Opinion

NBC, The Dragon And Media’s Long Walk To Liberty

By Suyi Ayodele

ALFRED Thompson “Tom” Denning, Baron Denning, popularly called Lord Denning, the Master of the Rolls, was a British jurist who died on March 5, 1999, at the ripe age of 100. During his stints on the Bench and at the Bar, Denning was a defender of the principle of natural justice. In a 1968 matter he adjudicated between the Metropolitan Properties Co (FGC) Ltd vs Lannon, the man who answered the sobriquet ‘the people’s judge’ summarized natural justice thus: “Justice must be rooted in confidence and confidence is destroyed when right-minded people go away thinking: ‘The judge was biased’.” On another occasion, the late jurist said: “The law is to see that truth is observed and that justice is done between man, and man”. Together with another jurist, Lord Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton (Lord Acton), Denning popularized the twin fundamental principles of natural justice to wit: hear both side in a matter (Audi Alteram Partem) and no one should be a judge in his own case (Nemo Judex in Casua Sua).

These two principles are anchored on the need to avoid biases on the part of the judge. These are the principles the NBC flagrantly violated in its decision to slam a N5 million fine on Channels TV. The questions to ask are many. When was the station queried? What was its response? Did NBC actually watch the broadcast as it claimed? If it did, what did it make of Okinbaloye’s several cautions to Datti? How can an umpire such as NBC be working the sums from the answer? While one will agree that the NBC has the authority to regularize the broadcasting industry, can one agree with the fact that the NBC is the investigator, the prosecutor, the judge and the enforcer of the sanction? Could Lord Acton have had the NBC in mind when he postulated that “Authority that does not exist for Liberty is no authority but force”? Why is NBC moving toward becoming a dragon, a monster in the hands of despotic leaders? NBC cannot be the complainant, the investigator, the prosecutor, and the judge. That is against the principle of natural justice. If the Broadcast laws allow the Commission to impose fines, the simple explanation is that the drafters of the law never envisaged a day when a party which is intolerant of the truth like the APC would come to power.

On Friday, the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC) slammed a N5 million fine on the Channels Television for the March 22, 2023, interview the television house granted Datti Baba-Ahmed, the vice-presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in the February 25 election. During the interview, Datti expressed misgivings about the conduct of the election and warned General Muhammadu Buhari not to swear in Tinubu as he did not score 25% of the vote in the FCT, being one of the prerequisites for being declared the winner. An emotional Datti, in the interview, and against the many restraints from the anchor, Seun Okinbaloye, insisted that his LP won the election and described the certificate of return issued to Tinubu by INEC as a “dud cheque”. Among other things, the LP vice presidential candidate said that should General Buhari hand over to Tinubu on May 29 in spite of the infractions, “that would be ending democracy”. He insisted that handing over to Tinubu, who he claimed did not fulfill the “constitutional requirements of the constitution” would amount to unconstitutionality and warned the CJN not to partake in the “unconstitutionality”.

Shortly after the interview was aired, Bayo Onanuga, APC presidential campaign council’s Director of Media and Publicity, wrote a complaint to the NBC, accusing Datti of making comments that attacked the integrity of the presidential elections. Onanuga, in his petition claimed that the LP vice-presidential candidate, as the guest on the programme in question, asking General Buhari not to swear in the president-elect “is a subversive comment since the matter is among the issues submitted in their petition before the tribunal for adjudication. Therefore, until the court rules otherwise, the status quo is the INEC position as declared in the final results”. He cited Sections 3.8.1(b) nad14.0.1 of the Nigerian Broadcasting Code 6th edition to back up his complaints. Datti’s statements, the Tinubu media man insisted “is not only divisive and subversive but also inciting and inflammatory. The comment by Mr. Datti later on the same programme that if ‘President Buhari should hand over to the President-elect by 29th May, that would be the end of democracy’ is another case of unguarded statement and breach of Section 5.3.3(b), which states that – ‘A Broadcaster shall avoid divisive and inflammatory matters in its provocative form in using political material’. Furthermore, Section 3.0.2.1 said that no Broadcaster shall encourage or incite crime, lead to public hate, disorder or repugnant to public feelings’ materials that cause disaffection. We, therefore, urge NBC to invoke the necessary sanctions on Channels Television for the breaches enumerated above”, Onanuga prayed the regulatory body.

Pronto, the NBC slammed a fine of N5 million on Channels Television for breaking the broadcasting law and ordered the station to pay the fine within two weeks. The letter dated March 27 and titled: “Broadcast of an Inciting Interview, A Sanction”, was signed by Balarabe Ilelah, the NBC’s Director-General. The letter reads in Part: The NBC claimed to have monitored the broadcast of the live interview with Datti and concluded that the broadcast was volatile and capable of inciting public disorder, violating some sections of the broadcasting code. “Consequently, on the following infractions, Channels Television is hereby sanctioned and shall pay a penalty of N5,000,000 (five million naira) only in the first instance. You are advised to pay within two weeks from the day of receipt of this letter or the penalty will be graduated,” the NBC Director-General threatened. This is where the problem begins.

In his reaction to my March 7, 2023, column titled, Tinubu And My Journey To ‘Exile’, the foremost lexicographer, Patrick Obahiagbon, popularly known as Igodomigodo, wrote to assure me of the character of the president-elect. Igodomigodo maintained: “…I don’t also think that Asiwaju holds that very myopic view of those like you, Adedayo and my very good friend, Olagunju who are critical of his politics. That’s not the Asiwaju I know Sir. Please don’t allow the views of some political hallelujah choristers to put you off…Give Asiwaju a chance, and like u rightly said, access him critically as usual in approbation or disapprovingly as d (the) day goes by”. Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the president-elect, will be sworn in as President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces on Monday, May 29, 2023, God willing. That is some 55 days away. Morning shows the night. Nigerians are definitely in for a long walk with the Tinubu presidency. My major concern is the liberty of the media in the Tinubu presidency. My fear is informed by the utterances of some of the aides of Tinubu, especially the pretentious ones among them. The fear is being given a life of its own while Tinubu is still the president-elect. Like I said before, I have never met the man, Tinubu. But I can sufficiently give a vivid description of his personality. A man is known by what he says, what he does and what people say about him. Elementary sociology teaches that a man can also be identified by the company he keeps. Tinubu has, in large numbers, some elements that are what my people call the typical Elegun Sango.

Sango, now known as the god of thunder, was once a human king of Oyo Kingdom. He was the fourth king of the kingdom after the reign of Ajaka. Reputed to be a fiery-tempered person, Sango has an aide, who holds his reins and is believed to be the caution to the fire-emitting king. That aide is known in history as Elegun Sango. Traditional worshippers of Sango as a deity know that it is not Sango that is temperamental. The one, who is supposed to exercise restraint on him is regarded as the real problem. Again, my people describe the relationship in a proverb thus: Sango is not as temperamental as his rein (Sango o gbona bi elegun re). It is Elegun Sango who points out those who offended the deity to him and he in anger would strike. This is why during Egungun festival, the elders caution the masquerade to be wary of the one holding the reins (Atokun Eegun). This in essence means that a principal may have a pleasant disposition but if he is surrounded by very bad aides, the principal will always be in the public space for the wrong reasons. This is the case with the president-elect.

Is it not unfortunate that the APC, which in 2015, as the opposition party threatened to form a parallel government should it fail to win the presidential election and the heaven did not fall, is the same party that would not want anyone to complain about its malfeasance? That threat was reported by the media, electronic and print and nobody was fined. What has Datti done and what has the Channels TV broadcast that the APC did not do when it was an opposition party? If the Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, whom the APC and its top echelons described as “clueless” and helped to amplify the “ineffectual buffoon” description The Economist gave the former president, and the man did not hunt them, why is APC the one to complain about an opposition calling a certificate of return a “dud cheque”? The same party, which against all protestations, fielded a Muslim-Muslim ticket, went ahead to rent ‘Bishops’ to legitimize its single-faith ticket and rolled out Oro cults to win Lagos gubernatorial election, is the one complaining about a Peter Obi and Bishop Oyedepo’s alleged telephone conversation! How do you describe hypocrisy? If indeed Obi called Oyedepo and declared the February 25 presidential election as “religious and ethnic war”, did the APC not do worse things during the election? Who started the “religious and ethnic war” in the first instance?

But the most unfortunate personality in the NBC fine is the writer of the petition, Onanuga, who many regard as a foremost journalist. This is a case of the fowl eating the entrails of another fowl. How would any journalist have believed that a day would come in the history of the noble profession when an Onanuga would be at the vanguard of gagging the media? That is class betrayal of the crudest form! The same Bayo Onanuga who used the defunct The News to hunt the expired dictator, Sani Abacha to his grave? How time changes people. Or is it that Onanuga has been the proverbial two-faced Janus all this while? This is how a fellow journalist described Onanuga’s conduct in this matter: “Bayo Onanuga is just behaving like a young man that was promised recruitment into the Police Force and he goes about arresting people”. I cannot agree less. Imagine an Onanuga as the Minister of Information in Tinubu’s cabinet! Is the media not in for a long walk in a dark alley?

This is why I think the media, especially the electronic platforms, should seek redress in the court of law. This arbitrariness of the NBC and his cahoots should not be allowed to pass unchallenged. The print media survived because some people paid the price. The electronic media should follow that path. NBC cannot continue to be the judge in its own matters. Before the dragons get to power, the furrow it is building in our collective backyard should be sealed up to suffocate it. Once the media loses its liberty, humanity will ultimately lose its freedom. Foremost journalist and lawyer, Richard Akinnola, who doubles as Onanuga’s bosom friend, did an open letter to the former ‘human rights activist’ over the matter. Akinnola warned Onanuga that “we would fight this your planned “insurrection” against the independent media the way we, including you, fought Abacha’s dictatorship against the media”. Can I be the number one recruit in the Army for the liberation of our media space? Nzogbu nzogbu, Enyinba Enyi!

(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Tuesday, April 4, 2023)

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