Few days ago, there was a post flying around about a new, unpleasant lecturer at a law faculty who sent out one of his students during an “Introduction to Rights” lecture. Definitely, the writer of this post wanted to teach us some lessons about rights but never known he was predicting what to come days after. He asked, “What purpose do the enacted laws serve? His frightened class found confidence after a much time to answer, “so that there is justice”. As a woman who is not satisfied, the lecturer asked again, “what is the use of justice?” “To differentiate right from wrong, to reward good and to safeguard human rights”, chorused the class.
This naughty lecturer understand that we are a society that go to school but lack education, in order to drive home the focus topic, he pressed his class further and queried about his earlier decision of sending one of their colleagues out of the class; apparently, to get their opinions whether his decision was right or wrong. At this time, the class was quiet, no one is ready to talk.
This is the state of the Nigerian Society, we have fearful, ignorant, educated illiterate citizens, voiceless in the face of tyranny and injustice. Few days after the post, African Independent Television (AIT) was shut down and there was an outrage all over. Surprisingly, most of the people in ruling party began to share stories and images about the infraction committed by AIT via its Kakaaki Social and citizens who are not partisan opted to campaign for press freedom. What baffles me is, most people who shared the post about introduction to rights the other day decided to go partisan and throw caution into the wind, forgetting the recent class they participated and its lessons.
Not defending AIT in this, but equally, not a fan or ardent watcher, I know AIT has limitation and their own share of excessive and corrosive messages. Though sometimes in the morning, I do watch their Kakaaki and Focus Nigeria programs; likewise I do watch other TV stations and read newspapers, but I do see all of these media outlets as schools where I gain knowledge and orientation about issues, not take raw the misinformation or disinformation. In this day Nigeria, you have to read about four or five newspapers daily to get the truth about a matter. Even at that, all of their excesses does not warrant shut down or license withdrawal.
The lesson we failed to learn in #AITUndersiege includes, many are not aware that this is not the first time AIT would be shut down. AIT and Raypower were shut down during the Obasanjo (Bellview story), Yar’Adua and Jonathan regimes. So those who are saying that AIT owner is a PDP man and does not see good in this present administration maybe right but partially wrong because his own party did the same during their administrations. Why you will ask? This is a topic for another day. So, I do not see what wrong in Kakaaki Social session of AIT morning program. AIT is not the only media house that Nigerian government has shut down in recent time, recently the military invaded DailyTrust Newspaper and at a time, occupied Leadership Newspaper. What we need to do as citizens is to call them to order, I mean government.
Furthermore, Chapter II Section 39 subsection 1 and 2 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 as amended guarantees the freedom to hold opinions and for every Nigerian to own a media house. “(1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. (2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions.” This section includes among the fundamental rights of the citizens, the right to know and be heard by all. It also stipulates the duties of both the press and the citizens.”
Therefore, whenever any medium or media house is invaded or shut down, it is not just an attack on the said organization, it is an attack on the Constitution and breach of its sections. Citizens must rise above partisan, reason beyond the situation to defend the Constitution as a matter of responsibilities and learn useful lessons for future purposes. We must desire to reason beyond politics and find solutions to any challenge confronting us as a people.
I will rather leave President out of this and put the blame squarely on the doorsteps of his aides and those saddle with responsibilities of running various government agencies. If an organization breaches a rule, as the head in that agency look through your guidelines and find common way of resolving the issue. In this circumstance, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act rely on by the DG was enacted in 1992 during the Babangida regime, therefore, a progressive minded DG would have before now approached the National Assembly for an amendment to safeguard the media. The circumstances that made the then head-of-state to promulgate a decree is not the same with todays. Shutting down AIT by NBC or invaded a media house by security agents is NOT the best approach in a democratic setting.
As citizens, if we are too timid and unconcern when such issue arises, it may soon be our turn. We have seen internet being shut down and laws be enacted against social media by African leaders and governments, I have sighted series of bills in the Nigeria’s National Assembly to control social media as well as surveillance on citizens’ communication. If we keep quiet like the students in the introduction to rights lecture room, we will be sent out from our comfort zones one after the other sooner or later. I hope we as Nigerians will learn our lesson within this period because what’s ahead of us is more than us.
Peter Adeleye is of the African Centre for Citizens Orientation