The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, on Monday, noted that the right to freedom of expression as enshrined in the constitution was not an absolute right.
“There is nowhere in the world where freedom of expression in absolute, freedom of expression is limited to the extent that it does not affect another person’s freedom.
“Section 45 of the constitution will tell you how your freedom which somebody tells you it was guaranteed, the government can limit that freedom for the sake of health, security. It is written in black and white,” he said.
The speaker, however, assured that he would not be a party to any Bill that seeks to gag the press.
Gbajabiamila made this known while speaking at an award ceremony organised by the House of Representatives Press Corps, tagged ‘Recognising Good Governance and Legislative Excellence in the Face of Adversity’’ in Abuja.
Apparently reacting to calls by some stakeholders to expunge the Press Council Bill which seeks to regulate the activities of the media practitioners, the speaker said, “I will not be part of any Bill that will seek to gag the press, no Bill will come to the floor of the House that seeks to gag the press because the press is supposed to be the voice of the people.
“However, there is press freedom and there is freedom of expression; it is important for Nigerians to listen to one another and understand each other so that we can make progress as a nation.”
Gbajabiamila, however, expressed worry that whenever the National Assembly tries to make laws with the best of intentions, everyone descends on the parliament even without asking questions.
The speaker said he had directed proponent of the Press Council Bill, to engage stakeholders and resolve grey areas but the report he got was that, they want the Bill thrown out completely.
He said NGOs, religious bodies, social media, and professors in the universities do not want to be regulated saying that everybody just want to have a free range.
Gbajabiamila said that people want good governance but do not want to be regulated stressing that regulation is a key component of good governance.
“We cannot let every institution run amuck, the Executive is regulated, the Judiciary to a large extent is regulated, the Legislature is regulated; institution are meant to be regulated, there is not one institution that is above the law.
“Especially an institution that is meant to be the fourth Estate of the Realm, whose utterances or writing can make or break even a government,’’ he said.
He said if the key sector refused to be regulated, there may be crisis, adding that as a result of media content, marriages have broken, businesses destroyed and countries ruined.
Earlier, the chairman, Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), FCT Council, Mr Emmanuel Ogbeche, said that gaging the media may not augur well for our democracy.
He said that all Nigerians are beneficiaries of the struggles against dictatorship in the country.
According to him, when politicians fled, the journalists had nowhere to run so they stayed back, went underground back to brave the odd.
“Media houses were closed, some of us paid the supreme price so that democracy can thrive.
“If we survive dictators in the past I persuaded that we will survive every attempt to stifle to repress to gag and to place a stranglehold on the constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press an expression in this country,” he said.