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I got my Information from the Traders… Dr. Obadiah

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Former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Dr. Obadiah Mailafia said on Thursday that he got his information on the alleged commander of Boko Haram from traders he met in a local market.

Mailafia, who was speaking on his recent comment, which alleged that an unnamed governor in the northern part of the country was a commander of the terrorist group, Boko Haram, said,  the information followed his interaction with some Fulani traders he met in his village market, where he went to buy fonio (acha).

He apologised to all those who were offended by his statements, saying they were not targeted at anyone. He also said they were not aimed at causing trouble.

The former CBN deputy governor had on Monday during the Nigeria Info 99.3 station’s programme, ‘Morning Cross Fire’ aired at 8.30 am, alleged that the commander of Boko Haram is a governor of one of the Northern states, alleging that the group plans to instigate a civil war in the country in 2022.

He was a guest on the programme, which was examining the banditry attacks in Southern Kaduna in Kaduna State, North-West zone of the country that has left scores dead.

Following the allegation, the Department of State Security (DSS) in Plateau State on Wednesday grilled Mailafia for seven hours after which he was allowed to go home.

Also the Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum, Plateau State Governor Simon Lalong, called for investigation into the matter. He maintained that the allegation was too weighty to be swept under the carpet.

The former deputy governor of the CBN said he spoke due to his concern for the North and country in general, but maintained that he did not know that the video would go viral.

In the interview he granted to the BBC Hausa service and monitored by Daily Trust, Mailafia said he had agreed to an online radio interview with people who were unknown to him from Lagos, but did not know that they were recording it.

“I thought it was for a local FM radio in Lagos,” he said.

He said even though he did not intend for his comments to go viral, he cannot deny making them, adding that he was a fan of President Muhammadu Buhari and was passionate about northern Nigeria and the people who have suffered the consequences of the killings.

Speaking on what transpired between him and the DSS when he was invited to their office in Jos, the former CBN deputy governor said, “when they invited me they told me they had seen a video clip in which I said I was against the killings of innocent people and that I met with some people who told me that when they are done with the villages, they will move to the cities and go after big personalities in their homes and lead to war in the country. That was what I heard and I repeated it.”

He said during the interrogation, the security agents accorded him with the utmost respect.

“They did their job as they should and I cooperated with them. I gave them the necessary information at my disposal and I cannot lie about what I do not know, so I told them to pardon me because I cannot say what I don’t know. It was not my intention for my words to go viral but since it has gone viral, I cannot say I did not make that comment,” he said.

When asked to speak further on the allegation of a northern governor being a commander of Boko Haram, he said he had already spoken to the DSSS and would not want to create tension.

“What I can tell you is that I am a fan of President Muhammadu Buhari and the president is doing his utmost best but there are some wicked people around him who do not give him the right advice.

“I am not a troublesome person, my name is Mailafia (peace lover), I said what I said because of my sympathy for the people, my love for northern Nigeria. They are those who have been accusing me of not being a northern patriot but the killings are more in northern Nigeria.”

NBC slams N5m fine on radio station

Meanwhile, knocks have continued to trail the imposition of N5 million fine on the Nigerian Info FM station by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) over the comment of Mailafia, it aired.

In its statement on Thursday signed by its management and titled: ‘The National Broadcasting Commission Fines Nigeria Info 99.3 for Unprofessional Broadcast’, the NBC said it noted with “grave concern, the unprofessional conduct” of the station, which it said provided its platform for Mailafia to “promote unverifiable and inciting views that could encourage or incite crime and lead to public disorder.”

The statement continued: “Mailafia’s comments on the “Southern Kaduna Crisis”, were devoid of facts and by broadcasting same to the public, Nigeria Info 99.3FM, is in violation of the following sections of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code:

“3.1.1. No broadcast shall encourage or incite to crime, lead to public disorder or hate, be repugnant to public feelings or contain offensive reference to any person or organization, alive or dead or generally be disrespectful to human dignity;

“3.1.2. Broadcasting shall promote human dignity, therefore, hate speech is prohibited;

“Consequent on these provisions and in line with the amendment of the 6th edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, Nigeria Info 99.3FM Lagos, has been fined the sum of N5,000,000.00 (Five Million Naira), only.

“This is expected to serve as a deterrent to all other broadcast stations in Nigeria who are quick to provide a platform for subversive rhetoric and the expositions of spurious and unverifiable claims, to desist from such.

“The Commission wishes to put it on record that it will not hesitate to suspend the Broadcast Licence of broadcast stations that continue to breach the Code.

“Stations are, by this statement, admonished to desist forthwith, from airing unwholesome content, or be ready to face appropriate sanctions.”

Fine an attempt to gag free speech- CSJ, lawyer

Meanwhile, the Executive Director of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Eze Onyekpere, said what is happening is an attempt to gag freedom of speech, and expression as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution.

“It is an infringement on the right to hold an opinion because it is clearly wrong to impose a fine for an offence which is unknown to the constitution.

“If the radio programme was live, it means that whatever was said was said on the spur of the moment, which means that there was no opportunity for the radio station to vet it.

“In that case it is the person who said it that should be fined. And we are not aware that he has been charged for any offence,” Onyekpere said.

Also reacting, Ali Zubairu Esq condemned the fine imposed on the radio station, saying it was unconstitutional and an action likely to fold up the station.

“We need to examine whether hate speech is actually defined as an offence under the law and what constitutes hate speech,” he said.

He said since Mailafia did not incite violence, his comments may be viewed as advice or opinion which has to be investigated. He added that harassing him would discourage others who may want to give advice or opinion on national issues.

“The minister of information cannot be the law giver, interpreter and executor. For somebody expressing himself, the radio station cannot be fined since Mailafia did not recant his statement that he met some Boko Haram ex-commanders, although he admitted that some of the claims were not verified. It means he still stands by those statements,” he said.

“What he said is why the Northern governors are saying ‘investigate this further’. Where is the hate speech there? So, these are some of the questions begging for answers.”

Difficult times for radio stations

The N5 million was recently announced by the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed as the new fine for hate speech from N500, 000 in the NBC Code.

The minister said the fine was to deter people who seek to destabilise the country.

Nigeria Info may become the first organization to be penalized under the amended NBC Code.

An industry operator, who pleaded anonymity, explained that the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a huge blow to the entire media industry in Nigeria with most radio stations struggling to stay afloat.

He said advertorials now come in trickles at the rate of between N5, 000 and N10, 000 per minute inclusive of VAT, explaining that the revenue go into the running of the stations- generating sets, internet services, stationeries,  transportation, news subscriptions, staff pay, and other overhead costs.

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