The suspension of DAAR Communications Plc by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is the latest in the attempt to gag the press and subdue Nigerians from expressing their views on national issues. The NBC alleged that DAAR Communications, owners of Africa Independent Television (AIT) and its sister radio station, Raypower, committed broadcasting sacrilege. It said, in the last two years, it had summoned the management of the broadcast stations on several occasions following monitoring reports and complaints from concerned Nigerians.
According to the regulator, AIT and Raypower gave room for hate speech, divisive and inciting comments in discussion of national issues, in breach of the provisions of the NBC Act and Broadcast Code. Some of the alleged inciting statements especially on the programme called Kaakaki Social include: “Nigeria is cursed,” “We declare the independent state of Niger Delta,” “Nigeria irritates me,” “This country is gradually Islamising” and so on.
DAAR Communications had earlier called a press conference to alert the world to what it was facing. The founder and chairman emeritus of the company, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, alleged that the broadcast stations were being persecuted by the NBC on instructions from the Presidency. According to Dokpesi, the NBC had imposed several fines on AIT and Raypower for their political commentaries. This, he noted, was despite the fact that media organisations used editorials and commentaries to communicate their positions on issues of public interest.
Before the hammer on DAAR Communications, the NBC had similarly shut down Joy FM in Jos and Ekiti Radio/TV stations for allegedly violating the broadcasting code.
This is nothing but a throwback to Decree 4 of 1984, which suppressed press freedom. Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson were the major victims of that obnoxious decree. For publishing a report, which the then military junta headed by Buhari considered embarrassing, the two journalists were clamped into detention for eight months.
Today, military dictatorship is no longer fashionable. Democracy rules the world. And what epitomises this democracy is rule of law and free speech. Nigeria is a state party to international human rights treaties. Article 19 (1&2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights protects people’s right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds through any media.
Since Nigeria prides itself as a democratic nation, can the powers that be truly say that they observe the tenets of democracy? Can they beat their chest and say they don’t haunt and hunt journalists and opposition politicians for expressing their views?
Impossible! Like the Tonton Macoutes of Haiti who committed human rights abuses and suppressed political opposition, Nigerian security agents and their collaborators oppress the people they are paid to protect in fawning obeisance to the people in power.
Late last year, the police, for instance, blockaded the residences of the former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and the then Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, just to scuttle the defection of some senators and members of the House of Representatives from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Simply put, this government is intolerant of opposition. The other day, Buhari said Abuja residents were necessary evil because they voted for the PDP. After the 2015 elections, he said he would not treat those who gave him 5 per cent of votes the same way he treated those who gave him 95 per cent. This is not what is expected from a statesman and father of the nation like him.
The worst is that even when the courts grant someone bail, the government decides the ones to obey and the ones to ignore. The leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Sheik el-Zakzaky, is a typical example. The former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, is another. The Federal Government has refused to release these people from detention despite court orders. And we claim to be a democratic nation.
No matter what the apologists of this government want us to believe, the way and manner the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, was removed leaves much to be desired. They tarred him with the brush of corruption because of alleged false asset declaration. But worse corrupt acts swirl around the corridors of power without anybody batting an eyelid.
Last week, President Buhari met with the former Gombe State Governor, Senator Danjuma Goje, and Senator Ahmed Lawan. The two senators were eyeing the Senate President’s seat. Lawan is the choice of the ruling party for that position. Soon after the meeting with Buhari, Goje stepped down for Lawan. Pronto, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) stopped its eight years investigation of Goje over a case of N25 billion fraud. It handed the matter over to the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation.
Please, don’t ask me how the case will end. The national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, once told Nigerians that whoever joined the ruling party would have his sins forgiven. And if you are against them, the federal might will come against you.
I pity Oshiomhole. Now, he talks to his party men as if they are pupils. Recently, he threatened to suspend the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, from the party if he failed to inaugurate the board members of federal agencies and parastatals under his ministry within one week. Last week, the APC initiated moves to investigate Senator Lawal Shuaibu for airing his views about the leadership style of the national chairman. They called it investigation, but from the tone of the statement released by its national publicity secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, last week, it is obvious the so-called investigation is a mere formality. Senator Shuaibu is already found guilty even before investigation commences. It was dictatorial tendencies like these that gave birth to a splinter group in the APC called Reformed APC (R-APC), led by Buba Galadima.
The Federal Government and the ruling party should stop playing the ostrich. Rather than suppressing free speech, it should identify the root causes of the country’s problems and try to tackle them from the root.
Some of these problems are insecurity, corruption, poverty and ethnic-cum-religious divisions. These problems have always been there. But they appear to be exacerbating by the day. There is too much bitterness fuelled by inequalities in the land and nepotism in appointments. Some sections of the country feel marginalised and alienated from the scheme of things. On top of that is the fear of the Fulani herdsmen who appear to have taken over many states. Kidnappers, terrorists, armed robbers and sundry criminals assault Nigerians every day. So far, there is no effective solution from government.
Closing down media houses and clamping journalists into detention will not solve these problems. AIT and Raypower did not create the divisions in the country. They are not part of the kidnap syndicates in the country. They are not even privy to the alleged rigging of the 2019 elections and they did not ask anybody to demonstrate against the government. Their only crime is giving voice to the voiceless and lending their shoulder to the oppressed to cry on.
It is wicked, therefore, to punish them for phantom crimes. It is inhuman to try to throw many breadwinners who earn their living in the company out of jobs in these austere times. Since we cannot create jobs, why should we close the few ones that have managed to survive the harsh realities of our business environment on flimsy excuses?
Life is about balance and variety. All the television and radio stations cannot be the same. While the Nigerian Television Authority and Radio Nigeria are busy dishing out government propaganda, the AIT and Raypower can give us alternative views. When alternative views are suppressed, the major viable option is anarchy. Is that what the government wants?
People have failed to realise that power is transient. You are there today dishing orders. Tomorrow, you may not be there. Your legacies will be the only thing that will speak for you.
A one-time American President, Thomas Jefferson, said were it left to him to decide whether they should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, he would not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. That is why it is called the Fourth Estate of the Realm. It is there to checkmate the excesses of the government and not to romance it. Good enough, the shut stations have reportedly resumed operations following a court order.
As Algerians, who recently held a series of protests against 82-year-old former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, would say, “The power of the people is stronger than the people in power.”
- First published in the Daily Sun of Monday, June 10, 2019.