A frontline pressure group, #FixPolitics, has thrown its weight behind the Nigerian press over alleged ploy by the Nigerian Government and the National Assembly to gag the country's media.
The group condemned the move by the National Assembly to amend the laws establishing the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).
In a statement on Tuesday, signed by its Co-Chair, Constitutional, Political and Electoral Reforms, Prof Remi Sonaiya, and its Executive Director, Anthony Ubani, the group declared support for the media against undemocratic tendencies.
“We take our stand firmly alongside the Nigerian press, particularly the Nigerian Guild of Editors, the Nigeria Union of Journalists, the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria and other civil society bodies that have equally expressed consternation at this unacceptable development,” #FixPolitics stated.
The group stressed that the two bills sponsored by Olusegun Odebunmi (APC, Oyo State), being considered by the House of Representatives, were “outright authoritarian and constitute a blatant attempt to stifle free speech and the voice of Nigerian citizens,” as they seek to hand over control of the press to the Ministry of Information.
“This move must be properly understood in the context of a government, which is increasingly intolerant of criticism and divergent opinions and which continues to fail in its primary responsibility of providing security and basic services to the Nigerian populace,” it added.
It recalled recent developments in Nigeria that have raised concerns globally about the deteriorating state of press freedom in the country to include the harassment and arrest of journalists, the ban of Twitter, the closure of media houses and imposition of fines due to spurious allegations.
It noted that the proposed bills are intended to impose very strict conditions on journalists and media houses seeking to cover government proceedings.
“Journalists’ access to the National Assembly will be restricted, while media houses will have to prove that they have a daily hard copy circulation of 40,000 copies or substantial online presence, with at least 5,000 daily views.
“There are several other restrictions proposed in the bills, with the intention of disqualifying journalists from gaining access to government news and reporting such to Nigerians,” #FixPolitics further stated.
While berating the ‘draconian' bills, the group commended the outrage expressed by the press as portrayed on the front pages of several independent newspapers across the country on July 12, 2021.
The group noted that if the bills are passed, the nation Nigeria, which is already being described as a failed or failing state will further plunge into crisis.
The group expressed hope that other media outlets and organisations, both traditional and Internet-based, will join the movement and resist the gagging of the Nigerian press by the Muhammadu Buhari-led government and an apparent rubber-stamp National Assembly.
The group called on Nigerians home and abroad to raise their voices to utterly condemn the further slide of Nigeria into lawlessness, which it claimed is becoming inevitable due to endpoint of the current strong-arm tactics being deployed by the present administration.
The group, however promised to defend the freedom of the Press and the Office of the Nigerian Citizen.