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When you go to bed as a Nigerian citizen or business, especially in the media space, you are more likely to wake up as a criminal in violation of a new ridiculous law than you are likely to wake up at all.
Your level of criminality is compounded if Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, believes you have insulted him or his proprietor, the ‘reformed’ General Muhammadu Buhari, as with the case of the #TwitterBan which saw a Minister implement a nonexistent law, while the legislature folded its arm — although pretending days later to be concerned.
The petty misgivings of the Buhari administration have known no bounds since its emergence in 2015, and it has repeatedly attempted to impose itself on Nigerians as a no-care-given administration, especially with its chokehold on free speech in the country.
This administration has attempted to pass laws stifling free speech more times than it has attempted to introduce or amend laws punishing corrupt public office holders, even though it was the core of its campaign.
As the administration has attempted to force its draconian laws and its puerile policies on domestic media, it has struggled unsuccessfully to hold the wings of free speech in the country through online media and the virality of Twitter.
Angry at its own failure —one would expect the administration to be used to its failure by now— to stop journalists, civic spaces, broadcasters, and online news sources from shouting down its excesses, Lai Mohammed has once again moved to impose an Orwellian legislation to clamp down on media and civic spaces once again.
This time, Lai Mohammed is not announcing a new directive through a press conference or a memo; he is now pretending to love democracy and following due process to nail the voices of Nigerians with finality.
Lai Mohammed did not pretend to hide his grievances when he made his submission at the public hearing for the bill to amend the National Broadcasting Act organised by the House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values.
Mohammed argued that the National Assembly should amend the NBC law to grant it powers to license internet broadcast and all online media broadcast in the country.
His petty fight with Twitter for deleting his principal’s genocidal tweet came to the fore when he said: “I want to add here specifically that internet broadcasting and all online media should be included in this because we have a responsibility to monitor contents, including Twitter.”
What the Minister said in a few words is better understood in terms of the proposed amendments themselves. The amendments in its modified objectives pretends to be targeted at democracy, while also promising to ensure plurality of ownership and to facilitate a wide range of engagements.
While this would look harmless, the NBC and the Lai Mohammed Ministry of Information and Culture have not hidden their disdain for contrary opinions. On several occasions, phone calls have been made to discontinue programs that they deem unnecessary. The ridiculousness of this is seen when Cheta Nwanze, an intelligence partner at SBM Intelligence, was discussing the Asaba Massacre —a historic event during Nigeria’s three-year civil war— on Nigeria Info. A directive came in for the termination of the session and that was where the conversation ended.
Without dwelling too hard on the new objectives —‘democratic’ press censorship, evident in its wordings— the proposed amendment for the functions of the NBC removes any colouration or doubt that the Bill may hold, and runs into its target; online news media.
There is also a hidden part of the amendment:
By deliberating creating a grey area, the amendment will give NBC a big stick to wield on anything it defines as a medium of broadcasting.
After failing several times to introduce its social media bill officially known as the “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019” and the “National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches Bill, 2019,” this introduction and the intentional existence of grey areas will help the NBC to define platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and perhaps in the future —if, or when it stops pandering to the Nigerian gov’t— Koo app, as broadcasters so it can effectively control and stifle them.
If the declaration of law via a press conference was outrageous, this sneaky introduction will consolidate Lai Mohammed and NBC’s power, effectively giving NBC power and control over social media. Twitter, will therefore effectively be treated like a broadcaster that has to register under the NBC. What happens when Twitter fails to heed the childish demands of NBC?
Now, if Lai Mohammed feels disrespected by Twitter deleting a genocide threatening Tweet, he would no longer rush to hold a press conference, he would just have DSS storm the Twitter office, arrest their staff, and give them the Zakzaky treatment; detention with almost no hope of freedom.
One would wonder why mentioning Lai Mohammed’s name specifically is important in this part. The words of Akin Akingbulu, executive director of the Institute for Media and Society, on the floor of the house of representatives, highlighted another part that will have the commission receiving directives from the minister. Akingbulu pleaded that: “the power to give directives to the commission, vested in the minister of information in section six should be removed and replaced with powers which include policy formulation for the broadcasting sector.”
Lai Mohammed will become the enforcer, prosecutor, and adjudicator on matters relating to broadcast operations. Why should a Minister have that much power?
There is more monstrosity
Lai Mohammed and NBC’s god power over all broadcast medium —especially social media (hi Twitter)— also means they get to decide who gets licensed and whose license gets renewed, according to the S13 (A, B, C, D, E, F) which is being introduced with more expansion than Nigeria’s road network.
Amendments in S19 A and S19 B will also effectively have NBC determine the level of influence wielded by a broadcaster. NBC can now decide, in trying to ‘eliminate unfair competition,’ the number of broadcast platforms one person can have. Raymond Dokpesi and Daar communications, with TV, Radio and online platforms, may have to forfeit some of those platforms if NBC decides it is leading to ‘unfair’ competition. Only NTA and its 1886 service are allowed to be everywhere.
S19 D introduced as ‘Directions’ also makes laughable scorn at both Nigerian courts and the Legislature. NBC will now have this power:
Again, the amendment reminds us —should we dare to forget— that this is more about Lai Mohammed’s anger towards accountability and that all power to talk, to question the government, to ask questions, must belong to him (and the NBC) when it mentions that:
The pervasion of incompetence in the Buhari administration has been met with resistance wherever there is still a will to fight back and demand some accountability. Tired of being bludgeoned to death by a language it does not speak or understand, the introduction of these amendments to the NBC is a dying attempt at ensuring that Nigeria becomes a country of people with words, but who are not allowed to say them.
The line has always been straight
When the Muhammadu Buhari administration started, it went straight to work by perpetrating several human rights violations. Unlike Buhari’s military regime where you could be flogged in public for dissenting, or kidnapped and thrown into cargo for trying to avoid the regime, Buhari’s ‘democracy’ quickly realised that there is a resistance, a type which it has never experienced.
In the past, Newswire has extensively analysed several attempts by the Buhari administration to sneak in —clumsily— internet censorship. The introduction of the Social Media Bill, The Infectious Disease Act which was going to give the government power to ‘disappear’ citizens, an amendment of the NBC Code to expand control over broadcast media, the godawful CAMA Bill, and several other attempts.
Unrelenting, especially after the international attention that Twitter helped to bring to the shamelessness of the Nigerian government, it has since launched a multi-pronged attack at Twitter and other online platforms which have eluded its flailing and failing hands.
The administration has banned Twitter, directed Telecoms operators to effect the ban, refused a logical negotiation with Twitter, and finally come out to admit that its problem with Twitter was from the #EndSARS protest; a fact which it had tried to cover up by saying the ban was necessitated by the ‘disrespect’ to Buhari. Although knowing how respect-minded this administration is, it might have also been a valid standalone excuse.
The Buhari administration has other pressing, contentious allegations to deal with. Bribery and corruption are a stock-in-trade, insecurity is ravaging all of Nigeria’s six regions, Buhari’s Al-Qaeda supporting minister is still roaming free, yet its greatest concern is not to ensure the security and lives of citizens but to ensure that they take the administration’s beating, face down.
Like the Social Media Bill and all the children it has birthed, this amendment must not be allowed to stay. Its existence is reminiscent of China, not only in terms of defining what people can and are allowed to say, but it may also be the beginning of the Buhari administration refusing to leave office at the expiration of its tenure in 2023.