Imo state is the most populated state in the southeastern zone, with 27 LGAs and an estimated population of about 6 million people. The state has record of having the most growing media in Nigeria. Around February, 20th, the CSOs got information that a bill titled “A BILL TO REPEAL AND RE-ENACT THE NEWSPAPER LAW OF EASTERN REGION OF NIGERIA. LAW NO 24 OF 1955 AND NEWSPAPER LAW EDICT NO 3 OF 1984 AND OTHER MATTERS CONNECTED THERETO” has passed second reading and has headed to committee state. It was difficult to understand how the bill had slipped the eagle eyes of CSOs. When we moved to get a copy of the “secret bill”, we realized that a diversionary media briefing was held for editors and newspaper publishers by the deputy speak of Imo state House of Assembly, Hon Ozuruigbo, who also owns one of the biggest communication firm in Imo state. None of the publishers could challenge the bill because of fear of the executive because the bill was an executive bill.
After obtaining the copy for facts based advocacy, the Citizens Centre for Integrated Development quickly put a machinery together to stop the bill. First, was to establish a temporary coalition of CSOs and Media against the bill. The second effort was quick planning meeting with Journalists against Corruption, a group established through J4A series of roundtables on anti-corruption agenda, and telephone contacts with organizations like MIVOC to ensure cohesion of actions. The Journalists against Corruption mobilized over 15 Media houses while CCIDESOR mobilized over 20 CSOs for the first, second and third media briefing, social media advocacies through Facebook, twitter, bulk sms and online publications. These media actions were followed by personal telephone calls to some co-sponsors of that bill, who on noticing the trending media actions, quickly dissociated themselves from the bill, leaving the sponsor like an orphan.
Mr. Ononamadu the executive Director of CCIDESOR also followed it up with direct and personal bulk text massages urging the law makers to drop the bill, citing constitutional and international Human Rights protection of media rights. After the second media briefing which was followed by social media advocacy, the sponsor hurriedly held a media briefing announcing that they have withdrawn the bill. Not satisfied by the promised,
CCIDESOR and Journalists against Corruption, held their third media briefing urging the sponsors to withdraw the bill on the floor of the house since bills are not withdrawn at media conference halls. Over 16 newspapers (local and National) gave the advocacy media prominence thus setting fears into the sponsor of that bill. We equally wrote to churches and communities alerting them on how the bill, if passed, will affect their faith publications including Sunday mass bulletins, burial brochures, etc. which fall under mass media publication.
On the 1 of March, 2017, on the floor of the house, the sponsor withdrew the bill with apologies to Ndimo for the fear such “good intentions” must have caused them. The House of Assembly equally passed a motion deleting the bill from their records, which means the bill never traveled that road. The collaboration, sustained effort and informed intervention among CSOs, particularly between CCIDESOR, MIVOC and journalists against corruption was all it took to get a draconian bill in the making to be stopped.
The jubilation by citizens was not surprising because since the 1999 when democracy returned in Nigeria, elected representatives have had their way in all they wanted. The feeling of the buckling by state captors will continue to motivate CSOs and citizens to become more vigilant and challenge any obnoxious law, policies and government programs that will not promote good governance and reduce corruption in Imo state.
The whole efforts built around the advocacy to drop the bill were self-sponsored, including the planned 100,000 man march by MIVOC. CCIDESOR on behalf of the CSOs and Media coalition has sent a commendation letters to the sponsor of the bill and the entire law makers for their humility and courage to overcome pride in dropping the bill. The trainings, participation in J4A anti-corruption roundtables by media and CSOs played a key role in the kind of courage and self-motivation exhibited by the media and CSO activist to ensure quick end of a bad bill.