Nigeria’s House of Representatives Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, has argued that while he would not be part of any bill that seeks to gag the press, he noted that the press would be allowed to run amok.
Gbajabiamila who spoke on Monday during the annual dinner and award of excellence with the theme: ‘Reorganising Good Governance and Legislative Excellence in the Face of Adversity,’ in response to the backlash from media owners, journalists, and other stakeholders against the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) Amendment Bill sponsored by Hon. Segun Odebunmi.
Many critics of the bill say it is meant to gag the press. Former Ogun State governor and ex MD of the Daily Times of Nigeria, Segun Osoba, had for instance, described the proposed amendment as draconian and worse than the infamous decree 4 promulgated by the military government of Muhammadu Buhari in 1984.
Responding to the backlash, however, Gbajabiamila said he was of the strong view that there is press freedom and freedom of expression and there will always be, but that there was nowhere in the world where freedom of expression is absolute.
“I will not be part of any bill that will seek to gag the press. No bill will come to the floor of the House that seeks to gag the press, because the press as it is supposed to be, is supposed to be the voice of the people,” he said.
“Once, I will never allow the gagging of the press. I worry where at every turn when the National Assembly tries to promulgate the law with the best of intentions and everybody descends on the National Assembly.
“Using this as a sample, this Press Council Bill. I called the proponent of the bill, what is going on, what have you done and he tried to break it down. I haven’t read the bill personally myself but I will read it in the next couple of days in detail. I just have a general idea of the context.
“He told me he had a meeting with all the stakeholders. I wasn’t present at the meeting. Because I said to him, I hope you are meeting with these guys, whatever provision they have problem with, whatever provision that is inimical to the development of the press or the growth of the press, remove it or tweak it in such a way that everybody will be happy.”
The speaker said from his understanding, even though he doesn’t know how true it is, the issue was not about any provision, the issue was that the press does not want to be regulated at all.
“We are getting to a point in this country, nobody wants to be regulated, the NGOs don’t want to be regulated, the religious bodies don’t want to be regulated, social media doesn’t want to be regulated, professors of universities go on strike because they don’t want to be on the same payment platform as everybody else,” Gbajabiamila said.
“So, regulations are a key component or essential component of good governance. We cannot just let people or any institution run amok. The executive is regulated, the judiciary to a large extent is regulated, the legislature is regulated. Just name it. Institutions are meant to be regulated.
“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 utterances or writings can make it break even a government.”
The speaker said as long the provisions in the bill guarantees the independence of the press, it is non-negotiable.
Gbajabiamila further said in the last two or three weeks, he had been inundated with the issue of Electoral Amendment about the alleged smuggled Section 59(2).
He insisted that neither himself nor members of the House Committee on Electoral Act are aware that any of the provisions as agreed on by the committee had been tampered with.
However, speaking with THISDAY in a telephone interview yesterday, Odebunmi said the bill is at the second reading stage.
The lawmaker added that any Nigerian who thinks there’s something in the bill that’s not friendly should submit a memorandum on it.
Odebunmi said at the moment the bill has been stepped down for further deliberations.
He said: “The little thing I can say is that we are at the public hearing, which means the bill is at the stage of the second reading where you have to engage the stakeholders. Any Nigerian who thinks there’s something in the bill that’s not friendly should submit memoranda.”
Odebunmi said the National Assembly is in the process of making a law, adding that nobody would force any law on anybody.