Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of the House of Representatives, on Monday, vowed to ensure the killing of any bill that seeks to gag the press or erode its autonomy and independence.
Gbajabiamila gave the assurance in Abuja, at a ceremony on the award of excellence and good governance, by the House of Representatives Press Corps.
The Speaker was speaking against the backdrop of national outcry against the controversial Nigeria Press Council, (NPC) bill, which featured prominently on the cover of the Monday edition of most newspapers across the country.
The Speaker, who was conferred with the award of excellence in governance, said that he would never be part of that bill if it becomes clear that it intended to gag the press.
“I will not be part of any bill that will gag the press. No bill will come to the floor of the House that will seek to gag the press.
“The press is supposed to be the voice of the people. I hold strongly the view, that there should be press freedom”, Gbajabiamila stated.
He however worried that there is nowhere in the world that freedom of expression was absolute, stressing that it should not affect the rights of another person.
He said that the constitution had already spelt out how the freedom of expression is guaranteed, reassuring that, ” for once, I will never allow laws that will stop freedom of the press.
“Some just jumped in the bang wagon without even knowing the details. I called the proponent of the bill to tell me what is really going on. I haven’t read it in detail, but I will read it in a couple of days”, he said.
The Speaker said that he had asked the proponent of the bill to hold discussions with the stakeholders, which he said had already been done, but found out that the stakeholders were not having problems with provisions in the bill, but just did not need the bill.
“I came to understand that this is not even the issue, but that they don’t even want the NPC bill. They said they don’t want to be regulated”, Gbajabiamila said.
He expressed his reservations that some people did not want to be regulated, wondering why the executive, judiciary and legislature arms of government were being regulated, but the press didn’t want to be regulated.
“We cannot allow people to go on without being regulated, then what is the essence of government? There is a difference between regulation and gagging. Let’s not confuse the two. I don’t know why the press will say, we are an independent body, we don’t want to be regulated”, the Speaker said.
He assured that they will look at every aspect of the bill and ensure that the autonomy and independence of the press are not attacked.
He said that he had already ordered research into international best practices, to look at the press in other countries, if they were regulated.
“If they are not, then this bill, I can assure you, is dead on arrival”, the Speaker assured.
Speaking on the controversial Electoral Act amendment, he said ” I”m not aware that any provision in Electoral Act as agreed by the committee is changed.
“We will lay that report this week, follow the procedure of the House and consider it”, he said.
The Speaker’s reactions were proceeded by a remark by Comrade Emmanuel Ogbeche, Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Council, who told the Speaker that he must do everything within his powers not to allow people stifle the press.
Ogbeche had complained about the NPC bill, telling the Speaker that democracy and nation-building could not thrive without the press.
He reminds Gbajabiamila that he was a beneficiary of press freedom and freedom of expression, and as such, could not now superintend over a bill that was already offending the press.
Earlier in her address of welcome, Ms Grace Ike, Chairman of the House of Representatives Press Corps, also asked the Speaker to use his office to unite the country and find a way of resolving the present security challenges across the nation.