Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

The Right To Be Informed; Nigerians Should Not Be Denied, By Andrew A. Erakhrumen

“…..If I had to choose between a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter…..”

We start this intervention by joining those celebrating the life of Raymond Anthony Aleogho Dokpesi (1951–2023) who joined his ancestors on the 29th of May, 2023. This was really a sad occurrence! The late entrepreneur founded Nigeria’s first private Frequency Modulation (FM) radio station – RayPower FM – that officially went on air, in Lagos, on the 1st of September, 1994. He later, officially, established DAAR Communications plc on the 31st of August, 1998. May the soul of the departed continue to rest in perfect peace! We sincerely wish the family and friends of this late media magnate the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss. From the previous comments on the death of Dokpesi (who assisted in liberalising radio and television broadcasting space in Nigeria) we move to a recent court judgement concerning broadcasting media. On the 10th of May, 2023, a Federal High Court in Abuja gave an order of perpetual injunction restraining the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) from imposing fines henceforth on broadcast stations in the country. According to ThisDay newspaper, Justice James Omotosho held that the NBC, not being a court of law, had no power to impose sanctions as punishment on broadcast stations. Omotosho also held that the NBC code, which gives the commission the power to impose sanction, is in conflict with Section 6 of the [Nigeria’s 1999] Constitution that vested judicial power in the court of law.

This judgement is, understandably, applaudable from the perspective of those in the broadcasting industry. The euphoria is explicable; as a free press has roles in ensuring the sustenance of democracy and keeping government power in check. Unfortunately, what we have been experiencing in Nigeria – under a veiled autocracy misnamed democracy – since 1999 (keeping the preceding similarly-notorious military era out of our discussion) is that ‘democratically-elected’ (or selected?) governments have been gravely intolerant of criticisms from those who rightfully disagree with them. Instead of engaging the citizens, they are comfortable with autocracy; quick at using the instrumentality of the state to muzzle dissenting voices. Like the military era, they easily clamp down on print and electronic media outfits; there was recourse to atavism by governments in this regard, recently, under ‘civilians’ in a good number of states and at the federal level. This is why we are maintaining, like in the past, that disguised autocracy is still masquerading in Nigeria as a democracy in a society deliberately enmeshed in undemocratic tenets. There is still a lot of insincerity, deception and unseriousness in the Nigerian polity concerning adoption, adaptation and operationality of the ‘borrowed’ western democratic concepts! These may not only be about reigning governments but also the longstanding evil establishments that bring them forth! In these establishments are the enabling followers that are quick at ‘groaning’ after ‘installing’ these governments!

We agree that no political system is perfect, anywhere. This is mainly because these systems are human institutions prone to human imperfections, idiosyncrasies and manipulations. Human beings are known to exploit situations to their benefit. Nevertheless, some human groups have been able to establish systems that support creative destruction in the processes of bringing up some of their best as leaders; so, why is Nigeria still being run by unreliable characters that do not communicate with the citizens? Yes, many of these citizens can be ignoramuses! Thus, to their leaders (who are lords) common people are serfs! In fact, these lawbreakers see themselves as laws that must be obeyed! They utilise traditional and social media during electioneering campaigns but once they get to power and are criticised, they transmute into enemies of media platforms! Fake democrats! Dictators! They merely listen to themselves and love praise singers’ sycophantic “Your Excellency”! Regrettably, we have ‘seasoned’ broadcasters and journalists among these people with strong penchant for anti-free speech; a case of dog-eat-dog! Nigeria is blessed with an abundance of misleaders who only pay lip service to the idea of enhancing free press. They will not acknowledge the above-quoted statement by Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826); an American politician.

Jefferson was a governor of Virginia (1779), member of Congress, minister to France, secretary of State under President George Washington (1732–1799), and president of the United States (1800). History has it that he was a polymath who was knowledgeable about and wrote on science, architecture, music, agriculture, law, education, geography, and music. Compare this politician (and his political ‘successes’) with the massive shameless mediocrities parading and deceiving themselves as Nigerian political leaders; many of whom are unpatriotic opportunistic foreigners that are without the country’s developmental interest at heart! These dark-skinned colonialists are complete counterfeits fighting against being exposed by hiding ‘open’ secrets in public offices! Hence, why will they not be at loggerheads with the media the same way they do with the intellectual community? They want to continue shrouding everything in public offices in secrecy! The world has moved far but they want us to remain static for their benefit of ‘self-first’ and ‘self-alone’. They always explain nonsense away by claiming that Nigeria is still developing but board aeroplanes instead of quietly mounting camels’ or donkeys’ backs as means of transportation! What is really being expected from NBC with written regulatory functions that are interpreted and implemented through politicians’ whims and caprices? A commission run by politicians in the ministry of information!

Like other regulatory agencies of Nigerian government, NBC is not independent (and cannot be, yet) considering the loopholes in its current enabling laws and the way appointments are made into the management cadre of the commission. Certainly, NBC’s enabling laws need to be amended to correct this lacuna being exploited by rogue politicians. Of course, to be fair, there are times when oppressive decisions are taken by NBC’s management without any “order from above” owing to overzealousness and pandering to body language of the “oga-at-the-top”. When they (in NBC) are eventually instructed to jump, the response will be “how high”? Most times, these media houses are not given opportunity to give their side of the story, when accused, because of the regulator’s biased position skewed towards the protection of government-of-the-day’s interests. Witch-hunting cannot be equated to media regulation! Regulating broadcasting in the 21st century should not be the way a typical Nigerian motor park is being managed! For instance, why will NBC indiscriminately slam a fine on a television station because a guest, on a live transmission, expressed his/her opinion irrespective of the moderating effort by the host? How do you know what a guest has in mind before coming on air? These are questions requiring answers!

Wait a minute; is the argument, here, that media regulation be discountenanced in Nigeria? No! There are possibilities of persons and organisations “crossing the line” like the negative experiences in the social media space! That part of one’s freedom that will negatively impact on those of others is not expected to be allowed for unjust exploitation; as someone’s rights end where those of others start! While there is the need for media self-regulation, there should also be unambiguous and transparent laws including well spelt-out procedure for handling erring broadcasting stations in ways that do not support self help by political rogues and embezzlers. Sanctioning media organisation without due process will be against the tenets of natural justice. Abusing the NBC code has allowed the (political) commission to be an accuser, prosecutor and judge – simultaneously! An outcome from these abuses led to the litigation that made the court to make the pronouncement earlier-highlighted; although, NBC may still explore the option of appealing the judgement. The press and other news outlets should be allowed to perform their role as the Fourth Estate of the realm. Again, there is the need for collective media regulation that is devoid of witch-hunting and meddlesomeness by state actors. We believe that more of this kind of court judgement will assist Nigeria in the efforts at building lasting working institutions that must be organically supported.

Erakhrumen PhD, currently teaches at the Department of Forest Resources and Wildlife Management, University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria.

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