The opposition party said President Jonathan may go after dissents from reporting the group.
The Action Congress of Nigeria has warned that the recent proscription of Boko Haram and other extremist groups by the federal government may be abused by the “increasingly intolerant” administration to haunt the media and critics.
The party said in a statement Sunday it was concerned about some vague provisions of the proscription order being misinterpreted by the government to clampdown on the media and the opposition parties.
The contentious section of the Order is Section 5 (1), which prescribes a term of imprisonment of not less than 20 years ”for any person who knowingly, in any manner, directly or indirectly, solicits or renders support for the commission of an act of terrorism or to a terrorist group”.
ACN said “support”, as defined by the Order, includes “incitement to commit a terrorist act through the Internet, or any electronic means or through the use of printed materials or through the dissemination of terrorist information.
“Is this subsection not in conflict with Chapter II Section 22 of the Nigeria constitution which says ‘The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media, shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people?’
“Can journalists escape being sentenced to 20-year jail terms for publishing statements issued by the sects? Can they freely report on videos periodically posted on YouTube by Boko Haram leader Shekau? Can the media freely report the kind of massacre that took place in Baga in April without being held liable for ‘supporting’ terrorism? Can radio and television stations organize talk shows on terrorism without the discussants being held liable for ‘supporting’ terrorism?” the party asked.
“Can the opposition criticize the government’s strategies against the terrorist sects, through its regular intervention, without being perceived as offering support to the sects? Does this Order cover the satellite broadcast channels that can be accessed in many homes across the country? Who determines when this Order has been breached? These are some of the questions that arise under the proscription Order.”
The party said, while it was in support of measures to tackle extremism and terrorism, authorities must ensure such efforts are constitutional and well applied.
It said the Nigerian government should take a cue from what obtains in the United States and other countries where the media continue to report freely on the activities of the global terrorist organization Al-Qaeda, despite the horrendous attacks it has carried out in the US and Europe, among others.
ACN recalled its earlier statement warning of the Jonathan administrations increasing authoritarian leaning as shown in “brazen assault on the freedom of expression and the press, the use of national institutions against perceived enemies and a growing inclination to denigrate opposition leaders.”
”We hate to say this has turned out to be prescient, in view of the dangerous provisions of the Boko Haram and Ansaru’s proscription Order. The Order’s assault on the press freedom and the Constitutionally-guaranteed rights of ordinary Nigerians is unprecedented in the country’s history,” the party said.
It called on media bodies to challenge the Order in court to save journalists from long jail terms simply for carrying out their constitutional duties.
In the alternative, the ACN called on the federal government to clarify the vague areas of the Order, that may end up punishing journalists and infringing on the civil liberties of the citizens more than it will curtail the activities of the sects.