By Mike Ozekhome
The news of the fresh clampdown on the Nigerian media through the shutting down of the AIT/RayPower stations by the NBC is extreme,unconscionable and brutish to put it mildly. It is highly condemnable and shows the jerky reaction of a government that has become increasingly reactionary and intolerant of opposing views, dissenting opinions and plurality of voices.
This government wrongly believes that every Nigerian must sleep facing the same side and from the same angle. That is never possible, nor even desirable in a constitutional democracy such as we operate, which admits of Dolly Parton’s “Coat of many Colours”.
The NBC’s Code and Guidelines are regulatory rules of engagement with media houses that are themselves subject to the clear provisions of the 1999 Constitution. Section 22 thereof provides that the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in chapter 2 of the Constitution and to “uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people”. Section 39 of the same Nigerian Constitution goes further to guarantee the right to freedom of expression and of the Press and the right of every person to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions.
It is these basic fundamental and inalienable rights of Nigerians that the NBC through its its mere Code and Guidelines seeks to take away from the Nigerian people and from the DAAR Communications group that operates AIT/RayPower by shutting them down.
To that extent, the decision to close down the television and radio stations is tantamount to a panicky and extreme measure, the type usually resorted to by dictators or Absolutists.
It is not acceptable in any democratic society such as ours. How does NBC hope to pay and feed the thousands of employees just thrown into the marketplace of unemployment through its ill-advised action?
When NBC started issuing a flurry of supposed warning letters, DAAR was not in doubt that the NBC was simply being used by its proprietor, the federal government and that it was merely working from the answer to the question.
The steps were carefully choreographed to dress them with the fake garb of legitimacy and give their then imminent clampdown a veneer and semblance of legality and legitimacy, having made up its mind to shut down the stations. DAAR in reasonable fright, had immediately consulted our law chambers, and as a preemptive measure, we immediately filed a suit on Tuesday,4th June,2019, against the NBC,the Attorney General of the Federation and Ministry of Information. In the suit,we urged the courts to grant certain declaratory and injunctive reliefs against the Federal Government from closing down the stations. The government is well aware of this suit and the various court processes. What it just did amounted to stealing a match on DAAR, so as to present the court with a situation of a fait accompli.
We wholly condemn this disrespect to the judicial process. NBC is only a regulatory body. It is not a Court of Law. Whatever grievances it had against DAAR ought to have been ventilated in the regular courts of law in accordance with due process and rule of law. It did not. It resorted to self-help. This is wrong and highly condemnable.
I hereby call on President Buhari and his government to IMMEDIATELY LIFT THE BAN AND CLAMPDOWN ON DAAR COMMUNICATIONS PLC, RETURN ITS SUSPENDED LICENCE AND ALLOW IT TO OPERATE FREELY LIKE OTHER PRO-GOVERNMENT MEDIA HOUSES THAT PROLIFERATE THE NOOKS AND CRANNIES OF NIGERIA.
If DAAR is accused of having breached any guidelines or rules of engagement with the regulatory body, NBC, as regards airing the ongoing Atiku/PDP’s election petition (which is not conceded because same has been in the public domain for over three months), it is gravely and fundamentally wrong for the NBC (which is supposed to be neutral to all Nigerians) to take the laws into its hands and take sides with the Buhari/APC government,or their lawyers, by fighting their battles for them.
The last time I checked, we are not under fascism or military dictatorship.
Chief Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Civil Right and Constitutional Law Attorney, is the Lawyer representing Daar Communications against the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) and its National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC).