Professor Armstrong Idachaba’s management of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), armed with the controversial Broadcasting code, is regarded by broadcast media players as repressive and tyrannical.
That was until Friday morning, when Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture, announced his replacement as Director-General of the NBC with Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, “for a tenure of five years in the first instance”.
For his one year and four months in office, radio and television stations operated with the fear that their licences could either be revoked or they would be slammed with fines if they published contents the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government found ‘upsetting’.
Although Section 2(1)r of the Act establishing the NBC gives the Commission the power to “ensure strict adherence to national laws, rules and regulations”, the Commission censored the broadcast media and stifled the freedom of the press guaranteed by Section 22 of Nigeria’s constitution.
Instances Professor Idachaba unjustly clamped down on radio and television operators across the country for expressing their right and giving Nigerians freedom to express themselves include:
- August 13, 2020, Nigeria Info Lagos was fined N5million by the NBC following an interview with Dr Obadiah Mailafia who said that a northern state governor was a commander of Boko Haram. In a statement, the Commission said that the “platform promoted unverifiable and inciting views that could encourage or incite to crime and lead to public disorder”. It said that the sanction would “serve as a deterrent to all other broadcast stations in Nigeria who are quick to provide platform for subversive rhetorics and the expositions of spurious and unverifiable claims, to desist from such”.
- Three media houses, including Channels Television, AIT and Arise TV were fined N3M each in October 26, 2020, over their “unprofessional coverage” of the #EndSARS protest and its fallout. “Channels Television, Arise TV and AIT especially continued to transmit footages obtained from verified and unauthenticated social media sources. No doubt, these pictures stimulated anger and heightened the violence that was witnessed during the #EndSARS crisis,” the NBC stated at the time. The fine was imposed despite the knowledge that soldiers indeed killed unarmed protesters after invading the Lekki Toll Plaza.
- In April 27, 2021, following an interview Channels Television had with the spokesperson of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), an outlawed pro-secessionist group, the NBC, in a statement signed by Idachaba, accused the station of using its platform to promote “derogatory, false and misleading statements”. It later slammed the TV station with a fine of N5m.
- On May 7, 2021, Inspiration FM was ordered by the NBC to pay a fine of N5m for broadcasting a report where IPOB made secessionist claims.
- Days after the government suspended the operations of Twitter in the country, the NBC directed all broadcast mediums to “de-install Twitter handles and desist from using Twitter as a source (UGC) of information gathering for news and programmes presentation especially phone in”.
- And in a newspaper advert in June 10, 2021, the NBC asked all online broadcast service providers and social media platforms operating within the country to “apply and obtain broadcast licence”. This directive has been criticised as a move by the government to control media output.
Interestingly, in this same time frame, no single broadcast station was sanctioned for airing comments that aggravated the public even if the government didn’t mind or was in support of it, the most glaring being Sheikh Abubakar Gumi’s numerous comments laundering the image of bandits in northern Nigeria.
With Idachaba’s short-lived exit from his role despite the swiftness with which he sanctioned broadcast stations for airing content his bosses found displeasing, anticipation is building in the industry about what to expect as he Ilelah attempts to secure a longer stay in office for himself.
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