The 1999 Nigeria Constitution as amended guarantees freedom of the press and expression. Section 22 of the constitution clearly states that “the press, radio, television and other organs of mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental tenets enshrined in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of government to the people of Nigeria. Going forward, section 39(2), of same constitution also declared ‘’without prejudice to the generality of subsection(1) of this section, everyone shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas, and opinions. What this implies is that the media shall be free to do its duty by holding government accountable to the people without any form of interference by the authority, especially in a democratic setting like we have today.
Unfortunately, since this government came on board, there have been clandestine moves to clip the wings of the press and if that happens, press freedom will therefore be undermined and so, this would bring to mind the dark days of military era where the press were hunted and roundly bruised in their numbers for publishing what the khaki boys then classified as offensive materials. The current bills to amend the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Acts, currently before the National Assembly as sponsored by one of the law makers has continued to attract condemnation from the general public. The bill if passed into law would criminalize and render journalism business and practice impotent, despite other laws already in place in the country that allows one or more institutions to seek for redress in the court of law when disparaged by the press.
The bill if passed into law, unfortunately would try to usurp the powers of the Judiciary by giving the regulatory bodies powers to sanction and outright withdrawal of operating licenses in addition to imprisonment. However, media practitioners in the country have vowed that this obnoxious bill would not see the light of the day even as they advised the promoter(s) of the unpopular and draconian bill to eat an humble pie by withdrawing the bill. Others too, have headed for the court to challenge the bill which they described as anti-democratic. The Governor of Ekiti state and Chairman of Nigeria Governors” Forum (NGF), Dr. Kayode Fayemi who recently played host to The Sun Newspaper Management team in Ekiti state averred that Nigeria democracy is better off with press freedom. ‘’ Free press is critical attribute of any democracy, especially any democracy that wants to be consolidated. The press can annoy those of us in government, no question about that, but the role of the press is not to hug us, it is not to make us feel good, it is to make society better and to hold our feet, sometimes irreverently and sometimes in what I will call in a constructive manner.
’’ For his part, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila also pointed out that under his watch, that the house will remove offensive part of Press Council. ‘’ l will not be part of any bill that will gag the press. I have made that abundantly clear. No bill will come to the floor of the House that seeks to gag the press, because, the press is supposed to be the voice of the people’’. However, we understand that, the sponsor of the unpopular bill has been asked to withdraw it which he equally admitted when he was brought to the hot seat of Channels Television to answer for his role and why he thought this bill was necessary at this time, considering the myriads of challenges besetting the country. We align with everyone, especially the media organizations, and the practitioners in the industry that, this bill should be met with heavy rejection because the media already regulates itself and does not need the interference of those in power to know what is right and wrong. The government should therefore be wary and ensure that obnoxious laws again should not find a place in the letters and spirits of the Nigerian constitution.