AIT Shutdown: The End Of Freedom Of Speech In Nigeria?

On the evening of Tuesday, June 6th 2019, the news of the suspension of the broadcasting license of Daar Communications PLC, owned by PDP Chieftain, High Chief Raymond Aleogho Dokpesi by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) permeated the media space across the country causing a whole lot of reactions from the citizenry.

According to the official statement released by the NBC, AIT had crossed boundaries by engaging in the use of divisive, inflammatory, inciting broadcasts as well as carrying out propaganda to spite the government of the day. The broadcast giants were also accused of engaging in propaganda against the NBC for carrying out its duties of regulating the broadcast industry in the country.

Some have however argued that the license of DAAR Communications was suspended indefinitely due to an alleged witch-hunt of its owner Raymond Dokpesi for being a member of the opposition party. Others still have averred that this was a case of the Presidency trying to gaggle the press and curtail freedom of speech and information.

Could this be the case? Especially the later argument.? Let us consider some facts to this effect.

Before we get to the meat of this discussion, it is imperative to note that this will not be the first time that AIT the TV station of DAAR Communications will be having an altercation with the Powers that be. In May 2015, the security details of the then President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, had barred journalists of the TV station from covering a courtesy visit paid to him by the then Ambassador of Cuba to Nigeria. AIT journalists were later sent away.

This of course, just as the recent happenings had generated a lot of uproar and condemnation, which forced the media team of Buhari to try to give an explanation of what had happened. This issue gave and an indication of what the former military head of state’s relationship with the press will be.

Lessons From History

Another issue that raised concerns immediately after that action was the history of President Buhari with the Media when he was a Military Head of State.

Upon getting into power in 1983, Buhari ushered in a wave of crackdown on freedom of speech and civil liberties, to the extent that some notable journalists in the country were placed under arrest. In most cases, the most trivial of offences were used to accost them.

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This made newspapers in the country to be very careful of news stories that they published as reporters and publishers could be sent to jail as well as fined. It was so bad that when the Military Government was eventually overthrown in 1985, it was reported by one of the commentators in The Concord newspaper that the local press was in a “state of comatose.”

One of the Journalists who went through an ordeal in the hands of Buhari at the time was Tunde Thompson. Tunde Thompson was a reporter for Guardian newspaper in the ’80s.

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Tunde Thompson

The revered reporter suffered due to Decree 4, which was a draconian piece of legislation that gave power to jail any journalist who in the course of their duty embarrassed the military leaders of the country. This law was employed to help gag civil society, as well as the press during the one and a half year rule of Buhari as Military Head of State.

Another colleague of Thompson, Nduka Irabor, who had published a story which reported the diplomatic postings involving the top military officers, was placed under arrest with him as well. They were both thrown into prison in February 1984 and were held for a period of four months.

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Nduka Irabor

Thompson would, however, later go on to forgive Buhari and give him assistance during his 2015 Presidential election bid, which Buhari won.

Three decades after his ordeal, Thompson said that “time is a healer of certain wounds,” and he came out in support of Buhari in his campaign against the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.

Discomfort With Local Media

Buhari had on several occasions, seemed to avoid the media in the country. It had been so bad, that one could describe his relationship and engagement with the Nigerian media as disconcerting at best. It is even more disturbing as he had during his first term as a Civilian President, seemed to be more comfortable to speak with the foreign press.

Buhari seems to be having a cold war with the Nigerian media. An example of this is the case of when the President had tried to clear the air on a statement which he had made claiming that a large section of the Youths in the country were lazy and waiting on the government to give them handouts.

He had claimed that the Nigerian media was selective in picking the reports that it publishes for the consumption of the public.

President Buhari had said, “All these explanations I made, they refused to highlight them in their report and you know the media in Nigeria in most cases only do what they like.

“For instance, the nation’s achievements in the agricultural sector where millions of Nigerians benefited financially were left unreported by the media.”

He did not end it there as he pointed out that in spite of lack of help from the media in Nigeria, his administration will not stop thriving.

“The media may not appreciate the work we are doing but we will shock them by the success we are recording,” he said.

Notable Nigerians Call For Freedom Of Press

Former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, has lent her voice to the issue condemning the move by the NBC to withdraw the license of DAAR Communications. The former Minister has said that the letter by the NBC did not show anything wrong that the media company had done.

Ezekwesili stated that AIT was shut down because it was being perceived as an “Opposition media.”

In a series of tweets, she said,

“NBC to AIT that reaches the threshold for withdrawal of license and shut down of a Media house that we all know Government perceives as an “Opposition media”.

“My Summary of this lengthy Sanctions letter from NBC to AIT is simply this.

“We have warned you several times in the past to stop broadcasting things that upset the Government and NBC. You refused to listen. Now we shall shut you up and down until you are ready to be like NTA.”

“There is nothing in that letter from NBC to AIT that reaches the threshold for withdrawal of license and shut down of a Media house that we all know Government perceives as an “Opposition media”.

“Wisdom should have actually instructed the FG against striking out at them.”

Also, the Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, had in strong terms, condemned the shutdown of AIT and Raypower, media outlets of DAAR Communications, saying that the press was about to lose its independence just as the Judiciary and the Legislature which have been tackled.

This may just be pointing to the fact that all might not be well between the government of President  Muhammadu Buhari and the media outfit.

Which leads us to ask the pertinent question.

Is this a case of the Presidency trying to gag the press and curtail freedom of speech and information?

Let us know what your answer is in the comment section below.

One thought on “AIT Shutdown: The End Of Freedom Of Speech In Nigeria?

  1. Apparently, President Buhari is not friendly to the Nigerian media, and so the latest action by NBC is the case of body of Esau and voice of Jacob. The executive dictates all as there is no separation of power in practice. The legislature, the judiciary, the press, and perhaps the common man in the street lacks freedom in virtually everything! That’s gagging and curtailment of freedom, not of speech alone but everything.

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