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The Nigerian Press Council Amendment Bill - Tribune Editorial

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THE adversaries of the media in Nigeria are unrelenting in their desperate attempts to castrate and subjugate it. To them, the Fourth Estate of the Realm is a big threat. Rather than exploring appropriate and legitimate means and avenues to channel whatever grievances they have against the press, they take measures designed to gag the media. Their latest onslaught is evident in the  Nigerian Press Council Amendment Bill that has passed Second Reading in the Senate. The bill seeks to replace the Nigeria Press Council Act 1992 (as amended) with the Nigerian Press Council Act 2018 with intent to criminalise media practice in the country, curtail public access to useful information and erode fundamental human rights, especially those bordering on the freedom of speech.  It also targets media establishments, which provide sources of livelihood for many citizens directly or indirectly.

In spite of the outrage against the bill within and outside the country’s shores, the sponsors and a few federal lawmakers have chosen to remain adamant and recalcitrant, justifying the proposed act on the excuse that it is designed to check the menace of fake news. But this is a mere smokescreen because beyond the façade of that excuse lies the deep-seated hatred for the Nigerian press by the sponsors of the bill who are apparently indifferent to the huge price that media professionals have paid for the evolution of the country—its sustenance, growth, progress, unity and stability—from the colonial era till date.

Admittedly, though, the Presidency has disclaimed the provocative bill, saying that it is privately sponsored. But it has been reticent on who those private sponsors are. However,  the fact that the sponsors of the bill have remained obscure is curious given the implications of the proposed law for the rule of law, freedom of speech and other ingredients and values of democracy. Although President Muhammadu Buhari, who once described himself as a converted democrat, has assured that he would “not compromise his impeccable and untainted democratic credentials by signing into law, any bill that violates the letter or the spirit of the constitution,” experience has taught Nigerians that such assurances from their leaders can hardly be relied on because their word is not their bond.

It is gratifying that powerful lobby groups have since stepped up aggressive campaigns against the bill in view of the inherent traps, including violation of the rights of media professionals to practise their profession; denying the vast majority of citizens of the opportunity to task their leaders on good governance, particularly on issues relating to accountability, transparency and due process. The campaign against the bill should go beyond writing petitions to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. The Nigerian Press Council Amendment Bill is incontrovertibly part of the orchestrated efforts to gag the press by those who perceive journalists as foes.

The Senate should discard the Nigerian Press Council Amendment Bill without further delay. It seeks to violate both the media and citizens’ fundamental rights. All professional bodies in the country should rally round media professionals in frustrating the attempt to cage the media. It is a piece of legislation that weaved into one, all the cruel and draconian laws promulgated by the military, including the Public Officers Protection against False Accusation Decree No. 4 of 1984 and the Newspapers Registration Decree 43 of 1993.




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