By Emma Amaize
WARRI â€” Human rights group, SERAP, has urged the African Commission on Human and Peoplesâ€™ Rights to urgently intervene and stop the Nigerian government from instigating the passage of a Bill by the National Assembly to undermine the internationally recognised rights to freedom of expression and press in the country.
Executive Director of the group, Adetokunbo Mumuni, in a letter, said, â€œSERAPâ€™s investigation reveals that the Nigerian government is behind a Bill for an Act to Provide for the Repeal of the Nigerian Press Council Act 1992 and establish the Nigerian Press and Practice of Journalism Council. The bill requires members of the Nigerian Press and Practice of Journalism Council to swear to an oath of secrecy.
â€œThe bill also requires the licensing of journalists and the pre-qualification examinations. It provides for the appointment of a chairman, who will be appointed and dismissed by the president on the recommendation of the Minister of Information and Communications, a political appointee of the President. The bill also provides for the creation of a register of accredited journalists.â€
Specifically, SERAP requested the commission to publicly express concern about the proposed bill and insist that the Nigeria government should bring its laws in line with its international legal obligations.
It also requested that the commission urge the Nigerian government to translate its international legal obligations and commitments relating to freedom of expression and the media into concrete action by withdrawing the proposed bill without further delay.
According to the director, â€œSERAP is seriously concerned that if passed into law, the bill would contraveneÂ Nigeriaâ€™s international legal obligations, including the African Charter on Human and Peoplesâ€™ Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention Against Corruption to which Nigeria is a signatory.
â€œThe bill also directly violates Section 22 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, which requires the Press to hold the government accountable to the people.
â€œSERAP is concerned that the implementation of the bill would undermine and limit the citizensâ€™ right to freedom of opinion and expression; including the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
â€œSERAP also contends that the guarantee of freedom of expression applies with particular force to the media, including the broadcast media. Indeed, the right to freedom of expression and peoplesâ€™ right to seek and receive information cannot be meaningful unless the media plays its key role in a democratic society without political interference or influence.
â€œThe Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoplesâ€™ Rights, in its preamble, recognises the key role media and other means of communication play in ensuring full respect for freedom of expression in promoting the free flow of information and ideas, in assisting people to make informed decisions and in facilitating and strengthening democracy.
â€œStates are required not only to refrain from interfering with rights but also take positive steps to ensure that rights, including freedom of expression, are respected. In effect, governments are under an obligation to create an environment in which a diverse, independent media can flourish, thereby satisfying the publicâ€™s right to know.
â€œIndependence of media regulatory bodies is a vital condition for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression. In order to ensure free flow of information and ideas, media regulatory bodies need sufficient protection against governmental interference, particularly of a political or economic nature.
â€œSERAP believes that organisational and operational independence of the proposed Council is impossible where its chairman is appointed by the President of the country.
â€œSERAP notes that the proposed bill is coming at a time when Nigeria has performed very poorly in the Transparency International 2009 Corruption Perception Index, ranking 130th of the 180 countries surveyed.
The bill would further undermine the fight against corruption in the country and the ability of the government to fully implement its international anti-corruption obligations and commitments.â€