Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has said he will never be part of any bill to gag the media in Nigeria but noted that there was a difference between regulating and gagging the media.
He said though the constitution guaranteed freedom of speech and expression, it was, however, not absolute, adding that the government also had a duty to perform under the law to ensure good governance.
Gbajabiamila spoke at an award ceremony, themed: “Recognizing Good Governance and Legislative Excellence in the Face of Adversity”, yesterday in Abuja.
His remarks came on the heels of the backlash that had trailed the amendment of the Nigerian Press Council, NPC and the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC bills sponsored by Segun Odebumi in the House of Representatives. The speaker said he would conduct more researches to know if the media was regulated in other jurisdictions, noting that if that was the case, the implication would be that the press related bills were dead on arrival.
He said: “Let me say this. I will not be part of any bill that will seek to gag the press. I want to say it loud and clear, if that will be of any consolation. No bill will come to the floor of the House that seeks to gag the press because the press is supposed to be the voice of the people.
“However, I hold very strongly to the view that there is press freedom and there is freedom of expression. They had always been there and they will always be. On freedom of expression; I think it is important to listen to one another, understand each other, so we can make progress as a nation.
“There is nowhere in the world freedom of expression is absolute. Freedom of expression is limited to the extent that it does not affect the other person’s freedom. Freedom of expression is not absolute and that is made abundantly clear in the constitution itself. If you go to section 45 of the constitution, it tells you how the government is allowed to limit that freedom for the sake of health and security and this is written in black and white. Whilst I will not allow gagging of the press, I worry when at every time the National Assembly tries to promulgate a law with best of intention, everybody descend on the National Assembly.
“For some, it is immediate reaction, some just jump on the bandwagon without knowing the details or the issues.
“I am using this Press Council bill as an example. I called the proponent of the bill and asked him, what is going on? What have you done? And what is in this bill? He tried to break it down. I have not read it myself and I will confess to that. But I will read it in details in the next couples of days.
“I just have a general idea of the content. He told me he had a meeting with all the stakeholders. I wasn’t present at the meeting, he said what they wanted was not acceptable to him. Whatever provisions they have a problem with in the bill; whatever provisions that are in that bill that is inimical to the operations of the press, remove it and replace it with something else so that everybody will be happy.
“From my understanding, the issue was not about gagging, but that they don’t want to be regulated. That gives me concern because it has got to a point in this country where nobody wants to be regulated.
”The NGOs don’t want to be regulated, religious bodies don’t want to be regulated, social media doesn’t want to be regulated; lecturers in the universities go on strike because they don’t want to be on the same payment platform with everybody else. Everybody just wants to have a free reign.
“What is government there for, if not to regulate for good governance? We talk about good governance, but we don’t want to regulate and achieve good governance. Regulations are a key and essential elements of good governance. We can’t just allow every institution to run amok.
“The Executive is regulated, the Judiciary is regulated, the Legislature is regulated. Institutions are meant to be regulated. So, there is no one institution that can be above the law, especially an institution that is meant to be the Fourth Estate of the Realm whose action can make or mar a government. If by the time the key sectors of the economy refused to be regulated, what then do we have?”
If we survived dictatorship in the past, we’ll survive present attempts to gag media — Ogbeche, NUJ FCT Chair
Earlier in his remarks, Chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Council, Comrade Emmanuel Ogbeche, called on the speaker to reject attempts to gag the press. Recalling the dark old days journalists faced dictatorial governments, Ogbeche said Nigerian press would also survive every onslaught against it.
“The attempt to gag the media space may not augur well for our democracy. Mr Speaker, you have experienced the beauty of the best democracies and what freedom of the press can do to deepen democracy in those climes. Nigeria cannot be an exception. Each and every one of you in this hall has been beneficiaries of the struggles against dictatorship in this country.
“When politicians fled, the journalists had nowhere to run, they stayed back to brave the odds. We went underground, media houses were closed, some of us paid the supreme price so that democracy can thrive. If we survived dictators in the past, I am persuaded that we will survive every attempt to stifle, repress , gag and place a stranglehold on the constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press and expression in this county. Today, if you look at all the newspapers, there is a shrill cry, there is an appeal,” Ogbeche said.
We‘re still engaging stakeholders on bills —Odebumi
Reacting to the position of newspapers on the bills, the sponsor, Odebumi, said the House was still engaging with the stakeholders on the matter. “We are still engaging the stakeholders for their position on how media industry should be governed in Nigeria. Every concern will be addressed in a way to ensure press freedom and free dissemination of information,” Odebumi told Vanguard.