KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY THE HONOURABLE MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND CULTURE, ALHAJI LAI MOHAMMED, AT THE 2019 FRCN ANNUAL LECTURE AT THE SHEHU MUSA YRA’ADUA CENTRE, ABUJA, ON THURSDAY 31 OCT. 2019
Let me crave your indulgence to start by commending the management and staff of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) for continuing to live up to the Corporation’s motto, which is ”Uplifting the people and uniting the nation”. Apart from doing this through its regular programmes, the FRCN has used its annual lecture, year after year, to live up to the billing.
2. I commend the efforts and the resources that the Corporation has put in to ensure the sustenance of the lecture series, which has contributed a lot to promoting national discourse on burning national issues. I recollect that such distinguished personalities like the Late Dan Masanin Kano, Dr. Maitama Sule; Former Imo State Governor and now a Distinguished Senator of the Federal Republic, Owelle Rochas Okorocha; A presidential candidate, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia; Prof. Ango Abdullahi and Prof. Pat Utomi, among others, have served as Guest Lecturers under this annual lecture series. I have no doubt that our Guest Lecturer for today, Prof. Kursim Leonard-Fwa, will also leave the imprint of his thought on the topic, which is ”Extremism: A Threat To National Unity”.
3. This topic could not have come at a better time, and I thank the FRCN for zeroing in on the issue of our national unity. Whether in the area of politics, ethnicity or religion, xtremists are tugging at the very core of our national unity. The tell-tale signs of extremism are all too glaring around us, whether it is the secessionist agitations, growing ethnic nationalism, religious extremism or even banditry and insurgency.
4. As a matter of fact, the situation was so dire when we came in for a second term that we at the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture decided that out first Town Hall Meeting will be devoted to the issue of national unity. Other exigencies have delayed this, but we remain committed to having a Special Town Hall Meeting on National Unity before the end of this year in order to foster a national dialogue on this all-important issue, so we can X-ray the challenges that extremism poses to nation-building and then fashion out a blueprint for preventing extremist carnage. This lecture by the FRCN is a good start, and I am eager to share in the thoughts of our Guest Lecturer for today.
4. Before then, let me quickly say that some of the tools of choice for extremists to propagate their dangerous ideas include unbridled propaganda, fake news and hate speech. These are very potent tools in the hands of extremists, whether they are secessionists, ultra-nationalists, religious extremists or even insurgents. And that explains why, since 2017, we have been campaigning against fake news and hate speech. Last July, we launched the National Campaign on Fake news and Hate Speech, and we have recently upped the ante by moving ahead to inject sanity into our broadcast industry. The power of radio and television, including their wide reach, means that we should not allow extremists to turn these powerful media platforms into catalyst for conflict.
5. Mr. President has graciously approved our recommendations to rid our airwaves of fake news and hate speech, especially coming on the heels of the unprofessional and unethical conduct of some broadcast stations before and during the last general elections. The recommendations include the independence of the broadcast regulators, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), from political interference in the exercise of its regulatory powers; A review of the National Broadcasting Code and extant broadcasting laws to reflect some amendments, including upward review of fines from N500,000 to N5,000,000 for breaches relating to hate speeches, inciting comments and indecency. Wilful repeat of infractions on three occasions after levying fine on a station will attract suspension of license, while the breach of political comments relating to hate speeches and divisive comments has been upgraded to ”Class A” offence in the
6. I have since set up an implementation committee on the recommendations, and when the committee concludes its work, we will begin the implementation without delay. We will then move on to work out the modalities for injecting sanity into the Social Media space, which some extremists have turned to a platform for disseminating fake news and hate speech which, like I said, are dangerous tools in the hands of extremists.
7. Since announcing our plan to sanitize both the broadcast industry and the Social Media, there have been varying reactions from Nigerians. I must say this is welcome. It’s exactly what we want: National discourse on the responsible use of the airwaves and the social media. But, for the umpteenth time, I want to say that responsible and ethical journalists, and indeed all patriots, have nothing to fear. Only anarchists and non-patriots, the purveyors of fake news and hate speech, need to worry. This Administration has no intention to gag the media or stifle free speech, but it also won’t sit by and allow hate speech to become free speech.
8. As I have said at many fora, no responsible government will sit by and allow fake news and hate speech to dominate its media space, because of the capacity of this menace to exploit our national fault lines to endanger our national unity. So, while we welcome the support of most Nigerians who have reached out to us on the need to clean up the air waves and the social media, we also note the criticism of those who oppose our efforts. Make no mistake, however, we are committed to ensuring a responsible and ethical use of our air waves and the social media.
9. Finally, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I wish to once again commend the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria for the choice of the topic for this year’s annual lecture. I have no doubt that today’s lecture will go a long way in helping us to understand even more the dangers posed to our national unity by unmitigated extremism. I also thank all those who have honoured the invitation to be part of this important effort for the emergence of a better Nigeria built on mutual trust, peace and understanding.
10. I thank you all for your kind attention.