1. Our attention has been drawn to the obnoxious bills before the House of Representatives which seek to amend the Nigeria Press Council (NPC) and National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Acts. The Bills, sponsored by Honorable Olusegun Odebunmi, member representing Ogo Oluwa/Surulere Federal Constituency of Oyo State, understandably raised eyebrows within media circles and among persons of goodwill across Nigeria and beyond. The bills were subsequently reportedly stepped down to allow for further engagements with stake holders.
2. The NBC (Amendment) Bill intends to add “all online media” to the list currently under the control of the subsisting Act. In other words, the government, through the NBC, wants to censor online media contents the same way it currently censors radio and TV stations across the country. Given the way the NBC has recently exercised its powers arbitrarily against stations which broadcast contents that are construed to embarrass the government, this is clearly an attempt to make Aso Rock the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of all online content creators in Nigeria.
3. The NPC (Amendment) Bill is even much more invasive. Taken together, the proposals seek among others, to:
A. Put all board memberships and operational control mechanisms at the NPC firmly under the control of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria through the Minister of Information.
B. Give the Council power to license and revoke licenses for media practice in Nigeria with the approval of the Minister of Information.
C. Transfer some of the collective powers of the Board to the portfolio of the Executive Secretary of NPC who will be appointed by government.
D. Give the Council powers to write and manage a new Code of Conduct for media professionals in Nigeria.
E. Increase penalties (fines, suspensions and jail terms) due to “offenders.”
F. Compel media houses to submit statements of annual income to the Council which may levy them for the purpose of shoring up its revenues.
4. In essence, Nigerian media houses will become subject to another layer of control beyond that currently exercised on all business entities by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
5. Against the backdrop of the recent ban on Twitter by the Federal Government; and against the backdrop of recent attempts to pass a Bill against “Hate Speech”; these fresh moves to inject draconian elements into the NPC and NBC Acts send a clear signal that Nigeria is currently being led on the path of dictatorship by a democratically elected government!
6. As a form of government, Democracy rests on the principle of Separation of Powers between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. It also recognizes that sometimes even these three arms may be compromised, especially by an overbearing executive, through the manipulation of state, party and/or other levels of control. It therefore provides for a totally independent “arm of government”, the media, which is also called “The Fourth Estate of the Realm,” to act as a check and balance to the other three.
7. A central character of the media in a democracy is its constitutionally guaranteed freedom. This is partly secured by free entry and exit of players within an “open marketplace of ideas” where the performance of leaders, governments and other aspects of society are freely discussed. This freedom is curtailed by a global code of ethics, the laws of sedition and libel, and by the people who exercise their judgment to choose good media content over thrash.
8. To seek to directly bring the fourth Estate of the Realm under the steering wheel of the Executive arm of government betrays not only a crass ignorance of the foundational principles of democracy but a brazen attempt to undermine it. It is a low blow. For a ranking member of the House, it is a profound self embarrassment. For the government in power, it heralds a descent into the abyss.
9. What is the ultimate intention of this proposed legislation? Is it to create a maximum rulership for Nigeria? What professional and stakeholder inputs did these proposed amendments get before getting to the floor of the House? When and where did public hearings hold to consider their merits and otherwise? Is Nigeria now such a Banana Republic that the fantasies of one man and his misguided co-travelers should threaten time-halowed traditions and principles of governance as enshrined in the Constitution?
10. By putting his name to the Bills for the Amendment of the NPC & NBC Acts, Mr. Odebunmi has earned a place in the Legislative Hall of Shame.
He and his ilk should take note that laws are not made according to the whims and caprices of individuals and administrations in power. They are made strictly for the long term good of society. Therefore, they must pass the tests of universality and timelessness.
11. For the avoidance of doubt, *Onu Igbo* also wishes to state that the media do not create or invent news. They report on what people say and do from diverse perspectives. They analyze, interrogate and investigate. These perspectives, taken together, help society to glimpse the closest approximations of truth. Those who wish to circumscribe the diversity of media perspectives are enemies of the truth and the people. They are people and governments who are averse to transparency and accountability.
12. The laws which Odebunmi seeks to change were enacted before the onset of the 4th Republic in 1999. Since then, they have not been touched and for good reasons. It must therefore be a mark of the poor temperament of this administration that this legislative rascality were not only contemplated but permitted to be tabled before a legislative house of members who rode to power on the wings of free press.
13. *Onu Igbo* hereby joins other well meaning Nigerians and interest groups in hailing the suspension of the obnoxious bills. We demand that such pieces of legislative junk be put in the waste bin where they rightly belong. We also call on civil society and rights groups to ensure that such ill intended bills never see the light of the day anytime they rear their heads. Going forward, the National Assembly must save itself from further ridicule by preventing such poor quality work from getting to its floors or to the public domain in the future.
14. The practice of using the National Assembly to fly kites for poorly conceived bills and in the process distract the nation needs to stop. Our parliament loses much respect from such practice. Nigerians are faced with a myriad of issues that require urgent attentions. Such issues as insecurity, banditry, environmental degradation in the Niger Delta, should occupy the minds of our legislature.
15. At a time when the world is moving towards deepening the roots of democracy and human liberties, Odebunmi chose the path of infamy and retrogression. He would rather have Nigeria go back to the Dark Ages. We firmly stand against this. We insist that the legislative space is not for rascals and the narrow minded. We also contend that Nigeria will not be turned into a Banana Republic.
*Chief (Sir) Emeka Attamah*
For and on behalf of *Onu Igbo*
Dated: 15th July, 2021.