Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar has accused the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) of seeking to “exterminate” the media under the watch of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In a statement on Thursday, Atiku said the NBC is using its newly launched code to gag the media.
There is a nationwide outrage over the code in which the fine for hate speech was increased from N500,000 to N5 million.
Many Nigerians, including Wole Soyinka, literary giant, who described it as an “economic sabotage”, said it is against press freedom.
While some have also accused Lai Mohammed, minister of information, of hijacking the NBC’s powers through the code, the commission’s board has described the amendment as illegal.
In the statement, Atiku, who was the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last elections, accused the authorities of constricting free speech in the guise of preventing hate speech.
“It is globally acknowledged that one of the core functions of the mass media is to inform the society on all ranges of issues, not even to the exclusion of national security issues,” he said.
“In many advanced democracies the world over, criminals on even wanted lists of law enforcement agencies have reached out to the media to express their opinions about the crimes that they had perpetrated and the media space was not denied to them.
“As a matter of fact, it seems somewhat contradictory that a country like ours, which is in the throes of national security skirmishes, would choose to shrink media access to critical information.
“It is not known if any society had won the war against terrorism by placing a restriction to access to information, in the way the NBC had done.”
Atiku also condemned the commission’s decision to sanction the 99.3 FM Nigeria Info over the comment of Obadiah Mailafia who said during its programme that the Boko Haram insurgent group is being led by a governor.
Mailafia, also a former presidential candidate, said he learnt from repentant insurgents that one of the leaders of the group is a norther governor.
“Whether or not what Dr. Mailafia said on the radio station was a false claim, it is outside of the objectives of a responsible regulatory framework to sanction a radio station for a comment an individual made, more so that the personality in question, Dr. Obadiah, had been quizzed and released by law enforcement agents,” he said.
“If for any reason the authorities are not satisfied with his explanations, they are at liberty to prosecute him in court, but not to make a scapegoat of the media platform that provides opportunities for citizens to ventilate their views.
“The claim by the management of NBC that ‘this (the penalty) is expected to serve as a deterrent to all other broadcast stations in Nigeria who are quick to provide platform for subversive rhetoric and expositions of spurious and unverifiable claims, to desist from such’, is a naked attempt to gag the media in Nigeria.”
He asked the NBC to review the amended code and also drop the N5 million sanction it imposed on Nigeria Info.