The Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO) has asked the House of Representatives to set aside a bill seeking to discourage freedom of speech and press in the country.
The bill is tagged 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).’
The media body, comprising the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria, Nigerian Guild of Editors, and the Nigerian Union of Journalists, on Thursday, June 17, argued that the bill was being pushed to further stifle the civic space, following Twitter’s suspension in the country.
According to a report by The Punch, the House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values, held a hearing on the bill in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
It comes days after Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information, had, during a hearing of the House Committee, asked the House to amend an Act that would bring the regulation of online news portals and content providers under the authority of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) .
In a government’s apparent move to control both traditional and digital media, the committee had organised a hearing on five bills seeking press regulation without inviting media bodies.
But Olusegun Odebunmi, the committee chairman, said apologetically 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,” Odebunmi said.
Reacting to the chairman’s comment, Azubuike Ishiekwene, the Editor-in-Chief of Leadership Newspapers, who represented NPO, said a negotiated conversation between the parties involved seemed to be the only way to deal with the matter since it is still a subject of litigation in 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,” Ishiekwene said.
“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.”
Meanwhile, a joint memorandum by the International Press Centre, Media Rights Agenda, Centre for Media Law and Advocacy, and the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, also asked 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.
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