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Why Nigerians must reject press bill amendment – CHRICED

The Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED) has urged Nigerians to rally together and prevent the draconian amendments to the Press Council,…

The Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED) has urged Nigerians to rally together and prevent the draconian amendments to the Press Council, saying the citizenry would be worse for it if the media is harassed and assaulted by the present administration.

The Executive Director CHRICED, Dr. Ibrahim Zikirullahi, told reporters at media conference on the ‘Shrinking Media and Civic Space in Nigeria’ on Thursday in Abuja that whenever the Press, one of the major pillars supporting democracy, comes under state-sponsored attacks, masquerading as regulation, it is the collective responsibility of all well-meaning citizens and groups to expose and denounce such a sinister agenda.

According to him, the story of Nigeria’s march towards democracy can therefore not be written without taking account of those valiant struggles by activist-journalists for a free, independent and vibrant press.

“Therefore, there is no mistaken the fact that if the independent media in Nigeria could surmount dark, and terrible days of military dictatorship, there is no reason why it will not overcome the renewed onslaught by political actors who appear to have reached the disturbing conclusion that gagging the media and shrinking the civic space are the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy,” Zikirullahi said.

He lamented that in the face of serious governance challenges like chronic insecurity, mass unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, unbridled corruption and extreme poverty; political actors across the federal and state levels appear fixated on “taming” the media, instead of tackling pervasive social and economic problems facing Nigerians.

He said, “It is pertinent to note that since the All Progressives Congress (APC) took over power at the federal level in 2015, it has spent enormous energy, time and resources trying to undermine freedom of expression.

“The government at the centre has exhibited crass and an excessive passion on putting forward legislations and policies, whose sole objective is to stifle freedom of expression and muzzle the Press and civil society.

“Apart from the surreptitious introduction of previous harsh legislations, which attempted to give sweeping powers to the government to curtail the rights of citizens, the government has continually shown intolerance to views and perspectives, which do not align with its own. These tendencies clearly make it evident that the current regime brooks no contrary view.”

He also said that apparently, after the universally-condemned ban on the operations of microblogging site, Twitter, the government has now shifted its focus to the amendment of the Nigeria Press Council Act.

He said that from the details of the proposed amendments, there can be no doubt that the intentions are not noble, but repulsive as the key proposals put forward for the amendment of the Press Council Act are meant to turn the independent media into the lapdog of the government in power.

He noted that the 1999 Constitution despite its flaws and contradictions guarantees the right of freedom of expression and the free Press, with Section 39(1) unambiguously stating that “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”

And Section 39(2) goes on to state that without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions.”

“The Federal Government led by President Muhammadu Buhari, and the National Assembly must understand the danger of what they have been doing. Many of those who populate the government today were a few years ago in the opposition.

“If there was no freedom of expression, would they have been able to sell their ideas, including their many unfulfilled promises to the Nigerian people? The lesson those in power today need to learn therefore, is that power and everything connected to it is transient and ephemeral.

“If some of the draconian laws they are proposing become reality, they would one day be out of power, only for those same laws to be used against them. Nonetheless, beyond expressing outrage about the attempt to cow the independent media, CHRICED believes well-meaning citizens and groups must come to terms with the reality that the battle line has been drawn, and it is time to evolve strategies, which would ensure the Press does not become the appendage of political power, which is bent on rendering it impotent.”