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MRA Inducts Voice of Nigeria into FOI ‘Hall of Shame’

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Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has named the Voice of Nigeria (VON) into its Freedom of Information (FOI) Hall of Shame, accusing it of failing to promote the FOI Act and ensuring its effective implementation as a public service media organisation as well as non-compliance with its obligations under the Act as a public institution.

 

In a statement in Lagos, Mr. Ayode Longe, MRA’s director of Programmes, noted that the Voice of Nigeria, as a national radio station established to inform the world on national issues and developments, should ordinarily be at the forefront of promoting the FOI Act and seeking compliance with the provisions of the Law by other public institutions as this would evidently enhance its performance of its statutory functions as well as enable it discharge its duties with greater ease and effectiveness.

 

He, however, expressed disappointment that the station not only failed to promote the Act or advocate compliance by other public institutions, but has itself refused to comply with its obligations under the Act.

 

The Voice of Nigeria is the second Federal Government-owned media institution to be inducted into the FOI Hall of Shame since the inception of the programme in 2017, following the conferment of the dubious award on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) on September 11, 2017 for similarly failing to promote the Act, ensure its effective implementation and for its non-compliance with its obligations under the Act as a public institution.

 

The objectives of the Voice of Nigeria, as provided in the Act establishing it, are to project Nigeria’s positive image externally, to inform the world on national and African issues and developments, to change the perspectives of the world on Nigeria and the black world, to unite Africa and the black world and to engender positive contribution of Africans in the Diaspora to the growth and development of the continent.

 

Mr. Longe said there was no doubt that the institution’s lack of transparency and accountability had eroded public trust and confidence in it, which would affect its credibility and ultimately, its ability to deliver on its statutory mandate.

 

According to him, “being a national radio network broadcasting in seven languages, including English, Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, French, Arabic, Kiswahili and Fulfulde, the Voice of Nigeria is uniquely positioned to overcome the language limitation that most other media organizations have and be able to promote the Act among Nigerians of different linguistic backgrounds. Instead, this national broadcaster has itself been consistently in blatant disregard of its statutory duties and obligations as a public institution covered by the Act, thereby undermining its implementation and effectiveness.”

 

Mr. Longe stressed that “all public institutions established by Law, including the Voice of Nigeria, are expected to proactively disclose certain types of information listed in Section 2(3) (a) to (f) of the FOI Act, by various means including print, electronic and online sources. But the Voice of Nigeria has not fulfilled its proactive disclosure obligations under Section 2 of the Act as it has not published the itemized categories of information either on its website or anywhere else, as it is required to do by the FOI Act.”

 

He described the failure of the Voice of Nigeria to designate an official of the institution to whom requests for information by members of the public should be sent as well as its failure to proactively publish the title and address of such an officer as an inexcusable breach of the provisions of the FOI Act, particularly in the light of repeated demands by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation issued to all public institutions to appoint such officials and send their details to the Federal Ministry of Justice, which is the coordinating institution for matters related to the implementation of the Act.

 

Mr. Longe also noted that although Section 13 of the FOI Act requires all public institutions to ensure the provision of appropriate training for their officials on the public’s right to access information and records held by the government or public institutions as well as to ensure the effective implementation of the Act, the Voice of Nigeria had not organized any such training for its officials since the Act was passed into Law.

 

He observed that over the last seven years, the Voice of Nigeria has consistently failed to comply with its obligation under Section 29 of the FOI Act, which requires each public institution to submit to the Attorney-General of the Federation, on or before February 1 of each year, a report covering the preceding fiscal year of its implementation of the Act. He stressed that the Voice of Nigeria had not submitted any such report for any year since 2011.

 

Mr. Longe said: “Such egregious violation of the clear provisions of the Law by a public institution which should know better is certainly unacceptable. The relevant authorities of the Federal Government must make clear that they do not condone such acts of impunity and take urgent steps to rein in public institutions such as the Voice of Nigeria, which disdainfully disregard the Laws of the Land.”

 

Launched on July 3, 2017, the FOI Hall of Shame spotlights on a weekly basis public officials or institutions that are undermining the effectiveness of the FOI Act through their actions, inactions, utterances and decisions.

 

 

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Court Unfreezes Pinnacle Account, Counsels Anti-Graft Agencies

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Nnamdi Dimgba, Federal High Court Judge has ordered Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) to unfreeze the account of Pinnacle Communications Limited and counselled anti-corruption agencies of government against taking drastic action that could prevent private enterprises from flourishing prior to concluding investigations to justify such action.

 

Delivering his ruling in the case instituted against ICPC for instructing Zenith Bank to freeze it’s account Friday, the judge maintained that the anti-corruption war was as beneficial to the society as flourishing private enterprises pointing out that scuttling the operations of major private organizations like Pinnacle Communications Limited also sends negative signals to the international community about Nigeria’s business environment.

 

Justice Dimgba described ICPC’s action against Pinnacle Communications Limited as “an overkill just like using a sledgehammer to kill a fly” considering that even after six months since the case was instituted and despite lèeway provided by many adjournments by the court, ICPC could not file any charges against the company, emphasizing that it should not have frozen the account without establishing a prima facie against it.

 

The judge remarked that anti-corruption agencies should not based their actions on rumours or “beer parlour stories” but on thorough investigations that could sustain judiciall scrutiny.

 

He held that freezing accounts of individuals or organizations by ICPC amounts to an administrative action of a federal agency which relevant sections of the constitution empower the Federal High Court to review for compliance with the law and obligations of such agencies.

 

Justice Dimgba also ruled that an order freezing account could not subsist perpetually if it was meant to be temporary adding that the essence was to allow for quick conclusion of investigations, especially when it involves a major company playing a major role in the national broadcast sector which could be jeopardized.

 

The judge however said ICPC could continue its investigations and present it’s case before a court which would decide if there is any basis to freeze accounts in future.

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Court Bars NBC from Censoring Political Broadcast

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Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) Court of Justice has barred the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) from censorship of political programmes by broadcasting stations across the country.

 

The court also ordered the NBC to retract circular demanding 24 hrs notification for live broadcast.

 

The ECOWAS Court’s verdict which was delivered Tuesday in Abuja came more than three years after a Port Harcourt-based legal practitioner, Mr Festus Oguche, and Crownfield Solicitors, dragged the NBC before the community court, challenging what the NBC called “Additional Regulations for Live Political Broadcast.”

 

The said regulation dated May 30, 2014, was contained in a letter to all broadcasting stations across the country directing that it must be notified by broadcasting stations in writing, at least 24 hours, before a live transmission of a political programme.

 

Delivering judgment in the matter, the 3-man panel led by the ECOWAS Court of Justice President, Justices Edward Asante, upheld all seven points’ declarations sought by the plaintiff.

 

The plaintiff in the suit had sought for “an order of perpetual injunction, restraining the Federal government, its agencies, servants and proxies from further doing anything, either by way of official policy, directive, instruction and/or investigation that will in anyway impede against the existence and operations of free press in a democratic society, which is guaranteed as fundamental freedom.

 

The court also held that the action of the defendant in directing that all live political broadcasts by broadcasting stations in Nigeria be referred to it was tantamount to censorship of free press and it was contrary to the fundamental freedom enshrined and guaranteed under African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.

 

Other declarations upheld by the Court include that the NBC’s directive was against the provisions of the fundamental freedom enshrined and guaranteed under Sections 22 and 39(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

 

The Court reportedly declared that it was reckless by National Broadcasting Commission to have issued such instruction to broadcasting stations and subsequently ordered that the NBC make a retraction of the May 2014 directive in a letter to all the broadcasting stations in the country and publish same in national newspapers.

 

Other Justices in the panel are Dupe Atoki and Januaria Moreira Costa.

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NBC Warns Sports Presenters against Violating Codes

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Olajumoke Coker, zonal director at National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), has said that the commission was ready to sanction sports presenters who violated its codes through unprofessional style of presentation.

 

She disclosed this in Ibadan during a seminar organised by the Oyo State Chapter of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN).

 

Coker presented at the seminar a paper titled “Hyping, Praise-singing, Sports Rights and Acquisition’’.

 

She said the hyping of sport events, enthusiasts or sponsors was one big issue the commission had been dealing with.

 

The NBC official adding that a lot of sports presenters, especially the Yoruba sports presenters, were guilty of it.

 

“Hype is when a presenter promotes products or services of commercial value in the course of presentation.

 

This is a violation of Section 7.0.15 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code. “NBC is not against giving end-credits to sponsors, but it should be done at the end of the programme in moderation and without giving details or promoting their products or services.

 

“When you start listing 20 names during your presentation, it makes your programme lack straight-dealing,” she said.

 

Coker said many stations have received from the commission letters of warning, as well as letters recommending payment of fines and for unprofessional style of presentation.

 

The official said the commission has had cause to even go as far as suspending some broadcasters from the air waves, saying the commission monitors round the clock.

 

She said any sports presenter who violated the provisions of the commission’s broadcasting code would be sanctioned accordingly.

 

“Section 3.1.3 of the Nigeria Broadcasting code clearly prohibits praise singing of sponsors. “It states that broadcasters shall recognise expression as an agent of the society. Therefore, he shall not use his medium for any personal or sectional rights, privileges and needs of his own, proprietor, relatives, friends or supporters,” she said.

 

Coker urged sports presenters to be more professional in their presentation, reminding them that the commission monitors for compliance round the clock.

 

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