“While there was indeed pressure from the British government to stop the BBC, Ahmed’s predecessors in media trade understood the need to push back against the government’s interference and intransigence. It must be to Ms Ahmed’s eternal embarrassment that her article provided an intellectual cover for the anti-media actions of NBC and Minister Lai Mohammed”.
For the last few years, the violence in the Northwest has emerged as Nigeria’s biggest security challenge. It has killed thousands of people and impoverished thousands of families who are forced to pay ransom for their abducted relatives. Entire villages have been destroyed, school children have been kidnapped and molested, and farms have been burnt. Around a million people have been displaced according to the International Organisation for Migration.
Most of the people affected are farmers so the conflict is a significant cause of the problem of food insecurity facing the entire country. Apart from that, the banditry has never been restricted to the Northwest, with the significant impact felt in Northcentral states like Niger, and reports of its incursion into other parts have become an everyday staple in the media.
This, undoubtedly, is a major crisis, and the government has also admitted to this. So, one is left scratching his head at the ridiculous attempt by the government to punish reporters and media platforms trying to help Nigerians understand the danger they face. This week, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) imposed a hefty fine of Five Million Naira on Trust TV, the broadcasting arm of Nigeria’s leading newspaper, Daily Trust.
NBC says it found Trust TV’s broadcasting of its daring investigative report on the Northwest banditry had broken broadcasting rules. The show was first aired on March 5, 2022, so it is curious that it has taken NBC five months to punish the television station.
What exactly is wrong with Trust TV’s documentary on banditry? They interviewed academics who have actually studied this problem longer than most of us. They used the government’s own report which has identified all the underlying causes of the banditry. They even spoke to public officials including a governor. The interview with bandit kingpins was for a few minutes and contained crucial perspectives from people engaged in the banditry/conflict. It seems like a brilliant, excellently executed piece of journalism. How do you even have a problem with that unless you are hell-bent on shielding Nigerians from the truth of what’s going on?
This belated fine seems to have been inspired by the controversy surrounding another documentary on the banditry produced and broadcast by the BBC Africa Eye on July 25. Equally fined by NBC are Multichoice, Startimes and TSTV, punished for airing the BBC documentary.
The NBC sanction comes two days after the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed had threatened the BBC for airing the documentary. While the NBC letter on the issue is vague on the specific parts of the documentaries it had a problem with, the commission claims the documentaries “…glorified the activities of Bandits and undermines National Security in Nigeria.”
The most disappointing part of this whole affair is the role played by one of Nigeria’s leading journalists, Kadaria Ahmed in lending her voice to those who want to muzzle the media. In an article, Ms Ahmed excoriated the BBC documentary for giving terrorists a platform and accused the BBC of double standards in how it covers the conflict in Nigeria versus how it would have covered the conflict in the United Kingdom.
Ahmed’s position is strange as her previous working experience with the BBC should have exposed her to the way the BBC covered the Irish Republican Army while the group waged an armed struggle against the UK. The BBC did give its platform to the spokespersons of the group on many occasions. While there was indeed pressure from the British government to stop the BBC, Ahmed’s predecessors in media trade understood the need to push back against the government’s interference and intransigence. It must be to Ms Ahmed’s eternal embarrassment that her article provided an intellectual cover for the anti-media actions of NBC and Minister Lai Mohammed. The journalists who made the two documentaries possible have done us all a commendable service and they must not let this pushback by the government deter them.
Whatever ails Nigeria’s security, the media is not to blame. Reporters and editors are not to blame. The government must focus on the people who are rendering this country unlivable either through their malicious actions or through their gross incompetence. It must look at the people it is empowering with billions of naira every year with a singular mandate of protecting the lives and properties of Nigerians. The government must look at itself and sanction itself for its unforgivable failure.