• Friday, July 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

National Assembly must jettison the new media bills

The cost of a speech

The federal executive and the legislature must listen to the voice of wisdom by jettisoning the two bills at the National Assembly, which surreptitiously aim to cage the freedom of speech in Nigeria. The two bills in question are the Nigerian Press Council Act (Amendment) Bill 2019, and the National Broadcasting Commission Act (Amendment) Bill, 2019.

The first bill, with the code HB 330 in the Federal House of Representatives went through the first reading on September 18, 2019. The second bill, with the code HB 332 at the Federal House of Representatives also went through the first reading on September 18, 2019.

Read Also: Lawmakers push draconian press bill to shut down criticism against misrule

The continuation of the proceedings on the bills is synonymous to declaring war on the Nigerian people. As a major component in the democratic system, the people should have the inalienable right to express their views on how they are governed and how they should be governed. The only means available to do this is through the freedom of speech.

Nigeria is ranked as the 120th country on the 2021 World Press Freedom Index. With a score of 39.69, Nigeria is only better than Tanzania, Uganda, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Morocco/Western Sahara, South Sudan, Eswatini, Burundi, DRC, Rwanda, Sudan, and Equatorial Guinea, all with the exception of Morocco/Western Sahara, are in Sub Saharan Africa.

The World Press Freedom Index marks 23 out of 48 countries in Africa, as red or black on the World Press Freedom Map, implying that they are classified as bad or very bad for free speech. Therefore, passing these bills leaves no one in doubt that the situation would become more dangerous for media establishments and the citizenry.

Even when Nigeria has not passed the aforementioned bills, freedom of speech has been curtailed by government officials and security agencies. In 2020, over 51 crimes were committed against journalists in Nigeria. Thirty-four journalists were assaulted in Lagos, Ondo, Osun, Abia, Anambra, Bauchi, Edo and Rivers. In particular, Abiri Jones was detained in a Nigerian prison for two years simply because of journalism.

There have been fatalities as well. Journalists such as Onifade Emmanuel Pelumi, Precious Owolabi, Zakariya Isa, Samson Boyi, Sam Nimfa-Jan, Tunde Oladepo, among others, were murdered in the course of doing their legitimate activities.

Recently, the Nigerian government suspended the microblogging platform, Twitter. There are other moves to regulate other social media platforms like WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, and so on. All these point to one thing: Nigerian governments, ministries and agencies don’t want to be called to account for their actions. The government should know that governance is accountable to the people.

There seems to be a synergy among government agencies to suppress the press and people across Nigeria. The purported bills, if passed, will suffocate the press, stifle opposing views and criticism and create things untoward to the media establishments in the country.

Although, the presidency, Ministry of Information, and allied agencies have denied involvement in the bills at the National Assembly, they stand to be the “beneficiaries” of the draconian bills when they are passed.

It is high time the Federal Government retraced its steps. Not only should the proceedings on the two bills be discontinued, government must convince Nigerians and media establishments it is not out to oppress them.

The countries that are ranked highly on the World Press Freedom Index are among the wealthiest, peaceful, and technically advanced in the world, Nigeria must take a cue from this. In other words, Nigeria must learn from countries with freedom of speech that are highly successfully and not those being ruled by despots and are retrogressive economically.

The media establishments have been there since the return to democratic governance putting governments at all levels on their toes to deliver the dividends of democracy to the people. It is time for Nigerians to rise up and defend the only tool they have to be heard in democratic dispensation which is the freedom of speech.