The Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO), comprising the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), on Thursday called on the House of Representatives to step down a bill seeking to amend the Nigerian Press Council Act as the matter is sub judice.
The media organisations and other groups also criticised the various clauses in the bill, saying that they will discourage freedom of speech and the press.
The representative of the NPO, Mr. Azubuike Ishiekwene, who is also the Editor-in-chief of Leadership Newspapers, said at a public hearing on the Bill for an Act to Amend the NPC Act, organised by the House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values, in Abuja, that there is a matter before the Supreme Court on the Act.
But the Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Olusegun Odebunmi, said no court could stop the National Assembly from performing its constitutional role.
Ishiekwene said: “There is a matter, and I am sure as the stewards of the people and stewards of the law you are aware that there is a pending matter between NPO and some parties being called in this legislation.
“There is a matter pending before the Supreme Court between NPAN and some parties involved in this bill that is being amended. And as stewards of the law, I’m sure you are constrained just as I am to make any further conversation on this matter because it is a pending matter and it is before the Supreme Court.”
Ishiekwene said the case had been in court since 1999.
He stated that the last time the matter came up in 2010, 17 of the 39 clauses contained in the bill being considered in the new amendment were declared unconstitutional by the court at that time.
Ishiekwene added: “Of course, the federal government has appealed the ruling and the matter is currently before the Supreme Court. So, I will rest my case by appealing to the honourable members of this committee to refer to the conversation that was had on a similar matter in 2018 when this matter came up before the Senate and the pendency of this matter before the court was canvassed and the 8th National Assembly at that time agreed that the prudent thing to do was to step it down. I urge this House to also, consider a similar step.”
However, Odebunmi said the committee had the mandate of Nigerians to amend any law.
He added: “And that is what we are doing. It is not about the matter being in court or not.
“To the best of my knowledge, constitutionally, we are doing our own job and I am very sure no court will restrain us from doing the job.”
He stated that the amendment does not prevent the parties involved from pursuing the case in court, adding: “This is the position of the National Assembly.”
Earlier in his opening remark, Odebunmi had said the committee tried its best to get all stakeholders to attend the public hearing of the bills.
He said: “I want to categorically state that we tried to do our best in getting all the stakeholders invited, but some said we couldn’t reach them. Notwithstanding, we are all human beings and we are bound to make mistakes. It was published in the daily news and announced on Radio Nigeria that cut across all the federation and even on social media platforms. And I’m sure that’s why we have this kind of audience. I’m sorry if anybody thinks we didn’t invite them but it’s not by intention.”
However, media development organisations expressed worry that the proposed amendment to the Nigerian Press Council Act falls far short of the expectations of the type of legislative paths Nigeria would pursue to expand the frontiers of press freedom.
Presenting a joint memorandum on behalf of various organisations, including International Press Centre (IPC), Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Centre for Media Law and Advocacy, and Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, the Executive Director, IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, said it was not that regulation was not necessary, especially in this age of fake news and hate speech.
He stated that regulations must not erode media independence or freedom and are not unduly punitive.
According to him, the regulator must also be free of the stranglehold of the powers that be, political or other interests, so that it can judiciously adjudicate in matters bordering on the infringement of the code of ethics of journalism.
He added that the amendment seeks to restrict freedom of expression.
Arogundade added that the amendment attempted to do what other laws have done like the Cybercrimes Acts which Sections 24 and 38, which in no fewer than 10 instances have been used to clamp down on bloggers or journalists for expressing opinion antagonistic to politically or economically powerful elites.
He stated that bodies like Amnesty International have documented 50 cases where the law had targeted, not cybercrime suspects, but bloggers and journalists for writing on what they “know to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another.”
He described the penalties for offences as stipulated in Section (3) i & ii of the proposed amendment, including a fine of N5 million or three years imprisonment, as being too punitive, saying it will threaten media independence and freedom.
Arogundade also criticised Section 17 (3)( a & b), which provides that a journalist could be held liable for the offence committed by his or her organisation and can be made to pay a fine of N250,000, saying that it is punitive.
He decried that Section 33 (3) and (4) does not give room for retraction or apology where fake news is mistakenly published but recommends a blanket sanction of up to N10 million or closure for a period of one year or both.
Arogundade recommended that the committee should take a cue from the Ghanaian constitution by recommending the inclusion of the provision for press freedom in the constitution while it should also recommend that government should not appoint managers of the public (state) media.
He added that the board should have management control over the commission, including the executive secretary and the appointment should be made by the President through the confirmation of the National Assembly
Arogundade said the composition and functions of the Council and the philosophy of the bill all run counter to international best practice and urged the committee to treat it by rejection.
He suggested that the provision relating to revocation of licence for alleged publication of fake news should be removed from the Act, adding that decisions for appropriate sanctions in relation to such offences should be vested in the court.
In his presentation, the Executive Secretary, Nigeria Press Council, Mr. Francis Nwosu, commended the section of the bill that seeks to empower the executive secretary of the council to issue a summons, saying it would enhance the council’s effectiveness and efficiency in handling complaints.
He suggested that the name executive secretary should be changed to director-general to be in tandem with other agencies under the supervision of the Ministry of Information and Culture.
He added that the inclusion of fake News was a welcome development but that the proposed amendment should define what will constitute fake news for easy interpretation.
Lagos Assembly moves to end open grazing, considers VAT bill
The Lagos State House of Assembly says the Prohibition of Open Cattle Grazing Bill, when passed will ensure harmonious relationships between herders and farmers in the state.
The assembly made this known after the bill was read on the floor of the house for the second time, by the Acting Clerk, Olalekan Onafeko, at plenary on Monday.
It said the bill would also protect the environment of the state and the South-west zone.
The House also read for the first and second time, the state’s Value Added Tax (VAT) bill, and asked the Committee on Finance, which was handling it to report back on Thursday.
The Speaker of the House, Mudashiru Obasa, who described the Prohibition of Open Cattle Grazing Bill’ as timely, thereafter, committed the bill to the committee on agriculture for public hearing.
The speaker also suggested that the bill should make provision for the registration of herders, and prepare them for ranching.
“Allocating parcel of land is not enough, but there should also be training for those who will go into ranching, as ranching is expensive and requires adequate preparation,” he added.
Concerning the VAT bill, the speaker said it would further lead to an increase in revenue and infrastructural development.
”This is in line with fiscal federalism that we have been talking about,” he said.
Mr Obasa said the VAT law, when passed, would help the state meet challenges in its various sectors.
He also urged the Lagos State government to do everything legally possible, to ensure the judgment of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, was sustained even up to the Supreme Court.
The speaker lamented a situation where about N500 billion would be generated from the state, while N300 billion was generated from other South-west states, but paltry amounts would be disbursed to Lagos State in return.
Mr Obasa said it was an opportunity for the state to emphasise again, the need for the consideration of true federalism.
Speaking earlier on the bill on open grazing, Bisi Yusuff (Alimosho 1) lamented that farmers had continuously become afraid to visit their farms, thus causing shortage of food.
Mr Yusuff also said many farmers had become indebted, as they now found it difficult to pay back loans they secured.
His position was supported by Kehinde Joseph (Alimosho 2) who noted that the bill would ensure peaceful coexistence, reduce crime and help to guide the activities of herders.
Olumoh Lukeman (Ajeromi-Ifelodun 1) suggested that the high court should be made to handle cases from enforcement of the bill when passed, or that the state should establish special courts for such purpose.
Also, Gbolahan Yishawu (Eti-Osa 1) expressed support for the bill, noting that it would give a level of security to the state and help reduce economic losses.
He added that Lagos had 250 hectares of land in Ikorodu and another 750 hectares in Epe for ranching.
David Setonji (Badagry II), said: “There was a time we went on oversight function in a school here in Lagos. We were embarrassed by cattle. We had to wait for the herder to move the cattle before we embarked on our oversight function.”
Mr Setonji suggested a collaboration between the Neighbourhood Safety Corps and the police, in the implementation of the law when passed and assented to.
Other lawmakers who contributed during the plenary were Adedamola Kasunmu (Ikeja II), Rasheed Makinde Ifako Ijaiye II), and Sanni Okanlawon (Kosofe I).
Ngige: FG to recover millions wrongly paid to 588 doctors
The federal government says it is planning to recover “millions of naira wrongly paid to 588 medical doctors” across the country.
While fielding questions from state house correspondents, Chris Ngige, minister of labour and employment, said the affected doctors wrongly benefitted from the medical residency training fund meant for a particular category of doctors.
The minister said the names of the doctors were uncovered after a scrutinisation of the 8000 names submitted by chief medical directors of federal government health institutions for the training programme.
Ngige said a substantial amount of the money has been refunded by some of the affected doctors while efforts are being intensified to recover the remaining balance.
He said the delay in making the refund by the affected doctors is holding back the residency fund payment by the government.
“Ministry of health has gotten the list of doctors who supposedly are to benefit from the medical residency training fund,” he said.
“Total submission of about 8000 names were gotten and the ministry of health is scrutinising them.
“We have done the first round of scrutinisation and they will now compare what they have with the Post-Graduate Medical College and the chief medical directors who submitted the names.
“The Association of Resident Doctors, in each of the tertiary centres, worked with the CMDs to produce those names, but now that the names are being verified.
“We discovered that about 2000 names shouldn’t be there because they don’t have what is called Postgraduate Reference Numbers of National Postgraduate Medical College and (or) that of the West African Postgraduate Medical College.
“So, this is it and that is the only thing holding back the residency fund payment because it is there already for incurred expenditure has been done by the finance minister and it’s in the accountant-general’s office.”
“So, once they verify the authenticity of those they are submitting, the Accountant-General will pay.
“We are doing that verification because we do not want what happened last time in 2020 to reoccur.
“In 2020, the submitted names didn’t come through the appropriate source, which is the Postgraduate Medical College and payment was affected and it was discovered that about 588 persons, who were not resident doctors benefited from such money.
“They are now finding it difficult to make the full refund. But they have to refund that money. Some are refunding, but there is no full consideration of the account.
“That account has to be reconciled to enable the accountants pay the next round of funding for 2021.”
The National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) has been on strike for a month over “irregular payment of salaries”, among other issues.
Efforts by stakeholders, including the national assembly, to mediate between the federal government and the resident doctors have not yielded results.
Insecurity: Kaduna suspends weekly market, bans livestock transportation
The Kaduna State government has suspended trading at the popular weekly Kawo market.
The order on Thursday came days after the government suspended similar markets in five other local government areas of the state.
Kawo market is one of the largest weekly markets in Kaduna North.
It is located in the same area as the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), the Hassan Usman Katsina House popularly know as State House and the Legislative Quarters.
According to a statement by the state commissioner of Internal Security and Homeland Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, on Thursday, “the Kawo weekly market which usually holds every Tuesday in Kaduna North LGA has been suspended with immediate effect”.
“The Government of Kaduna State wishes to highlight that the previous directives suspending weekly markets, and selling of petrol in jerrycans in Birnin Gwari, Giwa, Chikun, Igabi and Kajuru LGAs, as well as banning the felling of trees for timber, firewood and charcoal and other commercial purposes in Birnin Gwari, Kachia, Kajuru, Giwa, Chikun, Igabi and Kauru LGAs, are still in force.
“Citizens are hereby informed that all these directives will be vigorously enforced by security agencies.”
Also, the statement said the state government banned the transportation of livestock.
“The ban also prohibits the transportation of livestock into Kaduna state from other states. Both bans take effect immediately, from today 2nd September 2021.
“The government also wishes to reiterate that the transportation of donkeys into the state is a criminal offence and anyone found engaging in this will be prosecuted accordingly.”
Kawo Market ban
Many traders who spoke with news men in Kaduna welcomed the suspension of the weekly Kawo market.
Apart from the larger weekly trading, trading also takes place daily among residents of the neighbourhood.
Danladi Bala, a grain transporter, said the state government’s decision to suspend weekly trading in the market is right.
“Yes, we are traders here, but the recent suspension of weekly markets in other local government areas will make the Kawo market the target for criminal activities. They will all come here. It is a wise decision from the government,” he said.
Hajiya Mama, a trader, also said she was not suprised by the announcement.
“I trade in the market, but in the last two weeks we have been witnessing the influx of traders with large commodities.
“With the closure of weekly markets in Zamfara and other part of the state, this market will be an option for good or bad traders,” she said.
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