Media mogul and founder of DAAR Communications, owners of African Independent Television (AIT), Chief Raymond Dokpesi, has alleged witch hunt of the AIT by the Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Mr. Ishaq Modibbo Kawu.
At a world press conference in Abuja on Thursday, Dokpesi called on the Presidency to remove Kawu from office in the collective interest of the nation’s broadcast industry.
Bemoaning what he described as persecution of his media establishment, Dokpesi said there were deliberate moves by the NBC boss to gag AIT and other privately owned broadcast stations in the country.
Accusing Kawu of creating a siege mentality on the AIT and others, Dokpesi said the DG NBC has turned the regulatory role of the NBC into a partisan weapon against private broadcast stations perceived not to be pandering to the whims of the government of the day.
He cited an instance where Kawu unilaterally increased broadcast licensing fees to N500 million for privately owned broadcast stations against the N10 million charged federal and state owned stations.
Dokpesi said despite intervention by notable stakeholders, including the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), Kawu has gone ahead to document the N500 million as debt owed by the AIT, insisting the amount be paid in one feel swoop.
He regretted that while his organisation has been remitting its licensing fees to the NBC up to date, Kawu has continued to harass and intimidate the AIT, even when public- owned broadcast organisations have not been meeting their financial obligations to the Commission over the years.
The media mogul regretted that a man standing trial for alleged corrupt practices could still be harassing and frustrating law abiding organisations for no just cause.
Dokpesi said: “Ishaq Moddibo Kawu, was dragged to court by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) on a 12-count-charge bordering on fraud in the Digital Switchover Project of the Federal Government and members of his management at NBC have openly testified against him in court.
“Can this man remain independent of external and clandestine influences? Can the scandal he is embroiled in be used to influence his performance as a regulator?
“Is it possible that he will go the extra mile over and beyond the powers of the NBC to gain favour from politicians and powers who may have influence on whether to retain him as DG and offer him a soft landing on the charges against him?
“Is he a fit and proper person with the interest of the industry at heart to lead the regulatory body?
“Kawu must know that the right thing for him to do is to step down from the leadership of the NBC at least until such a time that he is acquitted of the charges against him. Do I need to tell him the right thing to do?
“Can the broadcasters he is regulating freely raise these issues against him as a public figure? I make bold to unequivocally call on the Federal Government of Nigeria to immediately relieve him of his duty at the NBC to allow the industry to breathe fresh air”.
Dokpesi linked his travails in the hands of the NBC boss to his status as an opposition figure, stressing that Kawu was being instigated against him by certain forces in the Presidency.
He said: “Every broadcast which appears to them to offer a dissenting perspective to the position of government is reprehended as a threat to national interest.
“Every reference and reportage from various sections of the country concerning injustice, inequality and iniquity is reprehended as a threat to national security.
“If we are critical of this government’s commitment to the tenets of democracy, it is because we have witnessed unabated interferences, harassment and intimidation by the agencies under the executive arm of government on the institutions of democracy and their principal officers.
“This includes the leadership of the National Assembly, the Judiciary and now the Fourth Estate of the realm”.
According to him, the AIT management has always observed the right of reply whenever the government chose to respond to topical issues or to air its views on any issue of interest.
“We have never refused this government a slot to respond or to reply to these positions. We have, on the contrary, invited them times without number to appear for free to explain their positions and address the agitations of ordinary Nigerians.
“But they cannot determine what questions we ask them and what issues are off-limits.
“They must appear knowing that they are subjecting themselves to public scrutiny. The representatives of this government have largely not taken up the opportunity to rise to this challenge.
“Our obligation as provided for in Section 22 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is to hold government, public officers and people in power accountable to the public.
“If AIT appears biased in propagating its editorial position, it is because the representatives of government have shied away from giving account of themselves on our platform and not because AIT denies the government opportunity to make their perspectives known to our audiences”, Dopkesi added.
Shortly after the press conference, Dokpesi led the management and staff of DAAR Communications on a protest to the National Assembly.
The protesters were received by a combined team of senators and members of the House of Representatives who assured them that the federal legislature would intervene in the matter with a view to protecting privately owned media organisations against oppression.