To kill media: Nigerian govt’s saber blitz against pen

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Ben GEORGE
The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has shown utter disdain for the media from the day one of its inauguration. It has relentlessly fired unsavoury darts at the media, unpretentious about its aim – to muzzle the media and make it prostrate, ineffective and blunt. It’s ruthlessly waging an aggressive war against the fifth estate of the realm. The administration is untiring in its offensive but it’s not winning, after all, the wise men of yester centuries have asserted that “pen is mightier than the sword.” Edward Bulwer-Lytton, an English man, it was, who made Cardinal Richelieu to spout this maxim in a line in his play, ‘Richelieu,’ in 1839. By this line he posited that the written word is a more effective tool for communication than violence.


Before Edward Bulwer-Lytton, several other philosophers had made the phrase. Euripides, a Greek playwright, who died c. 406 BCE, coined a variant of it. “The tongue is mightier than the blade.”
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), the great conqueror, also remarked: “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” This is just as Bonaparte averred: “There are only two powers in the world, saber and mind; at the end, saber is always defeated by mind.”
Thomas Jefferson, an American statesman, who was the principal author of the US Declaration of Independence and who became the third president of the united States, on 19 June, 1792, in a letter to Thomas Paine stated: “Go on then in doing with your pen what in other times was done with the sword: shew that reformation is more practicable by operating on the mind than on the body of man, and be assured that it has not a more sincere votary nor you a more ardent well-wisher than Y[ou]rs. &c. Thomas Jefferson.”
Let’s be reminded about Bonaparte words:”There are only two powers in the world, saber and mind; at the end, saber is always defeated by mind.”
The Buhari-administration has demonstrated with dripping venom a despicable obsession to shrink the media space, traditional and social media, with its many repressive policies and uncanny long shots at suppressing free speech through regulations and legislations.
The effort the administration brings to bear towards gagging the press is undoubtedly greater than the one deployed to transform the country. This penchant for killing free speech and free press is frightening and inexplicable when as leader of the opposition party, his party rode on the back of free flow of information to snatch power.
Broadcast, print and online media from time to time feel the heat of the government’s obfuscating policies. Many broadcast stations have been banned and heavy fines imposed, for airing what the government considered injurious. The goal is to determine what they broadcast; newspapers have been confiscated, vendors hounded and last month, the administration proscribed Twitter operation in the country, all in the name of protecting the sanctity of the nation, preserve national cohesion and keep at bay information that could undermine national security.
It is intensely desirous of regulating all social media and bowdlerizing social media posts. Against what is stated earlier, its purpose is clear, it doesn’t want its many failings as government amplified through the media space. Nigeria is in the throes of legions of troubles, many of them instigated by its omissions and/or commissions. It is the architect of the many ills assailing the country and with no inclination to redressing the situation all voices or words of criticism must be smothered. Truth has become bitter to it, it has become a dangling Sword of Damocles, this it wants covered. Juxtapose its action with this popular saying, “The truth does not mind being questioned. A lie does not like being challenged.”
Economic strangulation in addition to overburdening debts, cut-throat pervasive insecurity being buoyed by the administration’s selectiveness in tackling it, unabated corruption, dilapidated infrastructures, escalating prices of essential goods especially culminating in rising despondency and misery in the land mostly provoked by government’s wrong measures and policies, are all what the Buhari-led administration is wary of being censured against. It is this intolerable posture that is driving it overboard to kill the media or heavily constrain the space media operates in, through the increasing legislative and regulatory onslaughts, geared of course towards undermining the citizen’s democratic and human rights.
The government is always quick to validate its reprehensible actions using the cloak of fighting hate speech, fake news and disinformation, which it unceasingly asserts promote national instability. One wonders which promote national instability more between that and the rampaging killer herdsmen, bandits and terrorists and its unabashed nepotism!
The latest, which has brought the matter into focus and denunciation aside the Twitter ban and frantic efforts to extend the ban on other social media platforms, is the introduction of two bills in the House of Representatives, which have been dubbed anti-press.
The bills sponsored by the lawmaker representing Surulere/Ogo-Oluwa Federal Constituency, Hon. Chief Olusegun Odebunmi (the chairman, House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values), aim at amending the law establishing the Nigerian Press Council, NPC, and the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, NBC.
The bills have received a lot of flaks, as they are seen to be seeking to hamstring media practitioners in playing their role.
The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), argues in a statement signed by its president, Mr. Mustapha Isah and general secretary, Iyobosa Uwugiaren, that “The media is not an enemy of the federal government and should not be seen as such by agents of government. Attacks by political elite on the media, which may have prompted the NPC amendment bill and the NBC amendment bill, are habitually not envisioned to win an argument on the values of journalism, but designed to intimidate media organizations.”
The guild added that the NPC Act amendment Bill and NBC Act amendment Bill negate all known features of media regulatory bodies in the world, submitting, “While the NPC Act. CAP N128, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1992, created by the military dictatorship, gives the Council Board full responsibility to administer the council, the proposed amendment Bill reduced the council board to ‘advisory capacity’ on a part-time basis and gives the Executive Secretary all the powers.
“This kind of media regulatory council will neither serve the interest of the media industry, strengthen its constitutional role – of holding public officers accountable nor serves the general interest of the public – the original trustees of the media.”
The NGE also observed that in the proposed NPC Act amendment Bill, “the sponsor mischievously smuggled in the controversial ‘fake news’ provision by stating that any person who carries news established to be fake thereafter, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N5 million or a term of two-year imprisonment or both, and a compensation of N2million payable to the person(s), group(s), corporate bodies, government or any of its agencies who the news was carried against. Who determines what is fake news?
“…this is a ticket for the government to stifle the media and close those they perceive as critical.”
This has united media organizations in the country. This week birthed a common advertorial in the front pages of the major newspapers, lampooning the draconian acts, and calling on the National Assembly to halt the amendments. It read, “Information Blackout – This is what the National Assembly wants to achieve with the NPC and NBC (media) amendment bills. It’s not just against the media … it’s about society’s right to know, your right to be heard.” This was sponsored by the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and Newspapers’ Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN). This striking advertorial was followed by vituperative editorials, which took government to the cleaners.
Further to the above, government is reported to have allocated a whopping N4.8 billion to the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) to monitor WhatsApp messages, phone calls, text messages, among others.
Of the figure, N1.93 billion was earmarked for “WhatsApp Intercept Solution” and N2.93 billion for “Thuraya Interception Solution” – a communications system used for monitoring voice calls or call-related information, SMS, data traffic, among others.
This is aside the request by the minister of information and culture, Lai Mohammed, during a public hearing in June that the House of Representatives should include internet broadcasting under the control of the NBC.
Muhammed had said all online and internet broadcasting entities should be included in section two (c) of the bill – which gives powers to the NBC to “receive, process and consider applications for the establishment, ownership of radio and television stations including…
“I want to add that internet broadcasting and all online media should be included in the bill.”
There were also previous attempts to control the social media space via bills introduced by two Niger senators at the Senate. What the administration is rolling out to combat free press and freedom of expression knows no bounds even though it has less than two years in office.
However, there is always a limit to what human mind can tolerate. Government does not own the nation the nation and the government are rather owned by the people. No government ever defeats its people and no government no matter how confident it’s by the power in its possession can defeat the press. Men who brutally deployed weapons of mass destructions like Napoleon, who conquered over a half of Europe, attested to this when after all his campaigns he declared as quoted above: “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets… There are only two powers in the world, saber and mind; at the end, saber is always defeated by mind.”
The Nigerian government’s hypocritical onslaught against the media is mere candle in the wind, it will be extinguished, and the saber (guns and other assault weapons as well as the obnoxious legislative acts) will fall flat in the face of pen ambush. Word, written or spoken, bears more influence in reforming people and societies than thousands of sabers. Doing good, using persuasive means and making life comfortable for the citizens will engender more impact than resort to intimidation and deployment of instruments of coercion.
Free press is essential, the paranoid fever symptomatic of the Nigerian government is thus bizarre, why does it want to hamper flow of information and cramp communication channels? It is a glaring indication of its failure, which ironically is self-imposed and this, it doesn’t want circulated. Perhaps, it is consumed by a scenario in which 1, 000 innocent people will be hacked to death in some remote places by some intransigent criminals stomping around and the report will be swept under the carpet and the happening blotted out of the consciousness of the world!
Nonetheless, the struggle is on, in the end, the pen, word (written or spoken) will subdue coercion and Nigerians will shout “hurray!”




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