A Federal High Court in Abuja yesterday ordered the reopening of the Africa Independent Television (AIT) and Ray Power radio. The broadcasters, owned by Daar Communications Plc, were on Thursday suspended indefinitely by the National Broadcasting Commission.
The regulator accused the outlets of violating the national broadcasting code. Amongst other allegations, the NBC accused both channels of broadcasting “inciting” messages, especially from the social media. The suspension has been met with condemnations, with activists accusing the NBC of attempting to clamp down on free press.
In a ruling on Friday, the judge, Inyang Ekwo, said both parties should maintain status quo as of May 30 when the case by Daar Communication was filed. “I have noted the eight grounds upon which the exparte application was hinged upon, application of this nature must be considered judicially and judiciously. That, I have done,” Mrs Ekwo said.
“I hereby order that parties shall maintain status quo ante bellum as at May 30, 2019 pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed in this case.”
Daar Communication, represented by its founder, Raymond Dokpesi, had in a exparte motion prayed the court to order the maintenance of status quo ante bellum as at May 30.
The firm also prayed the court to “restrain the defendants from blocking and/or interfering with the air waves of Daar Communication Plc in any way and manner howsoever, in its broadcast and airing of news, views, documentaries, or any other legitimate broadcast material that is usually associated with television, radio or social media broadcast pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed along with the exparte application.”
They also prayed the court to restrain the defendants from invading or closing down the premises of Daar Communication, its operations or broadcast services, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed along with this application. Defendants in the case are the Federal Ministry of Information and the Attorney General of the Federation.
More condemnations continue to trail the indefinite suspension of the licences of the African Independent Television (AIT), and Ray Power, which belonged to Daar Communications Limited.
Adding its voice is the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), which condemned in very strong terms the action of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). In a statement signed by its President, Funke Egbemode and Secretary, Mary Atolagbe, the Guild demanded in clear terms the revocation of the suspension order as it runs contrary to the ideals of free speech and the fine tenets of press freedom, emphasising, “this is a case of executive highhandedness and it paints our dear country in the darkest tar of dictatorship.
It added: “The Fourth Estate of the Realm remains the watchdog of society and any attempt to gag it in any guise is an affront on democracy and the people. The NBC must and should rescind this ignoble and despicable decision. The Guild strongly believes the NBC action is a draconian form of regulation, being out of tune with democratic principles.”
It noted that, “the Guild is concerned about the violation of the constitutional rights of DAAR Communications and absence of media freedom, independence and the stifling of operations of media outfits, which are performing their roles as the watchdog of the Nigerian society.
“The NGE condemns in strong terms the barbaric crackdown on the broadcast outfit and demands immediate cessation of this atrocious repression and excessive show of power by the NBC, whose duty is to regulate and not kill the media.
“Muzzling the media and throwing thousands of Nigerians into the already saturated labour market should not be the trophy for good corporate governance of a regulator; it is something to be ashamed of and NBC should be ashamed at its action in a fledgling democracy in the 21st Century.
“The Guild is strongly of the opinion that the NBC, in exercising its regulatory powers, should concentrate on implementing policies that will position Nigeria’s broadcasting to compete in the global spheres, rather than engage in witch-hunting and unnecessary show of excessive force.
“The Guild hereby expresses its solidarity with the AIT/Raypower family, urging the staff and management to remain calm as the Guild liaises with well meaning Nigerians and other media professionals to get justice,” the Guild stated.
It appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to use his good offices to call NBC to order. It added that NBC had, before the 2019 general election, shut down Joy FM in Jos for violations of the broadcasting code. Last year, the NBC shut down Ekiti Radio/TV station.
“Shutting down stations and withdrawing licences are too extreme in the circumstance,” it said. “There must be humane and saner ways to resolve disputes bordering on violation of the broadcasting code.”
In a related development, the PDP governors has condemned the closure of DAAR Communications Limited, owners of AIT and RayPower by the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission. The governors described the suspension of the license of the AIT and Raypower FM, as an act of repression against the media, which they insisted was a threat to the growth of democracy.
The governors enjoined the Federal Government and its agencies to ensure application of due process to deal with allegations if any, rather that the recourse to authoritarianism.
Human Rights advocate, Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to lift the ban and clampdown on DAAR Communications; return its suspended licence and allow it to operate freely like other pro-government media houses.
He described the clampdown on the Nigerian media through the shutting down of the AIT/Ray Power stations by the NBC as extreme, unconscionable and brutish. “It is highly condemnable and shows the jerky reaction of a government that has become increasingly reactionary and intolerant of opposing views, dissenting opinions and plurality of voices,” he said.
President of the Eighth Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, has called on the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), to immediately obey the court order granted by the Federal High Court in Abuja, which called for the maintenance of status quo as of May 31, 2019, pending the determination of a motion filed by DAAR Communications PLC, owners of Raypower Radio and African Independent Television (AIT).
Saraki, in a statement signed by Yusuph Olaniyonu, his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, stated that all such actions that could cast aspersions on Nigeria’s commitment to the freedom of the press must be avoided.
“Yesterday, the management and the workers of AIT and DAAR Communications came to the National Assembly to air out their concerns over the purported moves to clamp down on their stations.”
As yesterday was the Valedictory session of the 8th Senate, we could not take action on the matter immediately and to our surprise, the premises of the broadcast station were immediately closed by the NBC. Regulators though necessary, must know that all such actions that give the impression of the endangering of the freedom of the press or freedom of speech cast our nation in a bad light. Such issues need to be handled in a better manner. Moving forward, the NBC needs to comply with the Court Order. Additionally, we must understand that this is not only about AIT, this is about Nigeria and one of its stations that is not only viewed within the country, but outside the country as well. The NBC should look at a better way to resolve the issue, even after adhering to the ruling of the court. We must be seen to be a nation that adheres strictly to the rule of law,” Saraki stated.
The constitutional lawyer said that the government wrongly believes that every Nigerian must sleep facing the same side and from the same angle. “That is never possible, nor even desirable in a constitutional democracy such as we operate, which admits of Dolly Parton’s “Coat of many Colours,”
He insists that the NBC’s Code and Guidelines are regulatory rules of engagement with media houses that are themselves subject to the clear provisions of the 1999 Constitution. “Section 22 thereof provides that the press, radio television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in Chapter 2 of the constitution and to “uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.
“Section 39 of the same Nigerian Constitution goes further to guarantee the right to freedom of expression and of the Press and the right of every person to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions.”
Ozekhome said that it was these basic fundamental and inalienable rights of Nigerians that the NBC through its mere Code and Guidelines seeks to take away from the Nigerian people and from the DAAR Communications group that operates AIT/Ray Power by shutting them down.
To that extent, he said, the decision to close down the television and radio stations tantamount to a panicky and extreme measure, the type usually resorted to by dictators or absolutists.