The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, said on Monday he would never be part of any bill to gag the media in Nigeria.
He said though the Nigerian constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression, it is however, not absolute because the government also has a duty to perform under the law to ensure good governance in the country.
Two bills seeking the amendment of the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) are currently in the lower legislative chambers.
The bills which were sponsored by a member of the House, Segun Odebunmi, are aimed at regulating the operations of the media in Nigeria.
Gbajabiamila said: “Let me say this. I will not be part of any bill that will seek to gag the press. I want to say it loud and clear if that will be of any consolation. No bill will come to the floor of the House that seeks to gag the press because the press is supposed to be the voice of the people.
“However, I hold very strongly to the view that there is press freedom and there is freedom of expression. There has always been and there will always be. But what we call freedom of expression; and I think it is important to listen to one another, understand each other so that we can make progress as a nation.
“There is nowhere in the world where freedom of expression is absolute. Freedom of expression is limited to the extent that it does not affect the other person’s freedom. Freedom of expression is not absolute and that is made abundantly clear in the constitution itself.
“If you go to section 45 of our constitution, it tells you how the government is allowed to limit that freedom for the sake of health and security, and this is written in black and white. Whilst I will not allow the gagging of the press, I worry when at every time when the National Assembly tries to promulgate a law with the best of intention, everybody descends on the National Assembly.
“For some, it is an immediate reaction, some just jump on the bandwagon without knowing the details or the issues.
“I am using this Press Council bill as an example. I called the proponent of the bill and ask him, what is going on, what have you done, and what is in this bill. He tried to break it down. I have not read it myself and I will confess to that. But I will read it in detail in the next couple of days.
“I just have a general idea of the content. He told me that he had a meeting with all the stakeholders. I wasn’t present at the meeting, he said what they wanted was not acceptable to him. Whatever provisions they have a problem with the bill; whatever provisions that are in that bill that is inimical to the operations of the press, remove it and replace it with something else so that everybody will be happy.”