The attention of the National Assembly has been drawn to a recent story in The Punch newspaper of Wednesday, February 2, 2011 titled “NBC Denies NASS Radio TV Licences.” In the story the Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Mr. Yomi Bolarinwa was not only quoted as its source, but the narrative went further to state that he made the statement to journalists, ostensibly intending it to be made available for public consumption.
Ordinarily, it is not in the character of the National Assembly as an institution to take up issues with members of the public over sundry opinions that are freely expressed in the public domain. This position is informed by the belief of the institution, that to do so would not only run contrary to its constitutional and statutory mission of serving as the crucible for reconciling the various polarities in view-points across the length and breadth of this great nation, and which necessarily form the driving force behind the diversities, which in turn avail it, its character and flavor.
More significantly, it is even the avowed intention of the National Assembly to attract as wide a variety of inputs from the public space as possible, for the purpose of strengthening its consensus culture, thereby rendering its enterprise truly people-driven. In pursuance of this expectation, the National Assembly dutifully organizes sundry fora including public hearings, all aimed at ensuring that no shade of opinion or stray interest is unaccounted for, in shaping the national agenda. It is in the context of this consideration that the establishment welcomes in its stride, the various streams of comments on its leadership, membership and even staff - some of which are fair, some unfair, others outrightly outlandish and uncalled for and yet other clearly misinformed and misinforming.
Perhaps the only circumstance under which the National Assembly may be compelled to address reports on it in the public domain remains expressly for the purpose of putting records straight and strictly in the public interest. It is also in this context that the statement credited to the NBC DG qualifies to be addressed, only for the purpose of availing the Nigerian public the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
The NBC DG had stated that the National Assembly applied for radio and television licences a few months ago, but remains ineligible. According to him, the law precludes religious bodies and political organizations from being granted licences, and the National Assembly qualifies in his reckoning, as more appropriately a mere political organisation.
The NBC DG, in his infinite wisdom and in exercise of his legitimate statutory discretion, has the liberty to define issues as they pertain to the purview of his establishment. However, referring to the National Assembly as a mere political organization hardly provides an edification of his position, as the head of a vital regulatory organ of government, in a sensitive area of the nation’s public life. A pointer to the incongruity of the indiscretion of the DG NBC is the commendable celebration of the story by the Editorial team of The Punch newspaper who creditably elevated the story to prominence on the front page of the newspaper. At least, thanks to the newspaper, the world now knows how the NBC judges matters of national interest.
For the purpose of clarification, the National Assembly is the apex organ of the nation’s legislature, which is one of the three arms of government, with the others being the Executive and Judiciary. Infact, going by the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution, the legislature is ranked the first among equals, of the various arms of government. This primacy in ranking of the legislature is justified by the very essence of a democratic dispensation where governance is all about the people and their direct participation in governance. And without doubt the legislature is that arm that guarantees such.
Hence referring to the National Assembly as a mere political organization constitutes not only a poor reading of the Nigerian Constitution, but also a clear playout of crass insensitivity to the core values which shape our daily national life. For if the National Assembly is a mere political organization, it then shares such a status with the Presidency and the Judiciary with their vast network of ministries, departments, parastatals and agencies, including of course the NBC, in all regular meanings and connotations.
However even more poignant is the issue of the NBC denying the National Assembly radio and television licences. This constitutes a more grievous act of blatant disregard of the cause of deepening of democracy in the public domain of this country, and is therefore patently inexcusable. The point needs not be emphasised here that the primary driving force of any virile legislature in the contemporary world is information management. This is premised on the imperative that the public which is served by the parliament has an inalienable right to all the information derivable from the establishment. And the National Assembly not only subscribes to this imperative, but deliberately ensures that it is sustained in all of its endeavours.
In the light of this imperative the National Assembly is operating an information friendly operational regime. Presently, there is a complement of over a hundred media organizations, from within and outside the country, as well as over 300 journalists that are accredited to cover the institution. This makes the National Assembly the most media saturated location in Nigeria. Even at that, hardly is the quantum and quality of information that flows out to the public space adequate, given the scope of work of the legislature in Nigeria.
The legislative establishment, ranging from the legislative arms of the 774 Local Government Councils, 36 State Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly, constitutes the eyes and voices of all Nigerians. That is why it is the arm of government that statutorily comprises representation from every nook and cranny of the country, to ensure that no shade of opinion or interest is compromised.
Stating further, it is trite knowledge that the legislature has three principal functions namely lawmaking, constituency representation and legislative oversight of government business. And each of these functions is information driven.
For instance, in making laws, it is inconceivable that a legislature can be making laws without effective exchange of information with the public that set it up and sustains it. Likewise in representing the various constituencies that voted them into office, legislators are too aware of the imperative of always keeping in touch and in tune with such constituencies through information exchange. Just as well is information exchange between the legislature and the public critical in oversight operations.
Perhaps it needs to be added that the relevance of the legislature in governance is further underscored by the fact that virtually the entire structure of governance in the Executive arm operates under its sway. Ministers, ambassadors, commissioners and other sundry officers owe the confirmation of their appointments to the legislature. Even the power to appropriate funds for government business rests with the legislature.
Against the backdrop of the foregoing, it therefore behoves every public officer in Nigeria that is occupying a position of relevance to further the cause of effective information dissemination by the legislature to the public, to work assiduously towards such ideal. If such a consideration had been allowed space in the operational calculus of the NBC, its Chief Executive Officer would not have been associated with the unfortunate position, that tantamounts to effectively attempting to gag the nation’s legislature, and thereby stifle the genuine aspirations of the deserving Nigerian tax payers, to effective access to information on and around the legislature.
Seen in a wider and more profound context, the establishment of own broadcast facilities by progressive parliaments across the globe has become the norm, rather than exception. From the United States of America to Europe and through Asia to Africa, parliaments are striving to avail their publics with effective access to parliamentary information, with the best equipment and techniques. What the National Assembly had been striving to achieve all these years by striving to establish its own broadcast facility, even in the face of daunting odds from some of the most unlikely quarters, is to avail the nation’s political space, a position among the best in the world.
Besides, a broadcast facility for the National Assembly is not for a private firm or any other parochial interest. It rather qualifies to be seen in its full panoply as the ultimate altruistic enterprise, to take Nigeria to the next level.
Under the circumstance, the least the NBC Director-General should have done, and could still do, is not only to celebrate the initiative, but also champion its cause.
This is one duty he owes the nation.