The National Broadcasting Commission, (NBC) argued that DAAR Communication was breaching broadcast codes. It shut down the stations under DAAR Communication. DAAR Communication dashed to court. The court declared NBC out of order and before anyone could say DAAR, its stations were back in business.
It has been such a fleeting reminder of yesteryears when Nigerians were entertained to such closure of one media house or another for one reason or the other. To be sure, it has happened even under democracy, the most recent being the military invasion of Media Trust Ltd earlier this year. The difference now is that previous civilian leaders who could not resist strong arm tactics in dealing with perceived media indiscipline were clever not to use the NBC or the police but troops. That is because there is a huge difference between a military invasion of a media house and the shutting down of a media house by a civil institution which alleged the violations and which also proceeded to enforce the punishment for such alleged violations. That has made it a very messy affair because there is something suggestive of the superiority of the broadcast codes to the constitution in combining the prosecutor and the judge in the NBC.
It is messier in terms of the agency at the centre of the storm. Alhaji Modibbo Kawu is one of the most qualified to head an institution such as the NBC. He has not just been a journalist, he has been a broadcast journalist, the editor of a major Nigerian newspaper and an international correspondent. Above all, he has been a unionist. How did it happen that this pedigree did not inoculate him against the option taken? If, tomorrow, a retired General who misses his or her way to headship of NBC does so, who can blame him or her? Interestingly, Alhaji Kawu gave a long list of warnings the NBC issued DAAR. So, why didn’t the option of getting a court order on the basis of those warnings appeal to the NBC boss or whichever power consortium might have driven him to this option?
The DG raised the important issue of incitement but who should define incitement outside of a court of law? Can the NBC combine the task of defining incitement and also enforcing it without breaching natural justice?
It is bound to be a long debate on what really happened. Was it democracy in action? Or the return of authoritarian temptations? Is this another proof of the judiciary being the last hope of the ordinary citizen? And so on and so forth!
What might elude the debate? One possibility is that the question may never be asked. That is the question of whether the power of the NBC to allege violation of the broadcast codes and then proceed to shut down a particular medium on that account, thereby acting as a judge in its own case is now ousted. Has that precedence now been established from this clash such that tomorrow, it would not be as if no such judgment has ever been given? Although both parties are still returning to court, the great story is the speed and sensitivity of the judiciary to immediately bring down the temperature on all sides.