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SERAP, 24 Others Drag FG To ECOWAS Court Over NBC Broadcasting Code

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The Social and Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 24 concerned Nigerians have sued the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government, and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja.
SERAP said the suit is over “the arbitrary use of the NBC Act and Broadcasting Code to target, harass, sanction, and fine independent television and radio stations in Nigeria, and to restrict Nigerians’ freedom of expression and access to information.”
The rights group is asking the ECOWAS Court to declare “illegal and contrary to Nigeria’s international human rights obligations the provisions of the NBC Act and Broadcasting Code frequently apply by the Federal Government and NBC to target, harass, intimidate, and impose sanctions on independent television and radio stations in the country.”
The suit is coming in the wake of the “‘bridge (breach) letter’ by the NBC asking Channels TV to explain why it interviewed the spokesman of a proscribed organisation; the ban on Jay FM 101.9 Jos for playing songs such as Falz’s ‘This is Nigeria’, Wande Coal’s ‘Iskaba’ and Olamide’s ‘See Mary, See Jesus’; and the N9million fines imposed on Channels TV, AIT and Arise TV (N3million each) over their coverage of the #EndSARS protests.”
In the suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/19/21 and filed last week, the Plaintiffs are arguing that “the rights to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom allow Nigerians to seek and attain truth, which is an inherently good activity. These rights also allow Nigerians to participate in representative governance, social and political decision-making, which the Federal Government and NBC are obligated to foster and encourage.”
According to the Plaintiffs, “Attempts to justify restrictions on these fundamental rights and freedom on the overly vague grounds of incitement, morality and subversion of the constituted authority contradict the principles of the universality of human rights. Freedom of Expression is a fundamental human right and cannot be denied without lawful justification.”
The Plaintiffs are also arguing that, “the application of the Nigerian Broadcasting Act 1992 and Broadcasting Code to sanction independent television and radio stations is arbitrary, and has created an environment in which independent media houses are censored, or resort to self-censorship.”
The Plaintiffs state that, “despite the Freedom of Information Act in Nigeria which guarantees the right to access public records, the Federal Government and its agents and several states of Nigeria have routinely refused to release information sought.”
The Plaintiffs are also arguing that “a lot of Nigerians at home and abroad rely on independent television and radio stations including online on their coverage of topical issues of public interest to access impartial, objective and critical information about ideas and views on how the Federal Government and its agents are performing their constitutional and international human rights obligations.”
The suit filed on behalf of the Plaintiffs by their lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part, “The low level of political tolerance for views perceived to be critical of government or offensive means that the press continues to be subject of scare tactics, harassment and intimidation.
“Censorship restricts the flow of information from the Federal Government and its agents about issues of public interest, preventing people from accessing critical information, expressing themselves, and denying them opportunities to assert other fundamental human rights.
“It also violates the rights of people to openly discuss issues relating to transparency and accountability in government, and prevents them from accessing information on a wide range of related concerns.
“The Federal Government and NBC should be stopped from using the broadcasting code or any other regulations and/or law to erode the sacred rights to freedom of expression, information and media freedom, which is the bedrock of the rule of law and sustainable democracy.
“The Federal Government and NBC have routinely breached the fundamental principles of media freedom and media plurality, which are a central part of the effective exercise of freedom of expression and access to information, and thereby undermined the ability of Nigeria’s independent media houses to function effectively.
“The persistent use of the NBC Act and broadcasting code by the Federal Government and the NBC is a blatant violation of the rights to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom, as well as prohibition against self-censorship.
“The rights to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom promote diversity in forms of individual self-fulfillment and human flourishing, which the Federal Government and its agents ought to cultivate to achieve a tolerant and welcoming environment for the sake of good governance, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
“The Federal Government and NBC have violated the right of Nigerians to objective and impartial news coverage and reportage, as they continue to impermissibly restrict individuals’ rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom in Nigeria.
“The Federal Government and NBC have seriously undermined the ability of independent media houses to practice journalism free from undue interference, to cover diverse views that are crucial to the exercise of many other rights and freedoms.”
The Plaintiffs are therefore asking the ECOWAS Court of Justice for the following reliefs: “A Declaration that the application of the provisions of the National Broadcasting Commission Act 1992 and the Nigeria Broadcasting Code by the Defendant and its agent to impose sanctions and penalties on independent television and radio stations is inconsistent and incompatible with the right to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom guaranteed under Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“An Order setting aside the sum of N5million or any other form of penal sanction unilaterally imposed by the Defendant and its agents on Channels TV and/or on any such other television and radio stations.
“An Order directing the Defendant and its agents to immediately repeal and/or amend the National Broadcasting Commission Act and the Nigerian Broadcasting Code and bring them into conformity with Nigeria’s international human rights obligations.
“An Order of Perpetual Injunction restraining the Defendant and its agents from unlawfully imposing sanctions fines or doing anything whatsoever to harass Channels TV and any other television and radio stations in violation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
“Such further order or orders the Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstances of this suit.”
SERAP said no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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Don’t Borrow Money Without Approval, Wike Warns New LG Chairmen

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The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, has told newly sworn-in chairmen of the 23 local government areas of the state not to approach any financial institution to borrow money without first clearing with the state government.
The governor gave the warning shortly after the elected chairmen of the 23 LGAs took their oath of office at the Banquet Hall of Government House, Port Harcourt, yesterday.
According to Wike, the caution has become necessary in order to stem unguarded desire of some council chairman to access money without any development plan.
“Don’t go and borrow money without the state government approval. Some of you tried it last time and started with your blackmail, saying help us, we are finished. You have no authority to go and borrow money. Even we as state government, before we go and borrow money we get approval from the Debt Management Office. No bank will even give us.
“Before you borrow money, the state must know what you want to use it for, and how you will pay it back, so that others who are coming will not suffer because of your indebtedness.”
Wike also charged the council chairmen to pay proper attention to issues of security in order to stem likely security breaches in their various councils.
The governor particularly urged them to establish a robust working relationship both with the Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) and the traditional rulers that will engender having regular security meetings for proper briefings.
“Stay in your council areas. Don’t stay in hotels and in Port Harcourt. If you’re not at home, how do you know about the security situation in your local government? Security is key!
“Relate with your DPOs. It does not cost you anything. Even if it cost you, governance is not easy. Governance is expensive. Security is expensive. Some of you cannot relate with the DPOs.
“It’s only when you have a problem that you relate with your DPOs and some of them are intelligent and when you call them that time, they turn their face the other way. You must make effort to relate with your DPOs.”
The governor urged the council chairmen to ensure they hold Security Council meeting weekly or better still, once in every two weeks for proper briefing.
Speaking further, Wike warned them against embarking on needless travel outside of the state and the country without notifying the state government.
He also encouraged them to work to strengthen the unity of the party in their various councils, consult widely with the leaders over appointments, and on other issues that will give everybody a sense of belonging.
Wike frowned at the worsening sanitary conditions particularly in Obio/Akpor, Port Harcourt City, Eleme, Oyigbo LGAs, and charged the council chairmen to work assiduously to regularly evaluate refuse dumped on major roads in their councils.
The state governor revealed that the state government prevented the former chairmen whose tenure ended, last Wednesday, from paying local government workers salary due to security report and complains by some councillors and political appointees that they will not be paid what was due them.
“So, I decided to suspend the payment of local government workers and political appointees, so that the newly sworn-in chairmen will have to pay them without any crisis whatsoever.”
He said the state government will set up a committee to oversee the payment of all entitlement of immediate past chairmen, their political appointees and councillors.
According to him, “All the former council chairmen, all political appointees and councillors must be paid their money.”
Wike said he has received intelligence report that some council chairmen have sworn that they will not swear in some elected councillors who they perceive to be opposed to them.
He warned that if this happens, appropriate sanction will be taken against the erring council chairmen.
The newly sworn-in chairmen are, Daniel E. O. Daniel (Abua/Odual); Benjamin Eke (Ahoada East); Hope Ikiriko (Ahoada West); Rowland Sekibo (Akuku-Toru); Barrister Awortu Erastus (Andoni); Onengiyeofori George (Asari-Toru); Irimagha David ( Bonny); Michael Williams (Degema); Obarilormate Ollor (Eleme); Dr. Lloyd Chidi (Emohua); Obinna Anyanwu (Etche); Deko Confidence (Gokana); and Engr Nwanosike Samuel (Ikwerre).
Others include, Bariere Thomas (Khana); Barrister Ariolu George (Obio/Akpor); Nemieboka Vincent (Ogu/Bolo); Akuro Tobin (Okrika); Nwaiwu Chisorom (Omuma); Vincent Job (Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni); Enyiada Cookey-Gam (Opobo/Nkoro); Nwaogu Akara (Oyigbo); Ihunda Allwell (Port Harcourt City); and Mbakpone Okpe (Tai).

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Drop Press Regulation Bill, Media Bodies Tell Reps

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The Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO), which comprises the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), has called on the House of Representatives to step down a bill seeking to amend the Nigerian Press Council Act, noting that it is still a subject of litigation the Supreme Court.
Several media organisations and groups also criticised various clauses in the bill as possibly discouraging freedom of speech and press in the country.
The House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values, which organised the hearing on the bill, however, insisted on going ahead with the exercise.
The committee had organised the hearing on five bills including the ‘Bill for an Act to Amend the Nigerian Press Council Act, CAP N128, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, to Remove Bottlenecks Affecting Its Performance and Make the Council in Tune with Current Realities in Regulating the Press and for Related Matters (HB 330).’
At the opening of the event, Chairman of the committee, Hon Olusegun Odebunmi, apologised to the media bodies, especially NPAN, which had protested, last Wednesday, over exclusion from the exercise.
He noted that an “open invitation” to the event was extended to stakeholders.
“So, I am sorry if there is anybody who thinks we did not invite them. It is not by intention; it was definitely a mistake. Notwithstanding, we have covered everybody through our advert,” he said.
The Editor-in-Chief of Leadership Newspapers, Azubuike Ishiekwene, who represented the NPO, stated that contrary to the claim of an “open invitation” by the committee, the organisation did not receive any notification that would have enabled it to engage the lawmakers and Nigerians robustly on the bill.
Ishiekwene said, “There is a matter and I am sure that as stewards of the people and the law, you are aware that there is a pending matter between the NPO and some parties involved in this legislation.
“That is why a negotiated conversation seems to us to be a way to deal with it because there is a matter pending before the Supreme Court: between the NPAN and some parties involved in this bill that is being amended. And as stewards of the law, I am sure you are constrained just as I am to make any further conversations on this matter because it is a pending matter before the Supreme Court.
“The last time it came up in 2010 – it is a matter that has actually been pending since 1999 – 17 of the 39 clauses contained in the bill that you are considering were ruled unconstitutional by the court at that time. Of course, the Federal Government appealed the ruling. We won the appeal and the matter is currently before the Supreme Court.
“I will rest my case by appealing to the honourable members of this committee; I crave your indulgence to refer to a conversation that was had on a similar matter in 2018 when this matter came up before the Senate and the pendency of this matter before the court was canvassed. And the Senate – the 8th National Assembly – at that time agreed that the prudent thing to do was to step it down. I urge this House to also consider a similar step.”
Odebunmi, however, argued that the House was doing its constitutional job “and I am very sure (that) no court will restrain us from doing the job.”
He noted that while the lawmakers would not stop anybody from going ahead with the judicial process, the lawmakers have the mandate of Nigerians to amend laws.
“It is not about the matter in court, it is an Act of the National Assembly and we deemed it fit to amend it and we are doing that. It does not stop you from what you are doing but this is the position of the National Assembly,” he stated.
Also, the International Press Centre, Media Rights Agenda, Centre for Media Law and Advocacy, and the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, in a joint memorandum titled, ‘For a Truly Independent and Media Freedom Friendly Nigeria Press Council’, called on the National Assembly to expunge all laws intended to criminalise free speech and press.
The memo was signed by the Executive Director, IPC, Lanre Arogundade; Executive Director, MRA, Edetaen Ojo; Executive Director, CMLA, Richard Akinnola; and Executive Director, PTCIJ, Dapo Olorunyomi.
Arogundade, who read from the memo, said, “First, we like to say that the international behaviour towards media regulation is peer regulation, constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press, and the expunging from statute all laws that criminalises freedom of expression. This is the line the committee should tow like Ghana has done and like South Africa has done; and with regards to throwing off defamation statute from the books, the way Sierra Leone has done.
“A consideration is that the amendment seeks an unabashed focus to restrict freedom of expression while masking the toga of something else. It attempts to do what other laws have done like the Cybercrimes Acts which Sections 24 and 38, which in no fewer than ten instances have been used to clampdown on bloggers or journalists for expressing opinion antagonistic to politically or economically powerful elites.
“Bodies like the Amnesty International has documented 50 cases where the law had targeted, not cybercrime suspects, but bloggers and journalists for writing on what they ‘know to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another.’”
Others are that, “The ethical code that should be operationalised by the council is the Code of Ethics of Journalists in Nigeria as adopted by the Nigerian Press Organisation, comprising the Nigeria Union of Journalists, the Nigerian Guild of Editors and the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria in Ilorin in 1998, and as may be regularly updated. This has been the practice. A political and non-journalism office like that of the Minister of Information should not be given the power of approval over the code of conduct of journalists.
“The power to determine sanctions relating to hefty fines should be vested in the courts and not the council. The Court of Appeal has clearly established this legal principle in NOSDRA v Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited (2018) LPELR-44210 (CA) where it held that ‘the imposition of fines by NOSDRA was contrary to its powers on the basis that penalties or fines are imposed as punishment for an offence or violation of the law and the power as well as competence to establish that an offence has been committed belongs to the courts and not a regulatory agency.’
“The provision relating to revocation of license for alleged publication of fake news should be removed from the Act. Decisions for appropriate sanctions in relation to such offences should be vested in the law courts.”

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Buhari Promises Support For Families Of Fallen Military, Security Personnel

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President Muhammadu Buhari has said his administration would ensure that resources are devoted to the care of the families and loved ones of the officers and men of the Nigerian Armed Forces, as well as operatives of other security agencies, who have died in the course of fighting insecurity in the country.
The President who spoke, yesterday, during a visit to personnel of the Armed Forces and security agencies in Operation Hadin Kai, at the Maimalari Cantonment, Maiduguri, Borno State, also expressed the gratitude of the nation to the security agencies.
The President, who is on an official visit to Borno State, however, charged the military and security agencies not to give breathing space to terrorists and criminals in various parts of the country, saying the war must be concluded with restoration of peace and reconstruction of all the affected areas.
“I am delighted to be with you this afternoon, to address you on this special occasion of my official visit to Borno State. I want to seize this opportunity to put it on record that our nation will forever be indebted to you, for your patriotic commitment to the defense of our fatherland against insurgency and criminality.
“I, therefore, commend you and remember all the personnel who have paid the supreme sacrifice in ensuring that Nigeria remains an indivisible and secure entity.
“As I send my heartfelt condolences to the families of our fallen heroes and pray for the souls of the departed, I want to assure you that my administration will spare no effort or resources to ensure that the widows and children of our fallen heroes who paid the supreme price in defense of our beloved country, are well cared for,” he said.
According to a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, the President said wounded comrades will get the best medical attention towards their full recovery.
“While acknowledging your collective efforts at decimating and degrading the terrorists and reaffirming the inviolable sovereignty of our nation, I also wish to extol your steadfastness and untiring efforts in the face of the difficulties you experience in the Theatres of Operation.
“Your collective efforts have resulted in the relative peace being enjoyed in the region today. Under my watch, the Armed Forces of Nigeria have been provided a firm strategy and clear sense of direction to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.
“We should not allow our adversaries the opportunity or breathing space to challenge or undermine our national interests and core values. The defense and security agencies should rest assured of the Federal Government’s unalloyed commitment to winning the battle against terror and criminality,” he added.
Buhari commended the military and security agencies for the synergy that translated into successes in restoring peace and order.
“I am particularly happy to note the increasing understanding and cooperation within the military, as well as the inter-agency cooperation in the fight against the terrorists and other criminal elements in the North-East.
“The outcome of this synergy is evidenced by the successes recorded in the ongoing Operation Tura Takaibango, which has so far degraded the insurgents’ capabilities in the Timbuktu Triangle, Sambisa Forest and the Lake Chad Region.
“I am, therefore, pleased to acknowledge that the military and other security agencies including civilian stakeholders are adhering to the true spirit of Operation Hadin Kai, which implies “jointness, synergy and cooperation.
“By pooling together the collective resources and comparative advantages of the Armed Forces and other security agencies, we hope the enemy will now feel the ferocity of our firepower and the weight of our resolve,” the President said.
Side-by-side with the efforts of the Armed Forces and security agencies, Buhari assured that his administration is developing a strategy for post-war reconstruction and peace building.
“Concerted efforts are being made to fast-track reconstruction and development programmes in the affected communities in the North-East.
“I am hopeful that this will lead to the speedy resettlement of displaced persons, as well as the restoration of bubbling community life as people return to their homes.
“Alongside investment in development and reconstruction, we will sustain our investment in the Armed Forces in a manner that balances the carrot and stick,” he said.
The President said several interventions by the Federal Government had led to the procurement and delivery of large consignments of critical combat enablers, including high calibre weapons and ammunition, “Many have been injected into the theatre and soon other equipment that have just arrived in the country would also be deployed to the theatre of operations. Much more equipment will be procured for the Armed Forces to cater for both the short and long-term requirements.
“I would like, at this point, to also commend the hierarchy of our Armed Forces for their strategic foresight in ensuring that some of our critical military equipment are fabricated locally.”
Buhari also noted that repairs and maintenance of some of the vital weapons were now being carried out in the country, thereby saving the nation a lot of foreign exchange and also creating jobs for our teeming population.
“As personnel of our Armed Forces and security agencies, you must understand that these items of equipment must be put to good use against the terrorists and other criminal elements. There is no room for complacency, and no need to be less than 100 per cent alert at all times.
“As your Commander-in-Chief, I want to assure you that my government will continue to work towards the provision of timely funding and procurement of equipment for the Armed Forces and other security agencies. This is intended to boost the prosecution of the ongoing war to a logical conclusion and also to serve our collective interests and well-being.
“In addition, your welfare is of utmost importance and concern to this government. I am glad that the gradual rotation of the troops in the field has commenced, as I directed. I am sure that this will minimize and possibly eliminate battle fatigue, as well as enhance troops’ morale,” he added.
The President thanked the military and security agencies for unalloyed loyalty and selfless sacrifices towards the defence of our country, adding, “Your courage and gallantry will continue to inspire others, as they echo into the future.”
“While I commend your resilience, let me remind you that there is still a lot of work to be done, to completely restore peace to the North-East, stem the activities of armed bandits in the North-West and North-Central, as well as deal with other security challenges across the country.
“You must, therefore, remain steadfast and see this war to a conclusive end. In doing so, you must rely on inter-agency cooperation, and strengthen your cohesion with the troops of neighboring Republics of Cameroon, Chad and Niger in our collective fight against the terrorists, under the auspices of the Multinational Joint Task Force. This will consolidate our efforts and facilitate the speedy return of peace and stability to the region,” the President said.
He urged the military and security agencies to continue to make Nigeria proud.
Buhari also interacted with some of the wounded soldiers, assuring them that the government was fully committed to their recovery and welfare.
In his remarks, the Commander of Theatre Operations Hadin Kai, Maj-Gen Felix Omoigui, assured troops of the President’s confidence and commitment to their welfare, especially in bringing the war to a conclusive end.
The commander thanked the President for the visit to the troops, which he said will greatly boost the morale of all those fighting to keep the country in peace.
Governors of Borno and Yobe State, Babagana Zulum, and Mai Bunu, respectively; Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Leo Irabor; Chief of Army Staff, Maj-Gen Farouk Yahaya; Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Awwal Gambo; Chief of Staff, Air Vice Marshal Isiaka Amao; and National Security Adviser, Maj-Gen Babagana Monguno (rtd), were also at the event.

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