Femi Gbajabiamila, speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, appears in a dilemma over the obnoxious Media Bill pending in the green chamber to cage the Nigerian media and bring it under the control of the minister of information.
He spoke from both sides of his mouth on Monday, July 12, at an event organized by the House Press Corps endorsing the bill in one breath, and rejecting it in another. “I will not be part of any bill that will seek to gag the Press. No bill will come to the floor of the House that seeks to gag the press because the press, as it is supposed to be, is supposed to be the voice of the people. One, I will never allow the gagging of the press. I worry where at every turn when the National Assembly tries to promulgate the law with the best of intentions, and everybody descends on the National Assembly.”
He is making efforts to unravel any hidden agenda in the bill, he said. “Using this as a sample, this Press Council Bill. I called the proponent of the bill, ‘what is going on and what have you done?’ He tried to break it down. I haven’t read the bill personally myself, but I will read it in the next couple of days in detail. I just have a general idea of the context.
“He told me he had a meeting with all the stakeholders. I wasn’t present at the meeting. Because I said to him, I hope you are meeting with these guys, whatever provision they have problem with, whatever provision that is inimical to the development of the press, or the growth of the press, remove it or tweak it in such a way that everybody will be happy.”
The bill, sponsored by Segun Odebunmi, APC member from Oyo State, has been rejected by the media unanimously. The print media carried out a media blackout on Monday to protest the attempt to emasculate the Nigerian media through the obnoxious amendment that will see journalists and media houses pay fines of N250, 000 and N10 million respectively for publications that contravene the obnoxious amendment, if it is passed and signed into law.
Section 3 (c) of the bill says that government shall “with the approval of the minister in charge of information, establish and disseminate a national Press Code and standards to guide conduct of print media, related media and media practitioners.”
He will approve penalties and fines against violations of the Press Code by print media houses and media practitioners, including revocation of license. He will also consider applications for the establishment, ownership and operation of print media and other related media houses. This draconian bill seeks to completely annihilate the critical press which fought and secured the return of democracy being enjoyed by Nigeria since 1999. The NBC, a parastatal under the ministry of Information, has cowed the electronic media through arbitrary fines for perceived infractions. The same ministry of information banned Twitter for deleting a post by President Muhammadu Buhari, seen to be genocidal against the Igbo. The print media is the remaining fort of the free press in Nigeria, which the government seems bent on strangulating, if the people of Nigeria allow it.
However, the Speaker appears to feel free society amounts to anarchy. “We are getting to a point in this country, nobody wants to be regulated. The NGOs don’t want to be regulated, the religious bodies don’t want to be regulated, social media doesn’t want to be regulated; professors of universities go on strike because they don’t want to be on the same payment platform as everybody else.”
The National Assembly had tried to regulate the social media but was forced to step the bill down due to overwhelming public outcry against it. It is curious that a government that terminates in two years’ time is paranoid about free media and is impudently cutting corners to achieve that instead of focusing on leaving good legacies.
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