Monday comment1

 Kingsley Olateju

On the night of Thursday, June 6, 2019, AIT television was shut down by the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) for alleged failure to abide by the Nigerian broadcasting code. This comes in the wake of the battle between another regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Oando PLC following the publication of the commission’s sanctions for alleged infractions identified during a forensic audit into the affairs of the company.

The reoccurring theme across these two cases is claims of harassment and intimidation by the regulator.  Before receiving the suspension notice DAAR Communications founder, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, led his management team on a protest to the National Assembly and some embassies in Abuja over what he called undue harassment and intimidation of the company and its officials with the intention of gaging the press.  This is in line with stories that have shown the SEC taking drastic measures including sending armed security personnel to Oando head office to intimidate employees and disrupt day- to- day business operations.  As at Friday, June 7, Oando staff had been unable to work from their office as a result of the company not wanting its employees in harm’s way.

A wave of protests, have trailed the suspension of Daar’s license with the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) demanding a review of the decision.  Across the country there has been support for both organisations with notable voices challenging what seem to be regulators who are abusing the power bestowed upon them.

Oby Ezekwesili in a tweet commented on the regulatory mishaps saying: “The reality is that a politically partisan environment has turned Regulatory Agencies to outposts of ruling-party of the day. We as citizens must therefore stand and fight Regulatory Rascality whenever it happens.”

In the same vein, Atedo Peterside, founder of Stanbic IBTC Bank, known to share his opinion on issues that others fear to comment on, said; “The closure of AIT signifies dark days ahead. Our rights to free speech is next. Regulators now competing to consciously destroy businesses and jobs on flimsy grounds.”

He also commented on the Oando saga saying: “SEC should publish the forensic audit report. Oando is a quoted company in Lagos and Johannesburg. Oando’s replies should also be published. Investors must be told the whole truth. Who is afraid of transparency and why?”

Just as Oando’s principals ran to the Federal High Court to seek redress and successfully obtained an interim injunction restraining the SEC from executing its sanctions, the management of AIT also went to court and obtained a court order against the NBC.

Both parties want their day in court so they can argue the reasons why the sanctions meted out are unfair and how they have suffered discrimination by the regulators.  Dokpesi had and continues to accuse the Director General of the NBC Mallam Modibbo Kawu of incompetence, bias and partisanship in the management of the regulatory agency.  He went on further to accuse the NBC of stunting the growth of the television and its radio stations.  It’s a story that seems to be a replica of the Oando versus SEC saga; Oando has said from the get go that the SEC under the leadership of Mounir Gwarzo has taken actions which were illegal, invalid and calculated to prejudice the business of the company.  The fallout from the SECs most recent directives to Oando has led to the company officially stating that it believes that the alleged infractions and penalties are unsubstantiated, ultra vires, invalid and calculated to prejudice the business of the company. The company has vehemently argued that it is being unfairly treated and its human rights violated as it was not given the opportunity to see, review and respond to the forensic audit report and so is unable to ascertain what findings (if any) were made in relation to the alleged infractions and defend itself accordingly before the SEC.

These actions by the regulators negate everything that democracy and the rule of rule stand for.  Some of the ideals of democracy include recognition of the fundamental worth and dignity of every person; respect for equality of all persons; faith in majority rule and insistence upon minority right, acceptance of the necessity of compromise and insistence upon individual freedom. Yet the events we’ve seen in the past few days, with the release of alleged infractions and sanctions on Oando and its executive management team as well as what has been deemed the unjust closure of AIT and Raypower, negates every single one of these ideals.

It’s a sad day when regulators whose sole purpose it is to protect institutions and stakeholders for the greater good are being seen as the big bad wolf.  Regulators that once upon time were looked up to and even applauded for their work in developing their respective sectors and players within that sector are now being seen as over exuberantly working towards personal agendas.  Despite their new role of ‘Big Bad Wolf’ it is gratifying that our Nigerian judiciary are still a strong force to be reckoned with, one that still ensures affected persons or organisations can confidently challenge decisions made by the regulator.

The SEC versus Oando saga is two years old, whilst that of NBC and Daar is barely a week old but we all wait with bated breath for how this will play out and how long it will play out for.