expansion of the union from then became rapid as more states were created. There was awareness among members so much that where ever they found themselves, they will quickly organize themselves to form a council of the union. By 1966, there were 12 state councils. The union now operates 37 state councils, each headed by a Chairman , Secretary and other officials, six zones, each headed by a Vice President and Zonal Secretary 740 chapels(in house unions in media organisations) and has affiliate bodies like Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Nigerian Guild of Editors and the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN). The National Secretariat of the union is located in Abuja. Before the 1977 amendments and the appointment of fulltime national secretary, the union operated a mobile secretariat whereby the secretariat was located where the Secretary resided.