DURING a recent courtesy visit to the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, executives of the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) were told that President Muhammadu Buhari was positively inclined towards licensing online radio and television stations in the country. As a matter of fact, the president has already granted approval for the licensing of WebTV and online radio stations in Nigeria. Alhaji Mohammed said inter alia: “Today, if anybody listens to what is being said on the radio or TV stations, they will think that this country is at war or that Christians actually cannot live with Muslims, or that there is a dichotomy between the North and the South. I think we need to appeal to you to use your platforms for the unity and cohesion of this country.”
To be sure, governments the world over are often interested in monitoring the sources and flow of information to the citizenry. It is therefore understandable that the Buhari administration has taken an interest in organs which feed the public with information. But then, just how far can it go in seeking to control massive information providers like Youtube, Facebook or Google which are internet-driven? As long as there is internet connection, these platforms are available to the people. Their contents can hardly be monitored or controlled, let alone by an administration that does not understand the intricacies of their operations. Just how do you license online radios and TV stations and, in any case, is that the panacea for its dreadful neurosis?
If the government wants to provide regulations through the law, that is understandable. There are extant laws for that purpose. But to actually set about licensing online radio and TV stations will be a pipe dream because of the limitless possibilities on the internet highways. The internet has little regard for terrestrial borders. So how can anyone be stopped from beaming information signals from New Jersey city or New York city to Nigeria, for instance? Even local radio stations beam their respective signals to other parts of the world without fetters. They operate with ease, and international audience participation in radio programmes is a common occurrence.
In any event, is the government in possession of the tools to enforce the control which it desires? And is the desire to license online radio and TV stations really wholesome? While, under the extant arrangement, the president issues licences to terrestrial radio and TV stations, the case of online radio and TV stations is different. The power of registration and/or licensing is clearly outside the purview of the Nigerian government. And, what is more, these stations are in their thousands across the globe.
By the way, why should the power to license radio and TV stations even reside in the Presidency? It is a risky undertaking for any country to allow budding fascists to control the instruments and vehicles of information. In an advanced democracy like the USA, for instance, a board comprising members of the Democratic and Republican parties and an external person deemed to be neutral and professional is given the mandate to handle such matters.
The Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), as it is presently constituted, is only an appendage of the Presidency. It lacks the required neutrality and professionalism. Such a powerful body has the tendency to morph into a dangerous tool in the hands of a budding fascist already empowered by the kind of constitution that Nigeria currently operates.