By Chinelo Obogo, Sunday Ani, Chukwudi Nweje and Doris Obinna
Nigerians have told the National Assembly to throw out the controversial Nigerian Press Council (NPC) and the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Acts amendment in its entirety.
This followed the disclosure by its sponsor, Olusegun Odebunmi, yesterday, that legislative process on it has been suspended.
The federal lawmaker from Oyo State, said on a live television programme, that he initiated the suspension to allow for consultation with stakeholders in the industry.
“We have suspended the process for more consultation to happen on it. They demanded for a lot of time and I said ‘no problem, we have given you; even if you spend three, four to five weeks’. So far, more consultations from critical stakeholders, and many people have been submitting their memoranda to the National Assembly even within the industry.”
Odebunmi said his intention is not to gag the press, saying he recognises the lapses in the practice of journalism in Nigeria, and that the amendments are aimed at fixing those problems.
“My intention is not to gag the press, and unless all the practitioners can say all is well with the industry, to the best of my knowledge I know all is not well, and I know the National Assembly has the power to look into the existing Act. All is not well with the NPC agency, it is an agency of government, and you’re expecting something to be given back to the society, but until now nothing has been coming from the agency.”
Reacting, National President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Chris Isiguzo, told Daily Sun that the body was not interested in the suspension but its outright cancellation.
“We do not support a suspension. What we want as a body is for the bill to be completely thrown away, and if a new bill is to be made, all the relevant stakeholders must be carried along from inception.”
Former national chairman of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Chekwas Okorie also called for the abolition of the bills.
“It should be dropped completely because whatever was the intention for proposing the bill is definitely in very bad taste and has been rejected not just by the media practitioners, but Nigerians. The National Assembly should withdraw it completely without waiting for it to be rejected.”
National President, Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Mustapha Isa, said the National Assembly, in the first instance, has no right to amend a bill being challenged in the Supreme Court and insisted that suspension is not enough.
“What we want is outright dropping of the bill, not suspension. If they want to do another one, let them start by first having a meeting with stakeholders, so that we would collectively decide on what should be in the bill. You don’t first put such a bill together before you start discussing with stakeholders. If you mean, before you put a bill together, ensure that you meet with us and not after.”
Also reacting, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said the bill is anti-people and should be dropped completely.
Speaking to Daily Sun, spokesperson of the party, Kola Ologbodiyan, said it did not come as a surprise that the Senate suspended further deliberations on the bill.
“It portends danger for our collective freedom of speech and our constitutionally guaranteed access to information. It is very relieving that the Senate has suspended further deliberations on the satanic Bill, but we want it to be dropped permanently.”
President of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Yerima Shettima, commended the legislators for the suspension but demanded it should be thrown away because it is evil.
“We should be making progress and doing the things that other developed nations are doing. We cannot go back to the analogue era when the world is going digital. We are in a global community. So, I commend them because they did well.”
Former governor of Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, praised the Senate for suspending the bill but said they should move a step further to drop it completely.
“We are suffering from all kinds of problems so much that to silence us or beat us and not allow us to cry is worsening our situation. So, the suspension is a good thing, but they should think of dropping it entirely.”
National Publicity Secretary of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Alex Ogbonna, said the suspension is to enable them gather more public opinion about the bill to know the next line of action. “So, what they did is in order. I commend them for that.”
Publicity Secretary,Middle Belt Forum, Dogo Isuwa, said instead of rejoicing over the suspension, the media should first identify those areas in the Bill that are not making sense and enlighten Nigerians on the negative effects of those clauses, otherwise the National Assembly could still reintroduce the bill and pass into law in future.
National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Jare Ajayi, welcomed the suspension.
“Though the Senate said the bill is intended to regulate the media, the real intention is to gag the media. Afenifere believes in the freedom of expression, especially in a way that reflects the right of people to express their mind, but not in a scandalous or libelous manner. The bill should not have come up in the first place because there are various bodies that regulate the media.”
Former chairman, Lagos NUJ chairman, Dr. Quasim Akinreti, said the voice of reason has prevailed with the suspension.
“The initiator of that Bill jumped the gun without consulting stakeholders. For me, what the government is doing is not in the interest of the people.”