Lawmakers buckle, suspend media censorship bill, reject Onochie

• Press Bill: We are suspending process for more consultation, says sponsor
• Falana urges NPAN, NUJ, NGE to form new code of conduct
• Ozekhome: Federal character as reason for rejecting Onochie face-saving
• PDP insist on more effort to secure electoral act
• Buhari parleys lawmakers over insecurity
• Hire private contractors to fight insurgency, Reps tell Buhari

It seemed the triumph of people’s power as both chambers of the National Assembly, yesterday, buckled to strident opposition from the public and key stakeholders to the Nigeria Press Council (NPC) and National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Amendment Bill, as well as the nomination of Lauretta Onochie as Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

A day after national dailies boldly printed ‘Information Blackout’ on their front pages to raise support against the proposed NPC/NBC amendment bill that would allow authorities to control the press and shrink civic space, Segun Odebunmi, the lawmaker sponsoring the bill, yesterday said the House of Representatives has agreed to stay action on it.

Odebunmi, who is the Chairman House of Representatives Committee on Information National Orientation Ethics and Values, told Channels TV that the suspension was necessary for proper consultation over the bill while appearing on Sunrise Daily.

“We have been on this process for a while and right now, we have suspended it for more consultation to happen on it,” he said.

The lawmaker had earlier faulted claims that the Bill was targeted at gagging the media. He rather maintained that it is aimed at removing identified hindrances to optimum performance.

Lawmakers said the bills are intended to curb fake news, but critics said the bills would give authorities the power to hit media outlets and journalists with huge fines and give journalists up to three years in jail.

While the Federal Government already regulates broadcast media organisations through the NBC, it now seeks to extend regulations to online platforms.

In June, the government suspended the operations of social media giant, Twitter, over what it described as national security concerns. Subsequently, all social media platforms were asked to register with the NBC, while all broadcast stations were ordered to stop using Twitter.

Media sanctions have become more frequently discussed since President Muhammadu Buhari was first elected in 2015. Between 2017 and 2019, lawmakers considered a bill to regulate social media, and another bill proposing death penalty for anyone promoting hate speech. Both bills were suspended after public outcries.

Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has stressed the need for members of Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE) to develop new code of conduct for the media to self-regulate.

Speaking at the 13th Wole Soyinka Centre Media Lecture Series in Lagos yesterday, he advised that “you have to self-regulate. There is a lot of mess going on. If you don’t self-regulate, they are going to regulate you. NPAN, NUJ and NGE should meet urgently and come up with new code of conduct. Because today, one or two people can sit down in the house and set up an online medium and begin to send messages, some of which are meant to blackmail.”

Speaking further, he said: “They have just approved a budget of N4.8 billion to the security forces to monitor your telephone conversations and WhatsApp so that when you are communicating and they sense the message is dangerous, you are going to be arrested. Have no fear because by virtue of Section 37 of the Constitution, your right to telephone and your correspondence are protected. The money has been voted, but we are not going to allow them spend the money.”

Continuing, he noted that concerning governments decision to punish those that use Twitter, “we have gone to court and the court has given an injunction until the determination of the case, those using Twitter should not be punished.”

With the theme: Remaking Nigeria, towards a secure and viable union, Chief Executive Officer, Wole Soyinka Cenre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ), Motunrayo Alaka, noted that Nigeria has many challenges that are important and urgent: “There is despair in the land. Hope is dwindling but we cannot afford to give up or do nothing. Our only option is to fight until we win because we can and we will win.”

Like the House, the Senate, yesterday, bowed to pressures when it rejected the nomination of Lauretta Onochie (Delta) and stood down that of Prof. Sani Muhammad Adam (North Central) for further legislative action by the committee, while confirming the appointment of five nominees as INEC Commissioners.

Those confirmed include Prof. Abdullahi Abdu Zuru (North-West), Prof. Muhammad Sani Kallah (Katsina), Prof. Kunle Cornelius Ajayi (Ekiti), Dr. Baba Bila (North-East), and Saidu Babura Ahmad (Jigawa).

The rejection of Onochie followed the consideration of a report by the Senate Committee on INEC. Chairman of the Committee, Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC, Kano South), in his presentation, said the Committee received several petitions against the nominations of Ms. Lauretta Onochie and Prof. Sani Adam. He disclosed that the petitions against Onochie were on the backdrop of her involvement in politics and alleged membership of a political party.

He explained further that her nomination violated the Federal Character Principle as there is already a serving National Electoral Commissioner from Delta State, May Agbamuche-Mbu, who was screened and confirmed by the Eighth Senate.

Nigerians were apprehensive, wandering if the Senate was going to play to the gallery by endorsing the illegality of appointing a card-carrying member of the ruling party as an umpire in any election.

A popular Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Ozekhome, said: “I think for once something good has come out of Egypt in terms of something positive coming out of the Ninth Senate, which I had described as the worst National Assembly. However, I do not agree with them that the main reason is the federal character principle because May Agbamuche is from Delta and Onochie is also from Niger Delta. I think that was a face-saving device and soft landing for the Senate in not squaring up to the truth of the matter.

“The truth of the matter is that Onochie has been one of the most rabid supporters and card-carrying members of the APC in Asaba, Aniocha North Local Council of Delta State. She is not just a party member, she has always been the assistant to President Buhari on Social Media and she has used the social media to attack every and all Nigerians that disagree with her boss.

“So, she was partisan, and she was brutally so without any guilt or shame. It was good riddance to bad rubbish that the Senate rejected her. Whether for reason of federal character or for reason of her partisanship, the important thing is that she was rejected,” he said.

THE Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in its reaction described Onochie’s rejection as the triumph of the Nigerian people over “barefaced attempt by the Buhari led-APC administration to corrupt and hijack the commission ahead of 2023 elections.”

The PDP asserted that the rejection of Onochie by Nigerians has saved the nation from very serious crisis, adding that “it has also salvaged INEC and the entire electoral process from a ruinous pollution that would have led to the collapse of our democratic order.”

The PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, noted that “Onochie’s vexatious nomination, in total affront to paragraph 14 of the 3rd schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), was a very dangerous machination by the presidency against our electoral process, in the attempt to subvert the will of the people in the 2023 elections.

“Our party, therefore, commends Nigerians, including civil society organisations, the media as well as other political parties, for joining forces with the PDP in fighting for the sanctity of our electoral process by resisting Onochie’s nomination.”

A group, Concerned Nigerians, has called on the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to begin immediate prosecution of Onochie for brazenly lying under oath. The group in a statement yesterday in Abuja by its spokesperson, Theophilus Abuh Agada, commended the Senate for showing courage in rejecting the nomination of Onochie.

The group also enjoined President Buhari to sign the amended electoral bill as it will strengthen Nigeria’s electoral process and ensure transparency and credibility in the conduct of elections.
MEANWHILE, President Buhari on Tuesday night met with members of the National Assembly in a dinner at the Villa at about 8:00p.m. The scheduled meeting with the President was to enable lawmakers discuss the issue of insecurity in the country.

The House of Representatives has urged the President to urgently consider the use of private defence contractors for targeted security operations to combat insurgency and terrorism. This was among the 19 recommendations made by the Special Committee on National Security.

It would be recalled that following the escalating security situation in the country, the House in June this year convoked a summit to help find lasting solutions to the menace. The report of the Committee laid before the House on July 8, was considered yesterday.

Moving the motion for its consideration, the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, said a large number of Nigerians from different backgrounds and experiences were consulted on the matter to make inputs.

The House also recommended that a special team of 40,000 Police Mobile Unit officers should undergo special training to improve their capacity in dealing with issues of insecurity. It detailed that 1,000 of the officers be deployed to every state for immediate operations, stressing that the Northeast, Southwest and Southeast can receive the officers remaining out of the 40,000 men.

The Green Chamber also urged the Federal Government to deploy early warning systems nationwide including installation of CCTV cameras and other surveillance, satellite and electronic equipment along major highways, public places, and major cities and the borders. It also called for the creation of Local Security Committees in all 774 Local Government Areas to be managed by the Nigerian Police Force as part of its community policing mandate.

The House submitted the report of its Special Committee on National Security to President Buhari, which also contained among other recommendations declaring a state of emergency on job creation in the country.

The lawmakers justified the call based on findings that poverty remains the main driver for the spate of insecurity prevalent across the nation.

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