By; JACOB ONJEWU DICKSON
The National Assembly (NASS) recently announced stringent restrictions on the media. Among such restrictions are the voiding of accreditations, the imposition of strict rules for renewal and the need for a media house to prove that it circulates at least 40,000 copies daily.
Other new pre-requisites include evidence that a media outfit has a certificate of incorporation, that it belongs to a professional body or bodies for media organisations, that it has proof of membership of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) backed by registration number and a code of certification from the National Library.
Reacting to the new guidelines, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) described them as tyrannical, anachronistic and vengeful. The Islamic human rights organization reacted via a press release issued by its Director, Ishaq Akintola, a professor of Islamic Studies on Sunday, 26th May, 2019.
“It is the handiwork of a reactionary leadership whose failure has led to frustration. This leadership is venting its spleen on the press. These new regulations cannot stand. They are draconian. We say no to the harassment, intimidation and coercion of the press. It shows that the present NASS is in the hands of fake democrats, rebellious subjects and enemies of the Nigerian people. Freedom of the press is fundamental to the effective functioning of democracy and only dictators tamper with it.
“Those new guidelines are absolute bunkum, unrealistic, ludicrous and untenable. How can they expect a newspaper to provide evidence of selling 40,000 copies daily? How many of them buy newspapers on a daily basis? How many Nigerians buy newspapers in these days of infotech and social media. The truth is that they hate the media but they just cannot say so.
“But they are on a wild goose chase. We will not allow the muffling of the press because we know its value. The media is a separate arm of government. It is the fourth estate of the realm. They should learn from President Muhammadu Buhari who strictly follows a policy of noninterference with other arms of government.
“It is a manifestation of intolerance. They have something to hide. It is also symptomatic of bitter lawmakers. They are bitter because the press has boldly exposed many of the antics of the 8th NASS. The press has exposed them as the worst NASS in the annals of Nigeria’s democratic experience.
“These restrictions portray the 8th NASS as moving backwards towards the Stone Age while its counterparts in the rest of the civilized world consistently jet towards sophisticated democratic practices. What a pity!
“The new rules are anti-people because the press is the representative of the people. It is the voice of the voiceless. They are the ears and the eyes of the hoi polloi. The Nigerian people voted members of the NASS as their representatives. One of the major parameters of gauging a democracy is that the electorate should be kept abreast of the deliberations of their representatives. The media fills this lacuna. Therefore, placing restrictions on the press in the NASS falls short of this vital yardstick. It translates to an attempt at blindfolding the citizenry.
MURIC calls for a quick repeal of those stringent rules. In the event that the current crop of lawmakers refuse to withdraw the draconian rules, the incoming NASS must repeal it immediately or get ready for a long-drawn battle with civil society. Those rules are designed to put the hands of the press in handcuffs. They are unacceptable.