Lai Mohammed, Minister for Information and Culture

In a move aimed at further stifling the country’s digital media space, the Nigerian government has requested the House of Representatives to amend an Act that will bring the regulation of online news portals and content providers under the authority of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC).

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed on Wednesday, made the request at a hearing to amend the NBC Act led by the House Committee on Information, Ethics, and Values.

Mohammed argued that all digital media entities and news should be included in section two (c) of the bill that proposes to give NBC the powers to “receive, process and consider applications for the establishment, ownership of radio and television stations including…,” Premium Times reported.

If passed, the bill will make online broadcasters register with the NBC before operation as well as act according to the dictates of the regulatory body.

The minister’s submission comes after the government’s suspension of operations of Twitter in the country.

The government on June 4, 2021, ordered all social media companies and online broadcasters to get a government license before they can operate in Nigeria, following its ban on Twitter operations in the country.

The ban came a few days after Twitter deleted a divisive tweet by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari calling for military action against suspected separatists wreaking havoc in the Southeast.

International community and local activists have condemned the ban, saying it stifles freedom of expression and shrinks the Nigerian civic space.

Opposing the Minister’s submission during the hearing, Akin Akingbulu, Executive Director of the Institute of Media and Societies, said the move by the government would further stifle the civic space.

“The inclusion of the following among categories of broadcasting services licences will be injurious to the civics space, freedom of expression and media freedom in Nigeria,” Akingbulu said.

He said the NBC Act fails to provide for the independence of the NBC, while arguing that the NBC would be turned into a political tool for repression since it is directly under the ministry of information.

“The power to give directives to the commission, vested in the minister of information in section six should be removed and replaced with powers which include policy formulation for the broadcasting sector, the negotiation of international agreements, notification of the policy direction of government and ensuring that the independence of the commission is protected at all times,” Akingbulu said.