Assault On Freedom

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THE National Film and Video Censors Board, NFVCB, is the national agency  with legal powers to vet, classify, and approve films and videos that are for distribution and exhibition in Nigeria.

It has exercised those powers in banning the airing and distribution of a 30-minute documentary, Fueling Poverty, which treats poverty, corruption, and the mismanagement of oil and gas resources.

NFVCB rated the documentary pegged on the 2012 fuel subsidy riots “highly provocative and likely to incite or encourage public disorder and undermine national security.” In its letter to the producer, it warned that, “All relevant national security agencies are on the alert. A copy of this letter has been sent to the Director-General, Department of State Services and the Inspector-General of Police for their information”.

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Fueling Poverty details public anger over corruption and government’s alleged duplicity on fuel subsidy. It has views from all sides – the streets, the mass protest grounds, which are balanced with government positions presented at engagements with civil society groups.

Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka gave a pithy description of fuel subsidy which he called a scam. Government’s strong position that subsidy hurts the poor more was proven at the various probe sessions the House of Representatives held, but ironically, the sessions also established that government though unsure of how much fuel was imported, or used, it paid billions of dollars as subsidy.

Companies were paid subsidy when they supplied no fuel. People were angry that government unleashed the fuel price increase when it said the idea was still being considered. Using a lot of secondary data from the media, government positions and those of civil society groups the documentary articulated weaknesses

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NFVCB is relying on Section 45 of the Constitution, which seems to counter the freedoms granted individuals and groups in Sections 39 and 40 to express themselves, hold and impact views, to argue that the ban is “reasonably justifiable in a democratic society in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons.”

Can a film that talks about corruption be against public interest, especially in a democratic society? Is the ban  not capable of fueling the culture of impunity which is a mark of corruption in Nigeria?

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The position government has found itself in is not new. In 1983, BBC aired Squandering of Riches, which Onyeka Onwenu anchored, on NTA. It was a stunning criticism of the Shagari administration. Are we less tolerant of discourse 30 years after?

NFVCB  – since the documentary is available on the global social media circuit –  appears to approve corruption.



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