The legislature, the press and the people

Sun Feb 7th, 2021 - Abuja (FCT)

In a letter dated December 25, 2008, the Chief Executive officer of Times Communications (Nigeria) Ltd., Mallam Kabir Dangogo, wrote to inform me of this summit whose theme would be Parliamentary & Public Communication: The way Forward for Africa. He cast his nets wide to bring to this forum many resource persons not only from Nigeria here and some other countries in Africa, but also from the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Canada. When he informed me of the topic I would be handling and who would be chairing it and that the hosting would involve the African Public Relations Association (APRA) and the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), I said I would definitely be among friends.

But one of them would no doubt be listening to what had been said before at a similar forum some years ago. That person is the coordinator of Policy Analysis and Research Project (PARP) of the National Assembly, Dr. Ladi Hamalai. Through her department, part of my presentation was published as 75 Powers of the Nigerian Legislature and distributed to all members of the National Assembly and all those involved in lawmaking in the 36 states of the federation. It is my hope that the document may also have been reprinted and sent to many of our lawmakers since 2007 when we transited from one civilian administration to another. Why? Because only a few of the lawmakers who joined the democracy train on return to civil rule in 1999 are still around although there is no term limit to their tenure as is demanded of the executive arm. My presentation here today, therefore will revisit what I said at that forum that the National Assembly Policy Analysis and Research Project organised.


Three key words dominate this presentation. They are “legislature”, “press” and “people”. But which legislature, which press and which people? The questions define the context in which the presentation musts be made. And that context is Nigeria, which like any other country, has a road map which is the point of departure for any claims anyone may make on the polity. We should therefore start with that road map, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We will discover that unlike some other jurisdictions, parliament is not supreme, nor is the Constitution in the sense of where sovereignty lies. We will therefore, after looking at the Constitution we operate in Nigeria, find out what the people of Nigeria demand of those they have given the mandate to preside over the affairs of state. We will then address the law-making arm, identifying the frightening powers they have but which the muscle of the executive arm has successfully undermined, more because of the ignorance of the lawmakers than that the financial clout they credit the executive with is at work all the time. We will then address the press, its place in the constitution and what limitations are imposed on it through the constitution, the laws of the land and finally the ownership and control structures.

The Constitution
The 1999 Constitution is our Road Map which we must study to know what rights and obligations are there. The document is so structured that different areas are moderated by different bodies. It is divided into eight chapters. There are seven schedules attached thereto.

The First Chapter, from sections 1 – 12, deals with general provisions and is in two parts. Part 1, in there sections entrenches the supremacy of the Constitution, defines Nigeria s one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state, and identifies the 36 states of the federation and the federal capital territory as constitution the geographical space. Part II of the First Chapter identifies powers of the Federal Republic and shares them among the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. But the Judiciary is prevented from exercising all powers of adjudication. Two such areas are identified – it cannot look into what the military did in the area of law-making between 1966 when they first came and 1999 when they last left; and it cannot lpr5ocounce on the provisions of chapter 2 which itemizes the duties that all organs of government must perform. Part II of the first chapter also provides for the mode of altering provisions of the Constitutions and specifically prohibits the establishment of a state religion.


The Second Chapter, from sections 13 – 24, titled Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, identifies the fundamental obligations of government, the relationship between the government and the people, and the political, economic, social, educational, foreign policy, environmental and cultural programmes of the state. It also itemizes the duties of citizens, and imposes on the media the obligation to monitor for the people the performance of the duties imposed in chapter 2. It should be noted here that what the courts are barred from doing in section 6 (6) © is what the press is called upon to do in section 22. This is why chapter 2 is not justiceable and why the media in Nigeria are constitutionally the Fourth Estate of the Realm.

The Third Chapter, from sections 25 – 32, deals with who the Nigerian is or should be, and provides for dual citizenship. The Fourth Chapter, from sections 33 – 46, is regarded by many as the most important chapter of the Constitution because it deals wit5h Fundamental Rights which the courts are empowered to protect. They include the right to life; the right to dignity of the human person; the right to personal liberty; the right to fair hearing, the right to private and family life; the right to freedom of though, conscience and religion; the right to freedom of expression and the press; the right to peaceful assembly and association; the right to freedom of movement, the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria. The chapter also provides for limitations on the rights guaranteed in section 45, and tells you where to go if the rights are infringed (sec 46).

The Fifth Chapter, from sections 7 – 129, is devoted to the Legislature, and is in parts 1 and 11, the first part dealing with the National Assembly and the second part with the Houses of Assembly in the states.. The chapter gives details of how the National and State assemblies must be composed; the demand for declaration of assets of those elected to offices and the powers they have over public funds. The chapter also documents the oversight functions of the lawmakers, especially the powers they have to conduct investigations into how public funds are disbursed.

The Sixth Chapter, from sections 130 – 229 is the longest chapter of the Constitution. It is in three parts. Part 1 deals with the Federal Executive and provides details on the appointment and duties of the President, his tenure of office and those he should work with, like ministers and special advisers. Part 11 deals with the State Executives with the governor at the helm; and Part 111 is supplemental, dealing with the National Population Census, the Nigeria Police Force, the Armed Forces of the Federation, and Political Parties. The chapter also identifies federal executive bodies that must be established, the public revenue and its distribution, and the public service of the federation.

The Seventh Chapter, from sections 230 – 296, deals with the Judicature, and is in four parts – Federal Courts, State Courts, Electoral Tribunals and Supplemental. The Federal Courts are the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the Federal High Court, the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, The Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and the Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. State Courts are the High Court of a state, Sharia Court of Appeal of a state, and Customary Court of Appeal of a state. Part 111 deals with the establishment and jurisdiction of electoral tribunals; and Part IV is supplemental, dealing with jurisdiction of state courts in respect of federal causes, enforcement of decisions and tenure of office and pension rights of judicial officers.

The Eighth Chapter, from sections 297 – 320, deals with the Federal Capital Territory and general supplementary provisions. It is in four parts. Part 1 identifies the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Part 11 deals with miscellaneous provisions, like the procedure for declaration of a state of emergency. Part 111 deals with transitional provisions which legalized activities undertaken before the Constitution came into effect on May 29, 1999. Part IV is the interpretation section, and provides for when the provisions of the Constitution would begin. That was on May 29, 1999.

The Constitution, which was promulgated on May 5, 1999 by outgoing military Head of State Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, contains Seven Schedules. The First Schedule is in two parts. Part 1 documents the 36 state of the Federation and their capitals, and also identifies the local government areas constituting them. Part 11 defines the six Area Councils of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The Second Schedule is in three parts. Part 1 is the Exclusive Legislative List, which only the National Assembly can make laws on. Part 11 contains the Concurrent List on which both the National and State assemblies can make law. Part 111 is the interpretation section of the schedule.

The Third Schedule is in three parts. Part 1 documents powers of federal executive bodies established under section 153 of the Constitution. They are the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Council of State, the Federal Character Commission, the Federal Civil Service Commission, the Independent National Electoral Commission, the National Defence Council, the National Economic Council, the National Judicial Council, the National Population Commission, the National Security Council, the Nigeria Police Council, the Police Service Commission and the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission. Part 11 deals with state executive bodies and Part 111 deals with the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja executive body. The only body at the FCT is the Judicial Service Committee of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, established under section 304 of the Constitution.

The Fourth Schedule identifies the main functions of a local government council created under section 7 of the Constitution which provides that the system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is “under this Constitution guaranteed, and accordingly, the Government of every State shall …. Ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.”
The Fifth Schedule is in two parts. Part 1 deals with the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, and Part 11 says who public officers area for the purpose of the code. The Sixth Schedule deals with election tribunals.

The Seventh Schedule deals with oaths which public officers must take before they assume office. They are two, the Oath of Allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the Oath of Office the public officer is to assume. All elected officers, from the President to the councilor, take the oath of office in which they sear to defend the National Interest which should be the appropriate description of the duties settled in chapter 2 that deals with t, because they are barred from adjudicating on matters in chapter 2 do not swear “to strive to preserve the fundamental objectives …” although in exercise of their judicial powers, they have a duty and responsibility, like the Legislative and Executive arms “to conform to, observe and apply the provisions” of the chapter (sec 13).


Section 14 of the Constitution says that Nigeria is a state based on the pricip0les of democracy and social justice. Four declarations then follow that:
Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through the Constitution derives all its powers.
The primary purpose of every government must be the security and welfare of the people;
The people must participate in the running of the government; and
Activity of government must reflect the composition of the nation-state, such that the predominance of persons from a few states or from ethnic or other sectional groups is avoided. This is to ensures national unity and command national loyalty.

The People
Our brief is that we discuss the legislature, the press and the people.
But having looked at the constitution to see how the document clearly settles what should be done and who by, and makes it clear that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria, let us look at what those people say that they want and which all efforts at lawmaking, law execution and law interpretation must eventually be directed. The question is therefore what do the people want? And who from? The answer can only be directed to those who govern for the simple reason that the powers of government are distributed to those organs of government while sovereignty resides in the people and can never be delegated.


What the people want, for the simple reason that sovereignty belongs to them, is not a request. It is a demand, and this can be gleaned from the road map itself, the Constitution, which we referred to briefly and broadly earlier. It must be fully realized that these demands are being made as of right. The people are not begging that duties be performed. They are saying that if you want to serve them, this is what you must do. And to get to the position where you have the privilege to serve the people, to be their servant, not their master, there is a process of selection from among many others. By and large, you will have to be qualified for the office you seek; you will ask that you be voted for, and on the platform of a political party. You would have been declared winner and you would have taken the oath of office and the oath of allegiance. These oaths, among others, summarise the brief the people document for performance.

We cannot visit these oaths beyond the summary we gave when we addressed the provisions of the constitution. We can only report that, in our history, they have been obeyed more in the breach than the observance. The oaths are a summary of the duties the people of Nigeria have identified for performance and which they believe will assure for them a future of security and wellbeing. For illumination of the profound duties imposed on those who govern, let us itemise a few of the hopes of Nigerians as recorded in Chapter Two of the Constitution and as they relate to law-maskers as on organ of government.

Because the Federal Republic is a state which is anchored on principles of democracy and social justice (Sec 14.1), the Legislature must ensure that these principles are maintained, sustained, nourished and preserved.

Because the motto of the Federal Republic is Unity and Truth, Peace and Progress (Sec 15.1), the Legislature must ensure that national integration is actively encouraged and that discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic associations or ties are prohibited. (Sec 15.2).

Because corrupt practices and abuse of power (Sec 15.5) are cankerworms that have almost destroyed the Nigerian State, the legislature must work for abolishing these twin evils.

Because the state’s social order is founded on ideals of Freedom, Equity and Justice (Sec 17.1), the legislature must ensure, through constant and unabating watch on the Executive, that the social order is not subverted.

Because government has a responsibility to direct is polity towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels (Sec 18.1), the legislature must move for the promotion of science and technology, the eradication of illiteracy through the provision of free, compulsory and universal primary education, free secondary education, free university education and free adult literacy programmes (Sec 18.2, 3a-d).

Because we must ensure the protection and improvement of the environment and safeguard the waster, air and land, forest and wild life of Nigeria (Sec 20), the legislature must monitor closely those who engage in activities that may lead to pollution of the environment.


Because of the diverse ways of the more than l250 nationality groups that make up the people of Nigeria, the Legislature must work to ensure that the state protests, preserves and promotes those aspects of Nigerian cultures that enhance human dignity; that are consistent with the fundamental objects contained in Chapter Two and that encourage development of Technological and Scientific studies which enhance cultural values (Sec 21.a-b).

Because discipline, Integrity, Dignity of Labour, Social Justice, Religious Tolerance, Self-reliance and Patriotism anchor our National Ethic, the Legislature must not only set an example in fulfilling this dream for the polity by reflecting these virtues in their persons, it must ensure through constant watch, that other arms of government embrace these worthy virtues.

Because members of the National and State Assemblies of Nigeria are citizens of the Federal Republic, they have to ensures that they perform duties imposed on every Nigerian citizen to:

abide by the Constitutions;
respect the ideals of the Constitution;
respect our National Institutions, the National Flag, the National Anthem, the National Pledge and Legitimate authorities;
help to enhance the power, prestige and good name of Nigeria;
respect the dignity of other citizens;
respect the rights and legitimate interests of others;
live in unity and harmony and in the spirit of common brotherhood;
make positive and useful contributions to the advancement; progress and well-being of the community where they live;
render assistance to appropriate and lawful agencies in the maintenance of law and order;
declare their incomes honestly to appropriate and lawful agencies; and
pay taxes promptly.

Because the press has an obligation to monitor governance and so must hold the National Assembly responsible to people who elected them, the Legislatures must recognize that they have a common mission with the media and that is, to serve the people of Nigeria and be seen to be doing so.

Where the media and the legislature fall out, it is because the duties imposed are not performed or have been subverted through the incursion of vested interests.

We can therefore now briefly point out the demands of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. This schedule is in two parts. Part I provides a code of behavior for public officers, which law-makers give. It provides for, among others:

Conflict of interest with duty
Restriction on specified officers
Prohibition of foreign accounts
Gifts or benefits in kind
Bribery of public officers

Abuse of powers
Declaration of assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau.
Part I of the Schedule also provides for a Code of Conduct Tribunal which is empowered to punish infringements of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers. By Section 18(2) of the Schedule, the Tribunal can impose punishments including:


vacation of office or seat in the legislative house;
disqualification from membership of a legislative house and from holding of any public office for a period not exceeding 10 years;
seizure and forfeiture to the state of any property acquired in abuse of corruption of office.
Part Two of the Schedule defines who a public office is and item 3 lists as public officers, The President and Deputy President of the Senate, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and Speakers and Deputy Speakers of Houses of Assembly of States, and all members and staff of legislative houses.

With so much demanded of elected members and such restrictions imposed on them, what are their powers and functions; and what are the limitations, especially as relation to public investigations?

The Legislature In The Constitution
Having looked at the Nigerian Constitution which is no more and no less than a documentation of delegated powers, and having seen what the people of Nigeria demand of those who rule them, let us now look at the powers which the lawmaker in the polity is given to enable him to his work without let or hindrance.

The National Assembly has vested in it the legislative powers of Federal Republic of Nigeria. (Sec 4.1). The National Assembly consists of the Senate with a membership of 109 (three from each of the 36 states and one from Abuja); and the House of Representatives with a membership of 360.

The power to make law is clearly explained. It is for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part of it. The subject-matter of law-making is even defined. These are two lists – Exclusive and Concurrent. The Exclusive Legislative List (set down in Part I of the Second Schedule of the Constitution) contains 66 items and two related items. The Concurrent Legislative list (set down in Part 2 of the schedule) contains 13 items. While the National Assembly has power to make law in regard to any item on both Exclusive and Concurrent Legislative lists, the State House of Assembly can only make law on items on the Concurrent Legislative list as provided in the Schedule, and on other items not mentioned in either list. This, residual powers rest in State Assemblies.

There are restrictions on the National and State Assemblies in exercise of their powers to make law. Let us look at some of these restrictions before we undertake an excursion into the Constitution to find out eh many powers of the Legislature and zero in on the power to investigate and to what end.

First, the National Assembly cannot make law that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution. If any law made reflects any such inconsistency, the Constitution shall prevail, and the law of the National Assembly shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void. (Sec 1.3).

Secondly, the State Assembly has no power to make law in respect of the Exclusive Legislative List. Any law it makes therefore, in areas in which it has competence, shall be valid only if it is not inconsistent with a law of the National Assembly on the same subject-matter on the Concurrent Legislative List. (Sec 4.5)

Thirdly, the National Assembly or State Assembly has no power to enact a law to oust the jurisdiction of a court of law or of a judicial tribunal established by law. This, all decrees of the military which purported to oust jurisdiction of the courts automatically lapsed on May 29, 1999 if they had not been repealed.

In the fourth place, the National or State Assembly has no power to make law that would have retrospective effect in relation to a criminal office (sec 4.9).


There is a provision which gives the impression that the courts have a right to supervise the National Assembly. This is Section 4.8 which provides that the exercise of legislative powers by the National Assembly or by House of Assembly “shall be subject to the jurisdiction of courts of law and of judicial tribunals established by law” unless the Constitution otherwise provides. In this regard, it has been held by the Supreme Court in Senator Abraham
Adesanya v. President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and anor (1981) 5SC 1, that:

Under our Constitution, government is divided into three separate and independent sections viz: The Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary:
Each section has a duty to avoid encroachment in the sphere of the other.
The power of the Courts in regard to the work of the National
Assembly does not amount to a general veto power over legislation by, or acts of, the National Assembly.

The power of the courts are supervisory and these can only be properly exercised on occasions in which it has become necessary for the court to make a pronouncement.
Idigbe, J.S.C, believes that such pronouncement would have to involve the determination of a justiciable controversy or case based on bona fide assertion of rights by the adverse litigants or anyone of them. (Pages 165 & 166).

Strictly-speaking therefore, unless the National Assembly adverts to areas not within its competence, or does not follow the procedure for arriving at a decision being question, the courts have no power to intervene.

Powers Of The Legislature
We know that the functions of the legislative arm of government include the power to make alter, amend and repeal laws. We also know that this power cannot be delegated or taken over by any other arm of government. Yes, military regimes over the years collapsed the powers under one roof. But in a democracy, there is no way the law-making function can be delegated to either the executive or the judiciary.

The corollary is true. The legislature cannot under any guise take over the function of the judiciary or that of the executive. It can therefore not constitute itself into a court by inviting all and sundry to give information on matters that would rightly not belong in the brief of the law-maker.

Looking at the Constitution, we find the many aspects of exercise of power to make law which reside in the legislature be lit the National Assembly or the State Assembly. We have here a list of 74 of such powers and the sections of the constitution where they can be located. (Appendix 1)

As we may have noticed, there would seem to be many areas of repetition of functions. But I did say that we would have to look at the Constitution to glean these roles and functions. What I did therefore was to look at Sections of Constitution to identity what functions or roles were assigned to the Legislatures either at the National or State levels and the particular subject matter indicated. From the documentation, it is obvious that the Legislature does not only have to make, alter, amend, or repeal laws, it has definite other functions to perform to check executive excesses.

If media practitioners were research fellows, the many functions of the Legislature as itemised, would have been a veritable source of information for further research. Let us take for instance, the power of the Senate to initiate investigation on any matter in which it can make law (see section 88 of the Constitution). It was under the power to investigate that the Senate invited me in 1980 to give information on who among them went to places and insisted on being attended to favourably because of their status as National Assembly members. The details of this encounter with the Senate when I was editor of the Daily Times are well documented in Tony Momoh V Senate (1981) 1 NCLR 105 (The High Court report) and 1983, 4 NCLR 269 for the Court of Appeal proceedings.

We should at this stage look at the Role of the media not only in relation to the work of the legislature but generally in the monitoring of governance on behalf of the people.

The Media
Having spent a great deal of time focusing the big picture that is Nigeria and from whose perspective we must see the world and everything in it, and having discovered that there is a road map which we must accommodate while we claim rights, even to the discomfiture of others, we should come to the medias, its beat; and those who have decided to invest in this area of business. The Medias or the Press are those agencies of the mass media which our 1999 Constitution says “shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in (chapter 2) and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.”(Sec 22). These agencies of the mass media are identified as “the press radio, television and other agencies of the mass media.” (Sec 22). They are both print and electronic, and they include news agencies and other information gathering outfits that are involved in the collection, collation and procession of information for use in the mass media. They do not therefore include information gathering for use of security agencies or by any other body for, say, the purpose of prosecuting cases in court.


The media in contemplation are identified for ownership for the purpose of disseminating “information, ideas and opinions” (Sec 39.2) in promotion of the constitutional guarantee of “freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” Sec 39.1), The limitation is the presence in our law books of those laws that are reasonably justifiable in regulating our walk on the Democracy Highway in so far as they are “in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.” (Sec 5.1).

The media affected are the Nigerian media; they are government privately-owned and number about 149 televisions stations, 95 radio stations, and 100 newspapers and magazines whose manpower supply is sourced from the industry itself and from the 56 universities, polytechnics and monotechnics that offer courses in communication studies – Akinfeleye, Inaugural Lecture, pages 44-51.

It is when we look at Chapter 2 that documents what is to be done that we come across roadblocks on how they can be done by the organ the people have chosen to perform the constitutional chore – the monitoring on their behalf of how they are governed and holding government accountable for the actions they take in governance. : But by the demand that the3 media does the monitoring of governance, the people are imposing a duty on organs they may not be in a position to dictate to. For is it not said that he who pays the piper dictates the tune? The medium is as much a business as a petrol station is and as a super market is. But if the condition for establishing a medium in the polity is that if monitors governance, then the media operatives must seek editorial independence in performing their duty to monitor those organs that have been assigned duties.

The media owner is a businessman and has constitutional guarantee to establish, own and operate a medium for the purpose of imparting information, ideas and opinion to others who are willing to receive it – sec 39.2 of the Constitution.

Those who are professionals in the media thus have a problem in differentiating between the simple fact of the right to own, establish and operate a medium under Chapter of the Constitution, and the obligation to monitor governance under Chapter 2 of the same Constitution. The first is a right; the second is a duty. The right is that of the owner of the medium who almost always insists that because he pays the piper he must dictate the tune. But the one who must play the tune has a responsibility to do so professionally or he will lose his audience. The former is an investor; the latter is the journalist. The former has his associations like the NPANB (Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria) and BON (Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria). The latter has its associations like the NUJ (Nigeria Union of Journalists) and the NGE (Nigerian Guild of Editors). The former reports his business activities to the Corporate Affairs Commission on a regular basis through audited reports of his business, appointment and change of directors, ownership and transfer of shares etc. The latter has his training to do to ground his professional hold on the medium, and has the Code of Conduct he must abide by when he does his work.


I have no doubt in my mind that many of you attending this summit belong in the class that has been asked to monitor governance on behalf of the people. You are professionals and as professionals, you have no right to rewrite the rules of the profession. The profession, like other professions, is regulated by a code of conduct.

The operative Code today is the 1998 Code of Conduct adopted in Ilorin. Do you have copies of Code? Are you aware of its contents? The Code has 15 articles and I have include it here as appendix 2 of this presentation. This is not the forum to address the contents of the code and how they have been ignored. Suffice it to say that it is there to guide us and we would be more persuasive in calling others to abide by the rules of governance if those who monitor governance are seen to be doing so professionally, in accordance with the code of ethics or their profession.

Editorial Judgment And Control Mechanisms
The brief at the national level is settled in Chapter 2 of the Constitution, which demands that media practitioners monitor how the people are governed. There is more to this brief. It demands that the monitors accept the brief itself, and that is that they agree to uphold the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. So, the monitors are consciously manning channels which must see the world from our perspective, just like the BBC and Reuters do for Britain; and the CNBN and AP do for America. It is not any different from what the Russians do for Russia, what the French do for France and what the Jews do for Israel. We are called upon to be Nigerians in relation to any other country. Every country has its brief for every organ involved in moderating life of and in the polity. What Nigeria demands is what other countries demand of institutions that operate in them.

So within Nigeria, we have our commitments determined by ownership, patronage and policy. They constrain our right to do what we like with the media we own, establish and operate. The constraints are inevitable because we belong in a country governed by laws which must be obeyed. Any refusal to obey those rules or ignore them is an invitation to chaos. We will now look at these internal control structures or mechanisms. They are right there in other countries and what we are doing here is to point to those we have in our country.

Control Through Ownership
Ownership of media, we are already aware, is a right guaranteed in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It first appeared in our 1979 Constitution when we opted for the Presidential system. In the 1960 and 1963 Constitutions (sec 24 and 25 respectively) what was guaranteed was freedom of expression without interference. In k1978 when the 1979 Constitution was being packaged, an argument ensured as to whether there should be a specific provision for freedom of the press in the Constitution. Many who obviously were influenced by their British upbringing felt that the press did not need any specific cause like in the American Constitution where Congress can make no law abridging the freedom of the press. Although there was a specific provision in Chapter 2 that the media should hold the government accountable to the people, the freedom to do so under the Fundamental Rights provisions was denied.


What emerged finally was not freedom of the press provision in section 36 (sec 39 of the 1999 Constitution) as reflected in the side note which is not part of the law, but freedom to own, establish and operate a medium for disseminating information, ideas and opinions. Broadcasting was a monopoly of government, which means that as owners of the broadcast media, government could use them for disseminating information, ideas and opinions. This is the classical case of he who pays the piper dictates the tune.

Part of dictating the tune is the different levels of establishing control through ownership. As we have seen, the medium is a business and he who owns lit must provide guidelines for the operators who we have been pleading must be journalists. The guidelines are reflected in the Mission Statement, the Editorial Policy and the House Style. Space does not permit of detailed treatment of these areas, but as I put this paper together, I looked at the following:

Daily Times Editorial Handbook updated in May, 1980
Cross River State Newspaper Corporation Style Book
The Times of India Style Book for Guidance of Editorial Staff. It was given to me by the Editor in Bombay when I visited the newspaper in February, 1978.
The Milwaukee Journal Editorial Policy issued in 1976 by the Editor of the Journal, Mr. Richard Leonard; and the Newspapers, Inc. Stylebook for the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel. I collected them when AI visited Milwaukee as Editor of Daily Times in August 1978.
The Washington Post Desk-Book on Style; which was compiled and edited by Robert Webb in 1978. It had just been printed when I called at the Washington Post in September 1978. There were many contributors to this very rich Desk Book on Style. Material from a dozen other newspaper groups in the United States were referenced. They are the Baltimore Sun papers, The Chicago Daily News, The Chicago Tribune, The Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, The Los Angeles Times, The Miami Herald, The New York Times, The St. Louis Post Dispatch, The St. Petersburg Times and The Washington Star.


Each of the internal control mechanisms indicates what rules and regulations moderate the internal operation of the medium. The Daily Times Hand Book
Points editorial staff to Points To Remember as follows:

There must be perfect accuracy in reporting. “When in doubt, leave out”;
There must be no willful distortion of facts in either news or headlines;
There must be no suppression of news. “A journalist’s main task is to inform, to give the readers the facts ….”
There must be separation of news and comment. “Comment is free but facts are sacred.”
Comment and criticism should be written in a constructive spirit to serve the public interest, and the critic must avoid calumny.
Always use simple words e.g. start or begin instead of commence; buy instead of purchase …

The truth of the matter is that in spite of the brief influenced by the ownership structure, there is still the problem of the control of media through patronage and policy. This is the influence which advertisers, so-called people of timber and caliber and others who do business with the media bring to bear on editorial decisions on the one hand, and the operation of the laws of the land on the other. It is not unusual for the proprietor to tell the editor that he does not want a particular material published in his paper. There is hardly any editor or anyone in a position to make editorial judgment who has not been confronted with the embarrassing decision to pull out of the press what the owner had to remove.

Most dangerous and intimidating, depending on the level of development of the country is control of media through the laws of the land referred to in section 45 of the Constitution. They are limitations on freedom of expression which both the owners of media and media practitioners must be familiar with. One of the most important in the new dispensation is defence of the integrity of people reflected in the law of libel. My book, Nigerian Media Laws and Ethics, documents the different laws that have affected media performance from 1903 – 1999.


In this presentation, we have tried to look at the legislature, the press and the people in the context of the rules settled for moderating life in the polity. These rules are right there in the Constitution which we tried to show is no more and no less than a documentation of delegated powers. Those who exercise legislative functions, as those who exercise executive and judicial powers, must point to the document where that power is.

Unknown to many, the powers of the legislature are awesome and my summary of them, from the first section of our constitution to the last, shows the powers of the lawmakers in our arrangement. In the past, many blamed this lawmaking arm of the polity for unnecessary interference with the powers of the executive, and not allowing those in there time to attend to their work. But the lawmakers have a right to ask questions on what is done with the resources of the polity, and would be failing in their duties if they ignored this role. The many investigations the lawmakers have been making into what the executive arm and its agencies have done with the funds voted for their operations arte in order.

The importance of this monitoring cannot be overemphasized, just as the role of the media in Nigeria to see itself as constitutionally the Fourth Estate of the Realm. This is because the powers denied the judiciary not to pronounce on the performance or non-performance of duties in chapter 2 of the Constitution are anchored in the media in that chapter. The monitoring of the executive arm is therefore a task that must be performed by those who must do so through oversight functions and those who most hold the government to account for how they perform the duties of ensuring the security and welfare of the people.
Let me once again thank the organizers of this summit for asking me to come here.




source: Guardian