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]MY THOUGHTS
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
- Suppression In A Democratic Regime
- Yar'Adua And The Continuing Heath Issue
- The Consequences of Ya'Adua's Mysterious Health