The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) rose from deep slumber recently to impose sanctions on three radio stations for "unprofessional broadcasts on the airwaves".
Liberty Radio, an FM station in Kaduna, was fined N2million for airing a contributor's comment in a phone-in programme; the contributor had criticised the Kaduna State government for spending a whopping N150 million during the visit of the minister of information, Mr Labaran Maku, and his Good Governance Tour team.
As if that was not reprehensible enough, NBC ordered the station to host the minister in one of its interview programmes as part of the punishment. The government-owned regulator also poured its venom on the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), Kaduna zonal station, for hosting the former governor of Zamfara State, Senator Ahmed Yerima.
The NBC fined it the sum of N2million, in addition to a number of queries the station had received for airing the views of politicians with "inciting" viewpoints. Also sanctioned within the same period, according to the NBC's press release, were Adamawa Broadcasting Corporation and Gotel Radio, Yola.
Perhaps, media people are being reminded that we are back to the heady days of military dictatorship in Nigeria. Highhandedness on the part of security agencies and even the government itself is a sign that the leopard never loses its spots.
But must journalists opposed to the government operate, once more, in a guerilla war situation? What has democracy really meant for the media that fought hardest for its return in the country in 1999?
We feel sad about these developments because they are a pointer to the hard times ahead for journalists, especially those working in the north, as the countdown to 2015 begins. It appears that regulators like the NBC have come under pressure from the powers that be to stifle dissent; otherwise, when did the broadcast of people's views on radio acquire the potential to cause public disorder or incitement?
Going by the NBC's definition of incitement, then, no media organisation in the country can avoid committing the "offence" every day. Reports of people stealing billions of naira from pension funds or from overinflated contracts and buying private jets in a country where 90 per cent cannot afford a square meal per day are much more potent. So much for the freedom to hold and express opinion enshrined in the Nigerian constitution.
However, it is necessary to remind the government that media houses, whether publicly or privately owned, have the cardinal role of educating and informing the public on national issues within the purview of the extant laws.
Democracy is considered dead in any environment where free speech is denied free reign or, for that matter, where media houses are so emasculated that they become toothless bulldogs.
It is too late in the day for the authorities to begin to expect a graveyard silence in a society bogged down by corruption and injustice, even as the government appears overwhelmed by these cankerworms eating up the polity.