The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has added its voice to local and international calls for the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to stop intimidation of Jay FM staff and end the shutdown of the Jos-based radio station in the country’s central Plateau state.
It has been two weeks since the commission ordered the station to stop all broadcasts, allegedly due to election programming the NBC believes to be “inciting” - claiming this could lead to a breakdown in Nigeria’s law and order.
The shutdown on 1 March 2019 followed several warnings from the commission about broadcast content. On 16 February 2019 Jay FM received a warning over a sound bite where outspoken Bishop David Abioye from the Living Faith Church instructed members of his congregation who to vote for. Two days later on 18 February the station was fined for airing commentary by a listener titled “Does Buhari deserve a second term?”
One day after the shutdown, the station’s managing director, Clinton Garuba, addressed members of the press, saying that the commission had not cited “one instance after the two previous cases when the station was involved in any...breach or improper conduct that would warrant a heavy sanction as a shutdown.”
Garuba says the ongoing punishment for airing Bishop David Abioye’s sound bite amounts to double jeopardy, especially as no further infringements had occurred between the last offence and the station’s shutdown.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that when asked about its decision, NBC Director of Broadcast Monitoring, Armstrong Aduku Idachaba, told them the commission had reason to believe the station would not change broadcast patterns and that earlier breaches were infringement enough to warrant the shutdown.
Garuba says Jay FM’s extensive and widely applauded election coverage of the Plateau State has led to “forces within the government of the… state who are not comfortable with Jay FM.”
On 28 February 2019 the Nigerian Department of State Services (DSS) arrived at the Jay FM offices and removed the station’s head of engineering, Ojingwa Oji, detaining him for extensive questioning on the election coverage - specifically the station’s coverage of the impasse due to the Plateau State’s canceled Jos North Local Government Area in the Tudun Wada/Kabong Ward.
The following day, the station manager was summoned by DSS - and later that evening, the NBC announced the Jay FM shutdown. In an earlier incident, a reporter was attacked in front of the station offices, according to Garuba, for simply telling the truth.
Festus Okoye Esq from Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission said irregularities in seven of the country’s governorship polls included the discontinuation of Smart Card readers midway through the elections, the complete failure to deploy Smart Card readers to some stations, over-voting and disruptions in some voting processes.
The Plateau State, along with six other Nigerian governorships, have since scheduled fresh elections, and regional voters are expected to take to the polls again on 23 March 2019.
Despite the radio silence, Jay FM has managed to maintain social media coverage across its platforms - albeit coverage of a more subdued nature.
“Though it seems they may have succeeded temporarily, we know the airwaves belong to the people, and the people know what the truth is,” the station’s managing director told media. “They also know that truth always triumphs over falsehood, the way Jay FM will overcome all persecution, intimidation, molestation, and attacks.”
The CPJ’s Angela Quintal said political broadcasts are not grounds for the complete shutdown of a news outlet. “Nigeria's broadcasting regulator should immediately permit Jay FM to resume broadcasting and intelligence services should cease harassing journalists,” Quintal said.
Meanwhile Garuba has stood his ground, backing the station and its coverage of news and elections. “As Managing Director of Jay FM Jos, I have always been a firm believer in the pure tenets of democracy, freedom of the press, and the inalienable rights guaranteed to all citizens of Nigeria by the constitution. They are the values I have always attempted to project here at Jay FM Jos, and they are the ideals I am prepared to die for.”