HURIWA tackles minister, NBC over controversial code

The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has condemned the illegal National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) amended broadcast code on hate speech and the imposition of N5 million fine on Nigeria Info 99.3FM

HURIWA in a press statement by the National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, and the Director, National Media Affairs, Ms Zainab Yusuf, Friday in Abuja, accused then Minister of Information of hijacking the duties of the Director-General of the NBC.

They noted that, “Since the unveiling of the NBC Code on Hate Speech on August 4, 2020, by the Minister of Information and Culture; Culture, Lai Mohammed, perceived to be a backdoor attempt to clamp down on free speech and opposition, lots of controversies have been stirring in the industry.

“There are threatening moves suggesting that the Minister of Culture and Information; Lai Mohammed has hijacked the duties of the DG NBC hence the hasty review of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

“The NBC was set up by law and has an Act that guides its operations hence the Minister cannot usurp the powers of the board as clearly stated in the act. Any such action by the Minister is illegal.

“Everybody envisages the NBC to be an autonomous body that has no place in politics. However when you listen to the news, the Minister has been the one speaking; is he the DG of the NBC?”

They argued that, “The imposition of fine against the Nigeria Info 99.3FM, even without any evidence that the alleged statement had degraded any person or groups of persons, amounting to hate speech gives the impression that it was the radio station that put the words in the mouth of the guest.

“Assuming without conceding the fact that a case of hate speech has been established, it is totally out of place in a democratic setting that NBC and Lai Mohammed would be the accuser, prosecutor, judge and jury in its own case against the station even as there is absolutely no offence in Nigeria known as hate speech.

“More so, with the NBC board’s position, the Code on hate speech had not come into force; therefore, the N5 million fine is illegal. This is because the imposition of the fine was anchored on a purported amendment of the code and the fact that NBC lacks the legal competence to impose a fine on any broadcasting station without a finding of guilt by a properly constituted criminal court, the NBC should crush the illegal fine.”

The rights group further stated: “As a matter of fact, it seems somewhat contradictory that a country like ours, which grappling with national security battles, would choose to restrict media access to critical information. It is not known if any society had won the war against terrorism by placing a restriction to access to information, in the way the NBC under Lai Mohammed had done.

“We recognise that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute as there are restrictions to the rights, one of which is found in the law of defamation, sedition and libel. So, if the Constitution has taken care of this restriction to free expression, why are the National Assembly and NBC, supervised by Lai Mohammed, still interested in enacting another Code?

“We urge President Muhammadu Buhari to caution his Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to refrain from threatening Nigerians with punishment under a controversial and illegal platform that is inconsistent and incompatible with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).”

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