Anger has exploded in Africa’s most populous nation, following the closure on Thursday of a broadcast station sympathetic to opposition, and many are warning that under President Muhammadu Buhari, a former military dictator with little intellectual knowledge, Nigeria’s democracy may be on the brink of collapse.
On Thursday, the Nigerian National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) announced it had suspended – until further notice – the operating license of DAAR Communications, operators of AIT and Raypower radio.
Both popular television and radio stations are seen by the Nigerian government as sympathetic to opposition, and the administration of Buhari has been prosecuting their founder and chairman.
The Director General of the NBC Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, who made the announcement on Thursday evening at a well covered press conference, accused DAAR communications of repeated violations of the NBC code and failure to pay up its license fee.
Although the DG pushed back against accusations of partisanship and that his commission was stifling free speech, the development came just hours after the Chairman of DAAR Communications, one of Nigeria’s private broadcast entities accused him of eroding press freedom.
The NBC had late last month written a warning letter to AIT accusing it of allowing what it described as treasonable rhetoric on its flagship programmes on radio and television.
Kawu said AIT and Raypower will only be reopened if DAAR Communications paid up its license fees while demonstrating a willingness to abide by the NBC code.
Following the announcement, condemnations were swift.
Former Vice President and opposition candidate in the 2019 presidential election, Atiku Abubakar, warned that democracy was under threat in Nigeria.
The former Vice President warned that the suspension of the licenses of the DAAR Group and shutting down of its stations revealed “a dangerous dark anti-media agenda by the Gen. Buhari administration to stifle critical voices in the country”.
Popular Nigerian commentator and retired journalist Richard Akinnola condemned the closure, warning that the reckless move was reminiscent of tatics employed by Nigerian military dictators who ruined the country for virtually four decades, crumbling its institutions and stealing all its resources.
The Nigeria Union of Journalists said it was “alarmed” at the closure of AIT by the National Broadcasting Commission, warning that the action “portends grave danger for free press and independent media”.
In a statement co-signed by NUJ President, Chris Isiguzo and its National Secretary, Shuaibu Usman Leman, the Union said “Independent and pluralistic media in a democracy like Nigeria serve to promote democracy by their dissemination of authentic information and ensuring transparency in governance”.
“We condemn this closure over allegations of breach of 2004 Broadcasting Code and insist there are better ways of sanctioning media organisations that are found to have erred.
“It will be helpful if the NBC will immediately reopen AIT to ensure that they continue to promote debate and opinions on issues that are of societal, economic and political importance to the nation. We expect them to do the needful in 24-hours.”