HURIWA threatens Lai Mohammed over N5m fine, says Buhari hates free speech

The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA, on Friday condemned the illegal National Broadcasting Commission’s new Code on hate speech.

HURIWA has also asked the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed to withdraw the NBC code or face legal actions.

Recall that Mohammed had recently announced that the reviewed NBC code comes with a N5 million fine for hate speech as against the previous N500, 000.

However, the rights group lamented that the new code was an indication that President Muhammadu Buhari was not an admirer of free speech.

A statement by HURIWA’s National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko and National Director of Media Affairs, Miss. Zainab Yusuf said Mohammed has 76 hours to withdraw the code.

The statement reads partly: “There appears to be little or no doubt that President Muhammadu Buhari is not an admirer of free speech. Recall that in his 18 months as Military Head of State in the mid-80s, human rights in the country was gagged, with press freedom curtailed for pleasure.

“Even as an elected president, the record of his administration where media and human rights are concerned has been totally unclean. Though his image-makers have tried to sell him as a leader who is now persuaded that basic democratic freedoms matter, but they have been unsuccessful

“As Military Head of State between 1983 to 1985, General Mohammed Buhari (as he then was) had promulgated the Decree No. 4, which did not take kindly to press criticisms and saw two Nigerian journalists jailed.

“The Decree 4, drafted on March 29, 1984, was suppressive, with its Section 1, sub-sections (i), (ii) and (iii) providing that: “Any person who publishes in any form, whether written or otherwise, any message, rumour, report or statement, being a message, rumour, statement or report which is false in any material particular or which brings or is calculated to bring the Federal Military Government or the Government of a state or public officer to ridicule or disrepute, shall be guilty of an offence under this Decree.

“Let’s say that was a military regime in power, and cannot be valid under a democratic government, which the present administration purports to be, but the provisions of the Decree No. 4 is similar to the provisions of Hate Speech Bill proposed by lawmakers early this year and the NBC Code on hate speech supervised by Minister of Information and Culture; Alhaji Lai Mohammed.

“The content of the Hate Speech and Anti-Social Media bill sponsored by the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate; Aliyu Abdullahi and which found its way into the 6th Amendment to National Broadcasting Code unveiled by Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information on August 4, 2020, in Lagos to keep critics quiet was not totally different from the provision of Decree 4.

“Unlike the Decree 4, this time, the Code stipulates that those who fall foul of the provision of the broadcast code on hate speech shall pay a fine of N5m, which was raised from N500, 000 as a means of compelling media houses to scrutinise adverts and reports before publishing them.

“With the NBC board’s position, the code on hate speech had not come into force; therefore, the N5 million fine is illegal. This is because the imposition of the N5 million fine was anchored on a purported amendment of the code and since the NBC lacks the legal competence to impose a fine on any broadcasting station without a finding of guilt by a properly constituted criminal court, the NBC should crush the illegal fine.

“Whether or not what Dr. Mailafia said on the radio station was a false claim, it is outside of the objectives of a responsible regulatory framework to sanction a radio station for a comment an individual made, even as the personality in question; Dr. Obadiah, had been quizzed and released by law enforcement agents.

“The NBC Code on Hate Speech is a regulation that has no force of law so we condemn it and are by this statement giving a final warning to the Minister of Information and Culture; Alhaji Lai Mohammed to withdraw the illegal regulation within 76 hours or we file a suit to challenge the legality of such an affront against freedom of the media and expression in a competent Court of law. We have already briefed our lawyer.

“Conclusively, we urge the President; His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR) to caution his Minister of Information and Culture; Alhaji Lai Mohammed to refrain from threatening Nigerians with punishment under a controversial and illegal platform that is inconsistent and incompatible with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).”