November 23, 2023

NBC’s new anti-Social Media Bill

NBC’s new anti-Social Media Bill

ACCORDING to Lord Acton, a 19th-century British historian, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Since the days of Muhammadu Buhari as elected president, the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, NBC, which was hardly heard of before that era, suddenly morphed into a monster which would not rest until it had completely muzzled the broadcast media, sweeping away our civil liberties.

After Buhari complained bitterly of the use of the electronic media by politicians to promote “divisive” comments, the then Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, collaborated with the then Acting Director General of the NBC, Armstrong Idachaba, to amend the Broadcasting Code 6, arrogating to the NBC the power to harass and extort millions of naira from “defaulting stations” for allegedly breaching the Code.

Many stations, especially 99.3 Nigeria Info FM in Lagos and the Africa Independent Television, AIT, were fined N5 million for airing interviews which the Commission claimed were “inappropriate”.

The courts have since made at least two verdicts that disqualified the NBC from imposing sanctions on any broadcast medium without the authorisation of the courts. In May 2023, Justice James Omotosho of the Federal High Court, Abuja, gave an order of perpetual injunction barring the Commission from sanctioning any broadcast station. He also set aside the fines imposed on 45 radio stations by the NBC. Also, the ECOWAS Court on October 23, 2023, declared that the Broadcasting Code which was used to impose sanctions on Nigerian electronic media violated freedom of expression as contained in international protocols that Nigeria signed.

In spite of these, the NBC Director General, Balarabe Ilelah, boasted while conducting the Minister of Information, Mohammed Idris Malagi, round his establishment that a Bill sponsored by the Federal Government to regulate the social media had been given the first reading in the National Assembly. The Bill seeks to repeal and re-enact the NBC Act, Cap L11 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.

Part of the provisions of the law seeks power to enable the NBC regulate the social media, which Ilelah told Malagi, was a “monster”.

We call on all watchdogs of society – the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, the social and rights advocacy groups, the media and others, to once again rise to tame the real monster that seeks to silence the people or deny them their right to free expression under the law.

Though we admit that excesses demonstrated through the social media should be curtailed, we believe that the law already has provisions that can serve that purpose.

We remind the NBC that only the courts can sanction erring broadcast media and social media violators if the Bill is approved. We understand how uncomfortable some powerful political forces feel about the effect of the social media on our democratic space.

But, the law must be followed.