Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nigerian television station, Channels TV, was shut down by Yar'Adua today. Yar'Adua sent Nigeria's State Security Service (SSS) to shut down the station and its senior staff were arrested because the channel reported that Yar'Adua would step down because of his health. The report by Channels TV was attributed to information received from News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

However, upon investigation, NAN stated that it had not issued any statement about the President stepping down. The suspect one line e-mail, received by Channels TV, has now proven to be a hoax sent from a computer in the Ivory Coast. Nigeria's Minister of Information, John Odey told the BBC that the government was angered by the report. He said,
"It's an unfounded report published by people who want to distract the government from running the country ... Something like this can destabilise the country and affect the economy, the security aspect is very grave..." [sic]
One cannot see this new development without considering the context. It must be remembered that right before heading to Saudi Arabia for the 'hajj', allegations of coup attempts were spread by Yar'Adua's party, the PDP, and within hours, he fired many of Nigeria's military heads. What soon resulted were rumors about the President's health because it became clear that he was in Saudi Arabia for crucial kidney surgery, which the government nonetheless denied. Political opportunists, like Buhari, soon began to call for Yar'Adua to step down and for the vice President to assume power.

In light of those and other developments, it could be understandable that the administration is doing damage control to lessen rumors and fears of Yar'Adua's ability to run the country effectively. However, this reaction - sending SSS forces to shut down a television station and arrest its staff - is unconscionable and absolutely unacceptable! No matter what anyone believes, Nigeria's constitution allows for freedom of the press. As such, Channels TV is allowed to report what it believes is news.  To clamp down on the press is to return Nigeria to oppressive times and to renege on Yar'Adua's constantly repeated pledge of 'rule of law' and his proclaimed commitment to Nigeian democracy.

Clearly, in this case, it has now been revealed that the information Channels TV reported was incorrect. Channels should have had the chance to recant the information and correct the mistake. The proper reaction from Yar'Adua's seemingly defensive administration should have been to simply correct Channels TV and any other station that might refer to that incorrect news, issue their own statement to the contrary and do something that I constantly recommend - put the President on television and on the radio to talk directly to the nation. This way, the President could side step the traditional media in getting his message out and he could give the people confidence that their President is working to better their situation. Draconian measures of shutting down the press simply harken back to the military regimes of people like Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha whose actions struck fear in the hearts of the people. Yar'Adua has never been one to suggest that sort of dangerous attitude which is highly jeapardous to Nigeria's struggling democracy. Why should he start now?

I hope that we will soon hear that this was simply a misunderstanding and that the SSS acted on its own accord without impetus from the President's office. However, if that proves to be the case, it will simply highlight the very concerns the SSS and the President were obviously trying to suppress - the perception that Yar'Adua is unfit to perform the duties of Nigerian President. Whatever is going on, we must remember that for its flaws, Nigeria is a democracy. Let us encourage a measured response to situations that can clearly be perilous to the nation. Brash reactions, as has consistently been the case (by all sides) in the Niger Delta, will only worsen things and ultimately put the people of Nigeria at risk.

UPDATE: Channels TV's license is withdrawn by National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) 
UPDATE: Nigerians to Picket NBC
UPDATE: Student Unions protest closure of Channels TV
UPDATE: Channels TV's license is reinstated 2 days later

Further Reading:
- Suppression In A Democratic Regime
- Yar'Adua And The Continuing Heath Issue
- The Consequences of Ya'Adua's Mysterious Health

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Dotun said...

he doesnt sound like a man who will take a cue from the military boys governing playbook to engage with the press. if this is true, i assume the 'innocence' aura around him will fanish overnight, and he will lose the trust of the Ibadan-Lagos press axis of democracy fighters.
BTW thanks for stopping by my blog

Nigerians 4 change said...

I agree with the illustrious phrase, "Draconian measures of shutting down the press simply harken back to the military regimes of people like Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha whose actions struck fear in the hearts of the people..."

Whenever CNN or BBC carries allegedly false news, which they hardly ever, does the Government in the Countries where the headquarters are located go and arrest their authorities? How very rash and unintelligent. There are better ways to handle things in a so-called Democratic Country.

TheAfroBeat said...

I agree with you on this one...highly unacceptable! Whatever happened to all that Rule of Law talk? Like you say, i really hope he does a 360 on this one, and handles this the democratic way - communication with the people.

ijebuman said...

how times change, the 'servant leader' shows his true colours...Like I said on my blog, the real blame lies with the News Agency of Nigeria using a free web based email service to send out news reports to media organisations, making it easy for any one to set up an identical email address to send out false stories.

For the love of me said...

Just saw it on MBI, the presidency or hse of rep or smething says it's treating the case as that of treason. I'm not sure I know what they mean. Like Ijebuman said, yaradua is finally showing his true colours. I think he has been digging his grave for a long time but with this move, he has just buried himself. wacqm

Anonymous said...

So Yaradua is using this 'Firing People' thing as a weapon to his staff. Now to people he can not fire, he will arrest them and shut down their livelihood. This is a clear case of Bullying... He is a big bully; a sick one (no pun intended)
I mean, allow this people to correct their mistake publicly. This is just ridiculous, he is acting like we are in a Military regime...

Anonymous said...

They should be fined for this, the government is passing up an opportunity to make money.

Flourishing Florida said...

i doubt very much SSS acted without directives 4rm Yar Adua. Since d president returned 4rm 'dead', d man had been taking tough measure 2 'deal' with all those he perceives wished him death. maybe he met with one babalawo who says 'it's ur enemies! deal with dem! deal with dem all!' like Idi Amin. he probably have a near death-experience & dis is d way he is reacting 2 it, by going out of 'character'. wait wait, which kain out of character r we even talking abt? who really knew Yar adua. d man was too sick 2 b himself.

The Activist said...

What right have they got to close down Channels?

Anonymous said...

Are you for real? Just when I thought the military rule in Naija was over....

Thanks for stopping by on my blog, and leaving the very long but thoughtful comment. It is always welcome.
I don't think Nigerians 4 change is a political group though. I think they work in improving Nigerians lives and they don't deal with the goverment.

Unknown said...

I feel Channels goofed by not confirming the report before airing it.

I feel the government has no right to shut down a media house like they did.

I feel NAN should get the stick for even using unsecure freeby public domains like yahoo and others to communicate sensitive information and news dissemination.

I feel a lot of things. Yar'Adua would do well to sit up or resign. Why leave us rudderless most times?

Well I really didn't read your opinion so it might be differnt for what I've just put down. I just felt like writing something about this issue since I didn't have the time to blog about it.

Have a great weekend.

Parakeet said...

Oh well, I bet there is no doubt in the mind of the average Nigerian that indeed Yaradua is unfit to run the nation so shutting down all the media outfits in Nigeria will do nothing to erase this perception. If anything it damages the credibility of the govt some more. You would think that someone with a supposed Masters degree will know simple things as such as freedom of the press in a democracy. Having said that though Channels ought to have checked their facts thoroughly before broadcasting. Whatever happened to responsible reporting.

Dojaa said...

Who gave Yardy the right to shut down a station? Do we really have democracy in Nigeria? Looks like a dictatorship to me, they need to see the things Americans say about Bush or the British say about Brown!
He also needs to step down because he is incompetent not because he is sick.

Anonymous said...

Careful @Doja, those incredibly ignorant lot may decide to shut down NIGERIAN CURIOSITY since they might be unaware of Bush underground nor Brown aka noddy in toyland.

Ayobami Ojebode said...

I did a piece that may appear in Thisday newspaper on this issue. The kernel of my piece is this: NBC will continue to goof this way until it is moved away from the presidency to the national assembly the way US's FCC is under Congress.

Anonymous said...

I copied this ad and placed it on my blog....hope for a release soon..

Andrew said...

Very strange, but my site is named channel tv... :)


Lawyer said...

So much for free speech.

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