Last week, a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, committed what some people in power considered blasphemy. He granted a radio station live interview and said a certain northern governor was the commander of the terrorist group, Boko Haram. Describing the allegation as weighty, the Northern Governors’ Forum called for thorough investigation. Some other concerned citizens said Mailafia should name the governor. The Department of State Services (DSS) quickly invited him and interrogated him for hours.
On its part, a furious National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) decided to test its recently revised National Broadcasting Code (No. 6). The code had reviewed the fine for infraction by broadcast stations from N500,000 to N5 million. It partly provides that no programme should contain anything that amounts to subversion of constituted authority or compromises the unity or corporate existence of Nigeria as a sovereign state.
It was on this premise that the NBC slammed a N5 million fine on a Lagos-based radio station, Nigeria Info 99.3FM, for using its platform to promote what it described as unverifiable and inciting views that could incite public disorder. It warned that it would not hesitate to suspend the licence of other broadcast stations, which are quick to provide a platform for subversive rhetoric and the expositions of spurious and unverifiable claims.
No doubt, parts of the provisions of this code are prone to different interpretations and abuse. It is most likely that once a station broadcasts what the authorities consider inciting, it will be convicted and sanctioned in the court of the NBC, which happens to be the accuser, the prosecutor, the witness and the judge at the same time.
The contentious Nigeria Info radio programme, “Morning Cross Fire”, was broadcast live. Perhaps, the NBC expected the radio station to have some extraordinary powers to be able to determine what was in the mind of its guest. Otherwise, how would the station know that Obadiah would accuse a governor of being behind Boko Haram? And how does the statement incite the public? Rather than analyse and investigate the allegation thoroughly, the government agency resorted to bullying the messenger without giving it an opportunity to defend itself.
Obviously, this is against the grain of natural justice. As the Nigerian Guild of Editors noted, the action of the NBC was “preposterous, vexatious, and grossly undemocratic because the instrument that gives any tincture of legal credence to such a fine, to wit – the Nigeria Broadcasting Code – is illegal and illegitimate, having failed to go through the recommended and mandatory due process for its review.” The guild called on the NBC to rescind the decision with immediate effect.
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has been trying to push for laws that will punish offenders of what he considers hate speech. Allegedly, without consulting the board of the NBC, he unveiled the revised NBC Code earlier in the month, saying the amendments were necessitated by presidential directives. But the chairman of the NBC board, Ikra Aliyu Bilbis, deplored the minister’s action, saying the relevant stakeholders were not part of the review process. He accused Lai Mohammed of acting alone in the purported amendment of the sixth edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.
“The NBC was set up by law and there is an act that guides its operations. The honourable minister, therefore, cannot usurp the powers of the board as clearly stated in the act. Any such action by the honourable minister is illegal,” Bilbis affirmed.
The arbitrary imposition of fine or shutting down of broadcast stations did not start today. In 2013, the NBC suspended some programmes on Radio Gotel, Yola, belonging to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, and Adamawa Broadcasting Corporation, Yola. Like Nigeria Info, the stations were accused of frequent violation of some sections of the NBC Code. Before the suspension, the commission had imposed a fine of N1 million on Adamawa Broadcasting Corporation.
Last year, the NBC hammer fell on DAAR Communications Plc, owners of Africa Independent Television (AIT) and its sister radio station, Raypower. The NBC alleged that AIT and Raypower gave room for hate speech, divisive and inciting comments in discussion of national issues in breach of the provisions of the NBC Act and Broadcast Code. Some of the alleged inciting statements included: “Nigeria is cursed,” “Nigeria irritates me,” “this country is gradually Islamizing” and so on. Hence, it suspended the operations of the stations. The management of DAAR Communications had accused the NBC of imposing several fines on AIT and Raypower for their political commentaries. Joy FM in Jos and Ekiti Radio/TV had faced similar sanctions for allegedly violating the broadcast code.
Our major problem in Nigeria is that we always leave substance to pursue shadows. The country is currently faced with a myriad of challenges, ranging from insecurity, corruption, poverty and ethno-religious divisions. Closing down media houses and clamping journalists into detention will not solve these problems.
This government should endeavour to refrain from any act that gives it away as being intolerant of opposition. Certain provisions of the cybercrime law, for instance, have given some public officers the excuse to infringe on people’s fundamental rights. In recent times, many journalists and bloggers have fallen victim. Stephen Kefas, Agba Jalingo, and Omoyele Sowore are typical examples.
Gagging the press or trying to muzzle freedom of expression under any guise is against the ideals of democracy. It is against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and sections 22 and 39 of the Constitution of Nigeria, which upholds the right of every Nigerian to receive and impact ideas and information without interference. It is also against Article 19 (1&2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects people’s right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds through any media. Nigeria is a state party to these international human rights treaties.
It is important to note that whoever is averse to public criticism is not worthy to hold any public office. As the saying goes, only the guilty are afraid. If anyone feels injured by any comment, there are laws that take care of such infringement. Resorting to jackboot tactics will only amount to shadow-chasing and will do our nascent democracy no good. Any code or law that violates the rights to freedom of expression and media freedom needs to be amended or repealed outright.
Re: Daura, go and sin no more
Mallam Mammam Daura’s newfound direction and reliance on ‘competence’ as a yardstick for the 2023 presidential race is a huge fraud. He, like other unrepentant Northern oligarchs, appears to be frustrated by the enduring process of zoning which has so far produced Obasanjo, Yar’Adua/Jonathan and Buhari. A look through the political veil of Daura reveals that the yardstick he actually intends for 2023 presidential seat is not competence but the North’s age-long reliance on its purported numerical strength, which even if it throws up a ‘cow’, may still beat the best candidate from elsewhere. Daura does not wear the face of a new and progressive Nigeria. After a scandalous fifty-year period of non-assumption of Nigeria’s presidential seat, the South East region must not now speak with a cacophony of voices: they should queue behind its best while also reaching out to other regions to actualise their 2023 presidential ambition. Zik made unquantifiable sacrifices for Nigeria’s sake. Ekwueme was sacrificed for Obasanjo. Justice and fair play demand that we should queue behind the South East for our corporate existence and united Nigeria
– Edet Essien Esq. Cal. South +2348037952470
Mallam Mamman Daura, just like most Northern elites, have realized that competence should be prerequisite for effective nationhood. They have observed that in spite of the hold on to power for decades the North still remains worst developed. They have come to their senses that despite federal character, quota system etc intended to suffocate progress in the South East, progress has been very remarkable in different ways. The competence theory came up out of frustration in numerous permutations of the North.
– Pharm Okwuchukwu Njike, +234 803 885 4922
Dear Casmir, Yakubu Gowon pronounced “No Victor No Vanquished” at the end of the civil war but what the Igbo experience today is an indication that capitulation was planned. Harold Laswel simply defined democracy as equal sharing. This has said all.
_– Cletus Frenchman, Enugu, +234 909 538 5215
Dear Casy, Daura can’t go and sin no more. He is among the Fulani leaders that hold this country at her jugular. The only thing Daura and his ilk in Fulani Nigeria today want is to Fulanise, Islamise, conquer, rule us at all cost. They used Gowon after independence to conquer Igbo which failed. Now under Buhari’s watch they have started again. Let’s remind Daura and his Miyeti Allah hot heads that the Igbo had been existing and occupying their ancestral homes before Fulani invasion and Islamisation of northern Nigeria from 1790 to 1840s.
– Eze Chima C. Lagos, +2347036225495
Casmir, Daura’s statement on the criteria to deploy in deciding where the pendulum of power should swing in 2023, is that of someone who is from a region that is afraid of losing power. This is a fairly normal expression, but should be disregarded, as power would of a certainty come south. But, be that as it may, Igbo have boxed themselves into a corner due to their politics of hatred, bitterness and anger against the person of PMB. They acted against wise counselling due to lack of foresight. Ideally, it is the time of Igbo in 2023, but, due to their bad politics, it won’t be their turn, because PDP has an unfinished business of completing the term(s) of North-West which they lost through Yar’ Adua’s death. Atiku tried to and would still try to usurp North-West in 2023. Igbo have put South-West in a vantage position and this is Tinubu’s last chance since he is 68 now; he would be 71 in 2023 which would make him a desperado. Had Igbo played the right politics, both APC and PDP would have had to present Igbo as their candidates.
– Mike, Mushin, +2348161114572
Ndigbo should produce the next president come 2023 because it is long overdue. The cheating is enough. All the political parties should zone their presidential tickets to southeast region for equity.
– Gordon Chika Nnorom, Umukabia,+2348062887535