Nigeria’s National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has a less than appealing history. Its creation by a military decree following the deregulation of the broadcasting industry which gave room for private ownership was presented as a means to uphold ethical standards amongst other duties. But it was actually created to protect the interest of the government which, not unlike today, was considered the national interest.
Under the leadership of Ibrahim Babangida and subsequently Sani Abacha, two repressive leaders who sought to control the press as most dictators do, the NBC, alongside other supposed regulatory bodies like the Press Council were potent instruments in deciding which media outlets get to operate and the nature of their operations.
The reemergence of democracy in 1999 offered elected leaders across all levels of government a chance to reform many of these agencies and institutions, and abolish the legal arbitrariness and vagueness which allowed them to pick and choose who/when to grant freedom of expression and the boundaries not to cross. But the democratic leaders over time merely replaced the old arbitrariness with a new set of arbitrariness – as the primary interest was, and remains, the capture of power and sharing of resources.
It is against this background that the actions of the NBC since then, including its longstanding battle with DAAR communications, must be analysed.
To be clear, the regulation of the press, given its enormous powers and remarkable ability to influence public opinion, is not up for debate. There must indeed be standards set and enforced to avert the many tragedies of the past which were either initiated or promoted by the press. However, the point is that the independence and impartiality required of any body, either government or private, to carry out this duty is simply non-existent in the case of Nigeria’s NBC.
Impartiality, as we’ve learned from judicial administration, is not merely to be proclaimed with internal convictions and beliefs as sole evidence, but must be demonstrated with all forms of actions, either in speech or association, which may impute bias avoided. While this may sometimes be extremely difficult to score, the problem is that the NBC, and most other government regulatory institutions in Nigeria, do not even try. For instance, its present Director General, Ishaq Kawu is a card-carrying member of the ruling party and in fact contested for election on its platform.
This obviously weakens his hand, and by extension that of the NBC, in carrying out mandated roles without welcoming debates on intent and motives. It is why in its fresh row with DAAR Communications, which resulted in momentary suspension of license, the charges of the NBC were discarded by the majority as nothing more than a calculated effort to call a dog a bad name to hang it.
Yet, no objective observer can truly say that DAAR Communications and its media outlets, especially the AIT, have covered themselves in glory. Many times, the television station has disregarded ethical standards and brazenly displayed bias – premised on falsehood – in its operations. Its recent apology to Bola Tinubu, a political figure, after airing a slanderous documentary on him is an example. It is doubtful if any responsible media station would have aired the documentary in the first place as it was filled with unsubstantiated claims.
The fact that the NBC, due to its bastardization, cannot carry out an important role points out the dangers of politicising institutions which ought to be non-partisan. Across the Nigerian system, this anomaly is what obtains. From the police, down to the courts, officials have soiled their hands and lost public confidence as well as the moral authority to enforce the law. In another instance, the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, whose nomination lacks Senate approval and bi-partisan support, has appeared on television wearing materials of the President’s political party in a clear show of support. It cannot be argued that Magu, like most Nigerians, isnt entitled to a political opinion or choice. But to advertise it this way, especially as the Chairman of an anti-corruption agency expected to disregard political affiliations in its duties, is wrong and indicative of bias.
As it stands today, Nigerians have little trust in their government or any of its agencies. The irresponsibility of the AIT and the inability of the NBC to do its job all point at one thing: Nigeria’s democratic institutions are completely diminished.
It is a legacy the country’s leaders, specifically from 1999, should be ashamed of.
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