No To Press Council Bill 2018

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Evidently, the Nigerian Press Council Bill 2018, now before the National Assembly (NASS) could arguably be described as the most contentious and controversial piece of legislation since the inception of the eighth Assembly in 2015.
Amid stiff opposition by media chiefs and practitioners and organisations, to wit; the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE), Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Nigeria Press Council (NPC), among other stakeholders, the proposed bill, from all indications, appears to re-invoke the spirit of the dreaded Decree 4 of 1984 and Decree 43 of 1993 which the military junta used to muzzle the Nigerian press and the entire citizenry.
Recently, the media was awash with reports of the speedy process by the National Assembly to pass the bill which currently is at the second reading stage in the Senate.
The general apprehension hovering over the bill as it relates to government’s interest in the bill, especially against the backdrop of the forthcoming 2019 general elections is quite understandable, as the ruling APC-led Federal Government and the political class may well be on their way to gag the press before, during and after the elections.
If the body language of the Federal Government is anything to go by, then, the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, in active connivance with the National Assembly wants to indirectly re-introduce Decree 4 of 1984 and Decree 43 of 1993 through the back door.
Ironically, the so-called Press Council Bill 2018 runs foul of the spirit of the 1999 Constitution as amended, as the supreme law of the country which unequivocally prescribes and proclaims the freedom of speech and expression as the fundamental and natural right of the citizenry.
Already, the media world has described the bill as unconstitutional, draconian and anti-people, stressing that it runs contrary to the principles of the rule of law. According to the press, the bill is actually subjudice, given that a case on the subject matter, is still pending in the Supreme Court.
The Tide no less agrees with views expressed by other practitioners that the bill is to all intents and purposes, draconian and anti-press freedom, being an amalgamation of the obnoxious Public Officers Protection Against False Accusation Decree No 4 of 1984 and the Newspapers Registration Decree 43 of 1993, which are both vestiges of the dark days of military rule and therefore, incurably and irreparably bad, and equally inconsistent with values of a democratic nation.
We think that the bill’s intention is to criminalise the journalism practice, in spite of the fact that the Constitution and other relevant statutes have enough provisions and avenues for seeking legal redress, if anybody or any corporate entity feels injured by any publication.
No doubt, if the bill is eventually passed into law, the Nigerian Press Council will usurp the powers of conventional courts in the country, and, therefore, assume extra-judicial powers not recognised by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The bill, if assented to will incapacitate the media in the exercise of their statutory duties and obligations in accordance with Section 22 of the Constitution, to monitor governance and hold government and public officers accountable to the people.
Certainly, the bill violates Sections 1, 2 and 39 of the Constitution which state inter alia, “every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference and without prejudice”.
Similarly, the bill runs foul of Article 9 of the African Charter on Human Rights (Ratification) and Enforcement Act No 2 of 1983 to which Nigeria is a signatory and which, truly is also part of the Nigerian Constitution.
Infact, we thought that the country’s lawmakers should have known better and, therefore, perform their legislative functions in total compliance with local and international laws and treaties, which they swore abnitio to protect and preserve at all times.
The Tide, therefore, demands that the bill should be dropped forthwith and that the National Assembly must act in consonance with best global practices by allowing the media to perform its constitutional roles and obligations to the citizenry.
We say so because all that Nigeria requires now, especially in the current democratic process are transparency, accountability, good governance and democracy dividends for the citizenry, with the ultimate goal of moving the country to the next level of socio-political and economic development.
Indeed, the country’s reputation and respectability within the global community would be worse off if the bill is eventually passed into law. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine.