The Muhammadu Buhari presidency has been the most media-unfriendly government since the return of our democracy in 1999.
It has done everything possible to constrict the media and democratic space and deprive Nigerians of their right to free speech and media freedom as stipulated in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended).
Through its various agents, especially the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, and lawmakers in the National Assembly, it has tweaked the Broadcasting Code to punitively fine radio and television stations, sought to regulate the Press, shrink the Social Media space and manipulate the “Hate Speech” protocol to muzzle the right of expression.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the NBC sanctioned Trust TV and the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, for their respective documentaries on banditry and terrorism in Nigeria. Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, inappropriately accused them of glorifying banditry and terrorism when all they did was the normal professional reporting of the other side of Nigeria’s insecurity. They upheld the constitutional right of Nigerians to know what is fuelling insecurity in the country.
While the smoke was yet to clear on that, the NBC is at it again, with its decision to withdraw the operating licences of 53 radio and television stations for their alleged failure to renew their licences. We admit that some Nigerians have this dishonourable mindset of unwillingness to obey the law, especially when it comes to financial obligations.
That is condemnable and should be discouraged. But the wholesale closure of 53 radio and television stations is equally unacceptable. The Broadcast Code should be for Nigerians and not the other way round.
Coming at this political season when the campaigns for the 2023 general elections are about to take off, it is not in the interest of Nigerians for that quantum of media houses to be shut down over debt. It will throw hundreds, if not thousands, of media practitioners and related workers out of jobs and worsen our unemployment.
We agree with the Nigerian Guild of Editors and the Socio-Economic Rights Accountability Project, SERAP, that the Federal Government’s aggressive posture towards the media will tamper with their constitutional rights of unfettered access to information and opinion, and the exchange of same. We also support their legal action to stop the closures. The courts must protect the media from executive excesses.
If indebtedness is a “crime”, the Buhari government is a serial “offender”. Unless a miracle happens, it might soon start defaulting on its foreign debts. The government should constructively engage the defaulting media houses. It is welcome to note that the NBC has soft-pedalled on its earlier intentions Media closure is no option. The NBC is not a revenue agency. With nine months to go, the Buhari government should loosen, not tighten, its choke-hold on the media.