Matawalle under fire, rescinds order on media clampdown

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Anger-filled governor of Zamfara State, Dr Bello Matawalle, on Saturday, October 15 sealed up four broadcast stations for covering a rally held by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate in the state, Dr Dauda Lawan Dare

The affected stations are NTA, Gamji Television, Alumna Television and Pride FM Station, all located in Gusau.

The affected media stations are the Nigeria Television Authority, Gamji TV, Al-Umma TV and Pride FM radio, all in Gusau, the state capital.

The state’s commissioner for information, Mr. Ibrahim Dosara, who announced the governor’s order in a radio broadcast, said the media houses were shut down for allegedly violating professional ethics.

He said the affected media houses attended the rally organised when the state government had earlier banned political rallies for security reasons.

“The state government has suspended all political activities in the state due to security challenges but the PDP ignored the order and held a rally in Gusau, the state capital, where one person was killed and 18 others were injured.

“The four media houses, NTA, Gamji TV, Al-Umma TV, and Pride FM radio, were also at the event to cover the occasion even though they were aware of the ban on political rallies by the state government.

“Given this, the four media houses are hereby closed down with immediate effect.

“The government has directed security agents to arrest any staff member of the affected stations who try to go into the stations to perform any duty,” Dosara stated.

Recall that the governor won the 2019 election on the platform of the PDP after a Supreme Court ruling disqualified Mr. Mukhtar Shehu Idris of the All Progressives Congress (APC) whom the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had already declared as the winner of the governorship poll.

On June 29, Matawalle, along with all 3 Zamfara senators, 6 of 7 house of representatives lawmakers, and all 24 house of assembly members, officially switched to the APC at a rally in Gusau.

In a statement signed by the Guild’s president Mr. Mustapha Isah and the general secretary, Mr. Iyobosa Uwugiaren, the body the media reserves right to cover all events

It described the ban as illegal and a violation of the Nigeria constitution and other international instruments.

It stated that the only government agency that is charged with the constitutional mandate of regulating the broadcast stations or determining any infraction in the conduct of broadcasting industry is the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).

“While the NGE doesn’t even want to go into the illegality of the ban on political activities in that state, our primary concern here is the unlawful and unconstitutional action of the state governor against the affected stations for carrying out their constitutional and social obligations – of reporting events and keeping the citizens informed of political developments in the state.

“In fact, the shut stations would have been accused of unprofessional misconduct if they didn’t cover that rally. We are also encouraged by the fact that the regulatory agency of the broadcasting industry, the NBC, has also condemned the unlawful action of Governor Bello Matawalle,” the NGE said.

The NGE further described the governor’s action as a serious threat to the democratic process and democracy, “saying it is a precarious signal to what awaits the media, ahead of the 2023 general elections.

“The media reserves the right to cover all events, whether or not they are banned. No state government reserves the right to shut down any media house, in spite of their perceived infractions. “In this case, the Zamfara State governor should have written a petition to the NBC, if at all the affected stations committed any infraction, instead resorting to self-help.”

Also reacting, the International Press Centre (IPC) said it is worried by the closure of the broadcast houses.

The IPC also described the action as unacceptable and violating the rule of law.

In a statement signed by IPC’s programme/safety desk officer, Melody Lawal, the IPC executive director, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, said the closure of the media outlets is another attempt to stifle press freedom in the country warning that the government should subject itself to the rule of law and not be the accuser and judge in its case.

“This closure is an attempt by the Zamfara State government to suppress freedom of the press in the state. Directing the police to further arrest pressmen for attending an event is worrisome and a violation of citizens’ right to be informed.”

Arogundade advised the government to take its case to the media regulatory bodies vested with the power to sanction or withdraw licences of media outlets which may be found guilty of breaking the laws of journalism.

“It is not within the powers of the governor or his agents, under whatever guise, to carry out such duties, as shutting down or sealing off media houses. This should be condemned by all,” Arogundade said.

He urged President Muhammadu Buhari to call Matawalle to order as he had acted beyond his executive powers.

IPC equally called on the inspector general of Police to provide the necessary protection to all journalists and media outlets within Zamfara State and its environs as envisaged under the 1999 constitution (as amended).

“There should be no disturbances or threats to the electoral processes as all Nigerians look forward to a smooth election in 2023,” Arogundade added.

For its part, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) view the governor’s action with “serious concern” saying it” will resist any attempt to cause a breach of law and order anywhere through the misuse of the broadcast media in Nigeria, before, during, and after the 2023 national elections.”

“The National Broadcasting Commission has noted with serious concern the illegal action of Zamfara State Government by directing the shutdown of operations of licensees of the Commission in the State, on Saturday, October 15, 2022.

“The NBC has clearly notified the state government of the gravity of the illegality and requested it to expeditiously reverse the directive and apologize to the people of the State.

“We also urge the security agencies to ignore the call to restrict Staff of the affected Stations from conducting their legitimate duties.

“The commission wishes to further emphasise that it will resist any attempt to cause a breach of law and order anywhere through the misuse of the broadcast media in Nigeria, before, during, and after the 2023 national elections.

“We call on all industry stakeholders to resist any attempt to truncate the hard-earned democratic gains in Nigeria

“Any aggrieved person or institution with genuine complaints) arising from unprofessional conduct or action by any licensed broadcaster in Nigeria is hereby requested to follow the laid down processes enshrined in the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

“The commission will not relent to discharge its mandate according to the NBC Act, CAP. NII, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. All broadcast license holders are urged to ensure strict compliance and avoid ANY action inimical to democratic governance and peaceful coexistence in Nigeria.

“Kindly extend the warmest high regards and assurances of the director general and the board of management of the NBC, to ALL Nigerians,” the NBC’s director general, Mr. Balarabe Illela, said in a statement.

For its part, the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON said it received the development with disbelief.

“The Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON) has received with total shock and disbelief the order made by the Governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle to shutdown Federal and private broadcast media houses in Zamfara State.

“We hasten to state that the governor not only lacks the constitutional power to issue such an order, the order is also an arbitrary and a naked abuse and misuse of executive power.

“The power to licence or withdraw the licence of a broadcast media is vested in the NBC established by an Act of Parliament. Even at that, the Constitution and the Act did not give any room for arbitrariness in the exercise of the power to impose sanctions talk less of closure of broadcast media on any agency or any level of government including the federal government, without following the laid down procedure and seeking an order from a court of competent jurisdiction. This position of the law has been upheld by the law courts at various times.

“The closure of the Federal and private broadcast media by the governor is equally an affront against the Electoral Act 2022 which should be curbed immediately before it destroys our nascent democracy,” BON said in a statement by its executive secretary, Ms. Yemisi Bamgbose.

Government withdraws shutdown order, tenders apology

Following the widespread condemnation, the government withdrew the order shutting down the media houses and apologised for its action.

A chieftain of the APC and chairman of the state’s committee on prosecution of banditry and related offences Dr Abdullahi Shinkafi, tendered the apology to at a media briefing Gusau.

Shinkafi said the government was angered by the alleged violation of the executive order.

He claimed that the media outlets had violated the order by covering the “illegal political activity of the PDP governorship candidate, Dauda Lawal-Dare, in Gusau.”

He added: “The illegal political gathering led to a security breach by some youths of the two political parties. The police had confirmed that one man was shot dead and 18 others injured during the event.”

Shinkafi noted that the government’s action attracted reactions and criticisms from various organisations and agencies.

He said the government has since withdrawn the order given to the commissioner of police to arrest and prosecute personnel seen around the affected media organisations and apologised to them (media houses).

“The Zamfara government has withdrawn security forces deployed to the media outlets to allow their staff to resume work and urged them to respect the state laws and support the government in its effort to tackle bandits and kidnappers,” he said.

He urged the media organisations and all journalists to respect the state laws and support the government in its effort to tackle banditry and kidnapping in the state.

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