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Behold Matawalle, ‘the broadcast regulator’ from Zamfara

Behold Matawalle, ‘the broadcast regulator’ from Zamfara
October 19
05:54 2022

A new broadcast regulator emerged from Zamfara State over the weekend, shutting down some broadcast outfits, including federal government stations, in a most brazen regulatory breach. For covering the political activities of the opposition party, PDP, instead of focusing on the several headaches of the state, perhaps, six stations found themselves in the boiling rage of the governor, Bello Matawalle, and were ordered to close shops immediately. Armageddon!

The Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Gusau, Federal Radio Corporation, Pride FM, Al’umma TV, Gamji FM and Gamji TV are trapped in that rage and are still fighting for extrication.

The governor could plead superficial reasons to justify a most irritating faux pas and plead for understanding. After all, Zamfara is one of the most traumatised environments in the country, and this really should occupy the interest of broadcasters. It is the state where bandits and warlords struggle for supremacy with legitimate government, a state so nearly riddled with hopelessness that the governor once broached the idea of citizens carrying guns to defend themselves and shoot down any motorcyclist at sight, where the state government once paid for some clerics to go to Mecca to pray for peace, and where only last weekend, the government suspended all political activities.

Instead of focusing on the foregoing and several others that have nearly rendered the state ungovernable under Matawalle, the stations decided to play to the gallery by putting the strength of news over the suffering of the state. Apotheosis. Overnight, Matawalle became a broadcast regulator and created a little scare in the socio-political ecosystem.

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Except that the law of the land has little consideration for status and office and does not encourage anybody to wilfully sabotage it. As at the last time we checked the constitution has not conferred any regulatory status on the Zamfara state governor or any other person in the state for that matter.

The broadcast regulator, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) called the action illegal and asked the Zamfara state governor to rescind his decision immediately. The Commission draws its strength from the National Broadcasting Commission Act CAP N11, Law of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. The Act vests the Commission with the powers to superintend the entire broadcast industry, without looking at faces, without looking at political parties, and without paying scant attention to those who believe that Nigeria should be ruled at their whimsical fantasies.

With speedy vehemence, the NBC in a statement signed by its Director-General, Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, stated as follows: “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.

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“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 emphasize 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.”

Such a statement was necessary in order to foreclose every harebrained myopia that the nation has gone bananas, and therefore the greedy should begin to pick it as dessert.

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Unfortunately, the governor is too ensconced in his political paraphernalia to understand that he had committed a villainous infraction in the broadcast industry, and should beat a retreat post-haste. This writer is aware that, having been pressed with the consequences of his unnecessary action, the governor is said to be gambling with the idea of revoking the certificates of occupancy to the land on which the stations are built.

Revocation. Oh yes. The  governor owns the state, the yam and the knife. That is the extent to which politics can corrupt our minds and reasoning. It insulates from reality and makes reasonable men take actions that question rational state of mind.

Without perforating anybody’s mounting ego, it is my little responsibility here to observe that the broadcast stations in the country are covered by the broadcast Act. INEC which regulates the nation’s politics has also, since the last week of September, released the hold on politics, and parties are therefore free to campaign anywhere in the country. No individual can upturn that except an enemy of the nation.

It will be gratuitous insult to say that nobody in Zamfara could explain the position of the law to the governor. Such advice may have come copiously but how many state governors still listen to their advisers? It’s all about showmanship now, about brute force, and about ostentatious display of state wealth appropriated to self.

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Having also made that observation, I want to state here very clearly that in spite of my reservations fro the Nigeria Broadcasting Code 6th Edition, in spite of a couple of court victories that have attenuated the content of the Code, and in spite of some little traps thrown into the Code by people with aggravated interests, the Code makes generous provisions to protect broadcast stations and  broadcasters in electioneering seasons. Whether in coverage, advertising or just news presentations, the Code (Section 5&7) advocates strict adherence to fairness and balance in presentation and providing equal opportunities to the various political parties.

According to the Code, Public Service Broadcasters (PSB) (Section 9) which the governments arrogate to themselves were told very clearly that “they may cover campaign rallies of all registered political parties and give equal airtime for the broadcast of same.”

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The point to note here is this. Matawalle didn’t have any right to close any federal government state or any other station for that matter. He doesn’t even have the right to prevent any Zamfara state station from doing its job because such station is protected by the NBC Act. Sanctions for erring stations have also been clearly stated in the Code. The media is part of the building block of any legitimate democracy and must be allowed to function.

In the season we are the NBC must closely monitor the broadcast stations, public and private. The regulator must follow its books to deal with any station committing infractions. Without emotions or fears.

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It doesn’t need any soothsaying to say that more governors will come in the mode of Matawalle. For their ephemeral stay in office, they want to play God to the hilt. Only on Monday in Kaduna, Governor Nasir el-Rufai wore the plumes of Chinua Achebe’s Nza bird in Things Fall Apart, and was making loud boasts about his powers as governor of Kaduna state and what he would have done to stop Peter Obi, the Labour Party presidential candidate, from coming to the state. Those who watched him on TV could see that glint of gloat and some level of exaggerated importance.

Not only broadcasting will be imperilled at this time, the socio-political space could be choked by the flatulence of a few men in power. The President, Muhammadu Buhari, must watch his men closely and rein them in before they ruin the remaining days of his stay in office. Or if he will just stay there helplessly and watch his days and months peter out, then those Nigerians who still have faith in the nation should rise up to save the country from sliding into disaster. Matawalle has only served a troubling metaphor that should be instructive.

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Views expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not of TheCable.

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