On August 12, the National Broadcasting Commission slammed Nigeria Info, a Lagos based radio station the sum of N5m fine over what was labeled a ‘professional misconduct’ on the part of the radio station. The commission held that Nigeria Info had presented the platform for former CBN Deputy Governor, Dr. Obadiah Mailaifa to promote unverifiable and inciting views that could encourage or incite to crime and lead to public disorder. This sanction came on the heels of the presentation of the revised National Broadcasting Code by the Honorable Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, which saw a ten-fold increase in the penalty tagged to hate speech offences.
The presentation of the revised NBC code has not been met with much excitement or funfair, understandably so. Civil Organizations as well as the Nigerian populace have cried foul against this code which is perceived to be one of the greatest rape cases against our hard-fought democracy. More recently, the Chairman of the National Broadcasting Commission has come out to publicly disown the code, alleging that the code is a backdoor meal cooked by the Honorable Minister of Information and the Director-General of the Commission in an effort to gag the media from exercising their primary mandate as the watch-dog of the society.
With the airwaves currently abuzz with the narrative of this controversy which is threatening to erode Nigerians’ inalienable right of expression. Daily Times looks at 3 reasons why the newly revised National Broadcasting Code masquerades as an enemy of Nigeria’s democracy.
(1) The Code is in breach of Nigeria’s constitution: Following the transition from the dictatorial Military regime of Sani Abacha to a democratic set up, the 1999 constitution, as amended, became the grand norm and reference point as to what is the right of the Nigerian citizen and where these rights end. Accordingly, Section 39(1) of the Constitution guarantees Freedom of Expression as fundamental right. This right is further protected by international human rights laws which aims at preventing governmental powers from clamping down on right to free speech and expression. But not even all these legal provisions have prevented the advocates of this illegal robbery of Nigerians’ fundamental human rights from barefacedly carrying on with their design. This begs the question as to whether this gross violation of Nigeria’s constitution would open the floodgates for more violations as Nigerians continue to hue and cry to no avail.
(2) The new NBC code goes against democratic principles: Democracy as a form of government has been defined in many ways, all of which encapsulate giving some rope to the populace to be more expressive with regard to the governance process, in-so-far as this expression does not promote seditious tendencies or proclivities. In not so many words, this is the fundamental difference between military rule and civilian government. However, in the light of recent events, Nigerians are beginning to feel like it’s 1984 again, a time when the President was a military dictator who brutally clamped down against media criticism when he promulgated Decree 4, with its subsections which stated that
“Any person who publishes in any form, whether written or otherwise, any message, rumour, report or statement, being a message, rumour, statement or report which is false in any material particular or which brings or is calculated to bring the Federal Military Government or the Government of a state or public officer to ridicule or disrepute, shall be guilty of an offence under this Decree”. (Section 1, sub-sections i, ii and iii).
As the Nigerian Union of Journalists rightly put it
“At any point, the Nigerian populace is restrained from free expression, democracy completely takes flight. Free expression remains the hallmark of democratic governance and we must not by our actions deliberately destroy this democracy”.
(3) Public criticism is par for the course for public servants: Public servants, in fundamental terms, are merely servants of the people to whom the commonwealth has been entrusted with. It therefore follows that when the masses who represent the collective owners of society’s resources believe that their collective wealth is being mismanaged, they would feel a prodding conviction to cry foul to this perceived mismanagement, which could consequently be viewed within the vague and narrow lens of what is constructed as hate speech. To deny the people the right to say ‘boo to a goose’ could be a subtle way of turning the Nigerian state to the animal farm as described by George Orwell.