Commentary: Oppressor of the Nigerian Press
You may not have heard about him. His name is Suleiman Adokwe, a senator of the PDP representing Nasarawa South senatorial district. He’s not one of those flamboyant senators. He’s not known for garrulity. Or given to high drama associated with some legislators. You can’t affix his name to any grand and robust bill or associate him with brilliant legislative sagacity which some senators often display on the floor of the hallowed chamber at plenary. But he’s a senator elected to make laws for the good governance of the nation among other duties. Except of course, I should add, that he is also the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information and National Orientation.
Now, Adokwe has a bill and a burden. The bill is the Nigerian Press Council (Repeal and Re-enactment Bill 2018). It has gone through second reading. The burden is the pressure on Senator Adokwe to sponsor a bill and get it passed by his colleagues. A public hearing on the bill was held on Monday, July 23, 2018. Public hearings are precursors to third and final reading of a bill before it is passed by the legislators. So, for the bill, the public hearing was its final rites before a decision is taken by the lawmakers.
Public hearings are usually robust, sometimes volatile with stakeholders engaging in caustic polemics. This one was just one of them; it turned out to be public wrenching: saddening, distressful and even disrespectful. The senators had herded the media stakeholders into the hearing room where they usually railroad their views on their audience. Not this time. The media practitioners in the room representing various stakeholders in the media fraternity were vehement and unanimous in rejecting the bill and its obnoxious and toxic content.
And you can’t blame them. They have very strong reasons to reject the bill. It is a pathetic piece of legislative lethargy; a product of lazy thinking and indolent exertion. The bill suffers from lack of knowledge of the media, its role, its duties and how it works. The bill runs against the grain of the Nigerian constitution. In its brazen impudence, the bill collides with Sections 22 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution as Amended. No law collides with the constitution and survives. That makes Adokwe’s bill suicidal. It’s a bill on a suicide mission. It’s dead on arrival. It will naturally self-destruct. And it has. The overwhelming and resounding chant of ‘no-no’ from the media practitioners says it all. Adokwe’s bill has become Adokwe’s burden.
Many things aren’t just right with the bill. First, it seeks to repeal the extant NPC Act 1992, an Act that is under contention. The propriety of the Act has been a subject of debate at the courts. The case has snaked its way up to the Supreme Court. The pendency of this case at the apex court makes the effort of the Senate subjudice. You do not legislate on a matter that is before the court of law. The Senate being an assembly of lawmakers should not be seen to be lawless. A lawmaker ought not to be a law-breaker. Such affront on the court by a body of lawmakers casts a darkling halo on democracy.
Need I remind these senators that some of them are products and beneficiaries of the Nigerian legal system. Why then impugn the same court that offered you hope in your moment of despair. Adokwe, for one, became a senator by virtue of the court. Let me remind the public of his political history. He assumed office as a legislator in December 2015 after the court had sacked Salihu Hussaini Egyegbola, an architect.
Egyegbola of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was declared winner of the senatorial election by INEC. Adokwe challenged the decision of INEC at the election tribunal and lost. Not satisfied, he took the matter to the Court of Appeal, which in a December 10, 2015 judgment voided Egyegbola’s election and ordered INEC to return Adokwe as winner of the election for Nasarawa South senatorial district. Case closed. And here comes Senator Adokwe by the grace of the court. But the same Adokwe is now dancing Shoki on a matter pending at the Supreme Court; mutilating not just a law under contention but denigrating the highest court in the land. And he’s a senator, remember.
Besides its obvious manifestation of anti-press, anti-liberty and anti-people tendency, the bill arrogantly arrogates to the Council it seeks to promote the power to register and deregister journalists, the power to determine who qualifies to practise journalism, the power to determine (accredit) institutions whose certificates would be recognized. It disqualifies persons with National Diploma (or its equivalent) in journalism or holders of HND or Bachelor’s degree in any discipline outside journalism/mass communication from practising journalism among many incongruities. Wrong, very wrong!
You do not need a degree to practise journalism. And you do not require a degree in mass communication or journalism to make a great journalist. This is why journalism is a special profession. A lawyer, engineer, chemist, medical doctor etcetera can practise journalism without needing to attend any journalism school. All you need is your passion, drive, intellect, good communication skill and ability to assimilate the basic rudiments of reporting and writing which you can earn by orientation and hands-on. But a journalist cannot practise law, medicine or engineering without the relevant and respective degrees and in some instances special school or qualifying exam. CNN Senior Health Correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, is a professor of neurosurgery yet he anchors health stories, in-depth and professionally, for the world’s biggest news channel.
There are many outliers in Nigerian journalism who did not study anything close to journalism or mass communication but they are among the very best in the country. The nature of journalism, watchdog of society, is such that everybody is guaranteed a place within the space. Journalists report and interpret developments in the economy, judiciary, sports, health, science and technology, politics, governance, crime and criminality, agriculture, in fact every sphere of human existential struggle. Therefore, the practitioners must be persons with back-to-back knowledge of these diverse aspects of human endeavour.
Whereas Section 22 of the constitution expressly empowers the mass media to at all times be FREE to uphold the objectives of liberty as well as uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people, the proposed bill seeks the opposite route. It seeks to strip the media of its power, independence and freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and import ideas and information WITHOUT interference (Section 39 of the Constitution).
Media stakeholders have in one voice rejected the bill. They must not budge. The onus is on the Senate to show nobility: Advise Senator Adokwe to withdraw his bill because it offends not just in form and content, the Nigerian media but also our national Magna Carta: The Constitution. This bill is an evil load. And as they say in Nigerian parlance, let the owner of the evil load carry his load. The millions of voiceless Nigerians, whom the media represents, do not need such bill especially now. Away with it!
Credit: Sunday Sun