Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed foremost Journalist, and Chair, Centre for Free Speech(CFS), Mr Richard Akinnola on Wednesday differ on filing of different cases to stop the excesses of government, particularly the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
Alhaji Mohammed, refering to the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project(SERAP) flayed the rights group over the various litigations it filed against the Federal government, saying it(SERAP) had turned itself into an opposition political party.
Mohammed made these remarks at a Policy Dialogue and Press Conference on Promoting Media Freedom in Nigeria, put together by SERAP and held at Raddison Hotel, GRA, Ikeja.
The Minister, who was represented by the Director of Information, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Abuja, Sunday Baba, insisted that SERAP had jumped into the gallery and taken sides rather than remain an advocacy group that it ought to be. He said recent activities of SERAP called into question whether SERAP is still a non partisan organisation.
“The organisation has suddenly transmitted into an opposition political party.
To support his position, he said SERAP took government to court over fines imposed on some broadcast organisation by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) “without even bordering to understand the broadcasting code.”
He also referred to the two bills before the National Assembly explaning that the bills are not executive bills but privately initiated. “I am sure, SERAP did not attend the public hearing of the bills from all indications but rather chose to play to the gallery and spread misinformation;
“One would have expected that SERAP would work with the Federal Government to translate the dreams of Nigerians into reality rather than assuming an antagonist position that would do the citizenry no good. “
Responding on behalf of SERAP, Akinnola, the pioneer chairman of the Board of Trustees of the organisation, expressed indignation over the remarks of the minister on SERAP.
Akinnola said the Alhaji Mohammed would not have said those things against SERAP if he was still in the opposition like it was under former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. “Most of the things he said are rather unfortunate. I rejected them on behalf of SERAP”, he said.
On the two bills before the National Assembly, Akinnola insisted that government had hands in them, adding, “you can surreptitiously input something into private bills. We know how these things work.” He argued that the freedom enjoyed by the Nigerian Press today was not a product of the constitution but that of various litigations and agitations.
He said there was need for the media to expand their rights through judicial pronouncements by going to courts. He advised government to stop making laws to suit their purposes and to achieve a desired end but to make laws that will be enduring and stand the test of time.
Akinnola noted that most infractions today were committed by state governments saying that a large number of people are in detention in several states.
He said there are existing laws that can deal with most issues today and that there was no need to make new ones.
He regretted that journalists are still being arrested for sedition in spite of the fact that the law of sedition is no longer in our statute books.