Nigerian radio station fights suspension over popular show

“Vision Media Services Limited” reads the inscription on a metal gate leading to a compound on a dusty road in Jabi, a district in Nigeria’s capital Abuja.

A communications mast stretches skyward next to a golden-yellow, one-story building that houses a media conglomerate comprising seven radio stations and one television station.

Vision FM is the pillar of the company. Shuaibu Mungadi, its COO, runs the station with four other senior broadcasters who each pride themselves on having at least 30 years of journalism experience.

But the once bustling hallways are quieter than usual. The voices of the company’s top executives meeting in a meeting room to discuss the future of the station can be heard from the reception area.

They review the unexpected sanctions to the popular of the station Idon Mikiya or truth to power Show.

The hour-long current affairs program airs at 5 pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and is the most successful of the station. At least 30 million listeners tune in each week from across northern Nigeria, station managers say.

But on January 28, all that changed. Nigeria’s media regulator, the National Broadcasting Commission, ordered Vision FM to suspend the show for six months and fined the station about $12,500.

At a recent suspension meeting, Mungadi sat at a table thumbing through documents as management discussed a way forward. Weeks of dialogue have yet to bear fruit, he told VOA.

Vision Media officials and partners meet to discuss the Nigerian media regulator’s suspension of one of the station’s most popular shows. (Timothy Obiezu/VOA)

“The constitutional role of the media is being trampled on by the government, that is the situation. The government is vehement, the government is indifferent,” Mungadi said.

VOA’s requests for a comment from the media regulator were rejected.

But in its letter to the station, the regulator cited a January 5 program that discussed controversies over Rufai Abubakar, head of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). Nigerian media and critics have questioned Abubakar’s suitability to lead the agency.

The regulator argued that Vision FM broadcast trade secrets and other national security agency-related topics, and that its comments lacked fairness and balance.

The content, including information on agency appointments, constituted “a breach of the provision of section 39(3)(b) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which imposes restrictions on matters relating to services government security or statutory agencies,” the letter said.

But Mungadi said authorities are bending the law to stifle the hearings and said the show was only raising important issues.

The Nigerian Journalists Union, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERP) and other human rights groups criticized the suspension.

The regulator’s actions come amid an uptick in media repression that critics say has worsened under the presidency of Muhammadu Buhari.

In January, NIA agents demanded that People’s Gazette revealing the identity of a source used in newspaper reports about the agency’s director. In an unrelated incident, unidentified men beat a journalist and damaged equipment in thunder blowersa news website in the state of Zamfara.

Media rights groups say journalists risk arbitrary arrest or charges under a 2015 cybercrime law. They note that last year, the president suspended Twitter for seven months.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders says Nigeria is one of the toughest places in West Africa to report, with journalists spied on, arrested, attacked or even killed. The country recorded a five-point drop in the World Press Freedom Index last year, ranking 120th out of 180, where 1 is the most free.

The authorities deny that they are cracking down on press freedom. The media regulator has previously said it is not restricting the media, but warned media outlets to be aware of its reporting and said defaulters will be called to order.

Vision FM feels loss

Back at the radio station, things have not been the same. Each week, the station loses about $25,000 usually generated by advertising and sponsorships, Mungadi said.

The suspension is taking its toll.

“We lost our marketing because there is so much sponsorship on this show, those sponsorships were pulled,” Mungadi said.

Without that income, Mungadi said, he’s not sure how long the station will be able to keep up with salaries.

Listeners also call to ask why the show is no longer airing.

“Once it’s five o’clock you’ll see a lot of people calling, ‘I’m at your station now but I’m not listening.'” Idon Mikiya, What’s going on?’ Even if the show comes back, we will lose a lot of listeners,” station manager Abdul Alugbere said.

Supporters in the northern Nigerian states of Kano, Sokoto and Bauchi tried to protest the suspension but, Alugbere said, were stopped by police.

The suspension shows that the authorities are not open to criticism, said Kolawole Oluwadare, director of SERAP.

The Nigerian non-profit organization focuses on anti-corruption and economic and social rights. When the regulator suspended the Vision FM program, SERAP issued a statement urges the authorities to lift the ban.

“(The suspension) again shows the government’s intolerance for what are perceived to be critical views of the government’s action. We have also reached out to the station because we are willing to address this in the public interest,” Oluwadare said.

For now, Mungadi and his team at Vision Media continue to make efforts to reverse the suspension. But he said they would never flout journalistic standards, no matter the cost.

“We are journalists, we cannot be intimidated into ruling out issues of public interest. We prefer to remain sanctioned than compromised,” Mungadi said.

We want to say thanks to the author of this short article for this amazing content

Nigerian radio station fights suspension over popular show