BY VICTOR BUORO, ABUJA – A Civil Rights Advocacy Group on the aegis of “Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA)” has said that the content of the Hate Speech and Anti-Social Media bill sponsored by the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate; Aliyu Abdullahi has finally found its way into the purported 6th amendment to National Broadcasting Code unveiled by the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, on August 4, 2020 in Lagos aimed at keeping critics quiet.
HURIWA also said that a close scrutiny of the purported amendment of the NB Code shows that its provisions are not totally different from the provision of Decree 4 of 1984.
It further said that the unveiling of the NB Code on Hate Speech on August 4, 2020 by the Minister of Information and Culture; Culture, Lai Mohammed, is clearly a backdoor attempt to clamp down on free speech and opposition, adding that as a result, lots of controversies have been stirring in the industry.
HURIWA noted that there are threatening moves suggesting that the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed has hijacked the responsibility of the Board of the National Broadcasting Commission and the duties of its Director General, hence the hasty review of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.
According to HURIWA; “The NBC, which was set up by law has an Act that guides its operations. The Minister therefore cannot usurp the powers of the Board as clearly stated in the Act. Any such action by the Minister is illegal.
“Everybody envisages the NBC to be an autonomous body that has no place in politics. However when you listen to the news, the Minister has been the one speaking; is he the Director-General of the NBC?
“Secondly, according to a Professor of Broadcast Management and Media Law; Tonnie Iredia, who served as a consultant to the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria when the code was being revised, said broadcasters were not carried along during the process as was the norm.
“Prof. Iredia had noted that the problem is that for the first time in the history of broadcasting in this country, the code was not done the way it used to be done”.
These were contained in a statement by the National Coordinator and Director of National Media, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and Miss Zainab Yusuf respectively in which HURIWA also said that there is no disputing the fact that hate speech represents an existential risk to journalism and effective reporting and by so doing obstructs the functionality of a free society.
It stressed that for a Minister of Information and Culture, who is a politician and a member of the ruling Party to hide under the guise of preventing hate speech as a means of controlling free speech, is absolutely unacceptable.
HURIWA also noted that more worrisome is the fact that the illegal NB Code was used to slam a fine of 5million Naira against Nigeria Info 99.3FM; a private broadcast radio station in Lagos by the NBC alleging that it provided its platform to be used to promote unverifiable and inciting views that can incite crime and public disorder.
According to HURIWA; “In many sane democracies all over the world, criminals on even wanted lists of law enforcement agencies have reached out to the media to express their opinions about the crimes that they had perpetrated and the media space was not denied to them.
“As a matter of fact, it seems somewhat contradictory that a country like ours, which is grappling with national security battles, would choose to restrict media access to critical information. It is not known if any society had won the war against terrorism by placing a restriction to access to information, in the way the NBC under Lai Mohammed had done.
“Again, the imposition of fine against the Nigeria Info 99.3FM, even without any evidence that the alleged statement had degraded any person or groups of persons, amounting to hate speech gives the impression that it was the radio station that put the words in the mouth of the guest.
“Assuming without conceding the fact that a case of hate speech has been established, it is totally out of place in a democratic setting that NBC and Lai Mohammed would be the accuser, prosecutor, judge and jury in its own case against the station even as there is absolutely no offence in Nigeria known as hate speech.
“More so, with the NBC Board’s position, the Code on hate speech had not come into force; therefore, the N5 million fine is illegal. This is because the imposition of the N5 million fine was anchored on a purported amendment of the code and since the NBC lacks the legal competence to impose a fine on any broadcasting station without a finding of guilt by a properly constituted criminal court, the NBC should crush the illegal fine.
“Whether or not what Dr. Mailafia said on the radio station was a false claim, it is outside of the objectives of a responsible regulatory framework to sanction a radio station for a comment an individual made, even as the personality in question; Dr. Obadiah, had been quizzed and released by law enforcement agents.
“The investigation being conducted into Dr. Obadiah’s interview by the State Security Service has not been concluded. So, why was the NBC, induced by Lai Mohammed in a hurry to violate the fundamental right of the broadcasting station to a fair hearing?
“Section 33 (4) of the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) provides that anyone charged with a criminal offence shall be tried before a competent court or tribunal. Only a competent court of law is empowered to try, convict and impose a fine on a criminal suspect after a trial has been conducted before a competent court.
“The NBC Code on Hate Speech is a regulation that has no force of law, so we condemn it and are by this statement giving a final warning to the Minister of Information and Culture; Alhaji Lai Mohammed to withdraw the illegal regulation within 76 hours or we file a suit to challenge the legality of such an affront against freedom of the media and expression in a competent Court of law,” HURIWA warned.
The Rights organisation therefore urged President Muhammadu Buhari to caution his Minister of Information and Culture; Alhaji Lai Mohammed to refrain from threatening Nigerians with punishment under a controversial and illegal platform that is inconsistent and incompatible with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).