A private radio station in Akwa Ibom State on Monday abruptly ended a live interview with the Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress in the state, Ita Awak, after the guest mentioned the name of the speaker of the state House of Assembly, Onofiok Luke on air.
Mr. Awak believed he was discharged from the ‘Team Nigeria’ programme on Planet 101.1FM because authorities feared he might proceed to criticise Governor Udom Emmanuel and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party.
The APC spokesman said he was well received by the host of the show but that 10 minutes into the programme, the interview was discontinued immediately he mentioned Mr. Luke’s name.
Mr. Awak said he referred to Mr. Luke in context, while trying to recall what the speaker’s opinion was on looted funds so far recovered by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The station stopped airing Mr. Awak’s interview, and started playing music in its place.
Mr. Awak said even before the interview started, he was warned by the station’s General Manager, Sunday Edet, not to talk about Governor Emmanuel, the Peoples Democratic Party, the Akwa Ibom state government or anybody within the state government.
“He told me since I am an APC spokesman I should only talk about the federal government that is being led by the APC.
“I challenged him on that. I said how can I, being an APC spokesman, talk about 17 years of democracy in Nigeria, without localising it?”
After the first interruption, the General Manager, Mr. Edet, negotiated with him to commit not to refer to any official of the state government during the programme.
When he felt a compromise had been reached, Mr. Edet gave permission for the interview to resume.
But Mr. Awak did the unexpected.
When the interview resumed, Mr. Awak told listeners, “Ladies and gentlemen, that break in transmission was caused by the censorship I am experiencing right now in this studio. The manager is prevailing on me not to mention anything about Akwa Ibom State government.”
Mr. Edet, who was standing in the studio to personally monitor the interview, immediately shut down the broadcast again.
Mr. Awak said when he asked why, Mr. Edet told him it was wrong for him (Awak) to have informed the listeners that he was being censored.
“So, you stand here to censor me, and you don’t want me to tell the public about it?” Mr. Awak told the GM, and then left the studio in anger, when he realised that the station would not allow the interview to resume.
The presenter of ‘Team Nigeria’, Aniekan Udosen, corroborated Mr. Awak’s claims, and added that the general manager of the station even ordered a studio assistant out of the studio when the interview was going on.
“It’s unprofessional for a station manager to stand inside the studio to monitor how an interview was being conducted,” Mr. Udosen said.
“The general manager told me he was there in the studio to protect his station, and I asked him ‘protect your station from who?’
“In broadcasting, we are guided by the code provided by the National Broadcasting Commission. There is absolutely nothing that Ita Awak said that is prohibited by the code.
“It’s politics, we know.”
Mr. Awak, who said he would brief the APC leadership in the state, and then wait for them to decide what action to take, said he almost had a similar encounter with the federal-owned Atlantic FM station in the state, a few days ago.
“The GM of Atlantic FM received phone calls from some persons within the Akwa Ibom State government, and became very restless about me being interviewed in the station.
He tried everything possible to make sure I didn’t criticise the state government.
“For me, this is very ominous signs.”
Mr. Edet, the GM of Planet FM, declined to comment for this story, when PREMIUM TIMES contacted him.
Sampson Akpan, the special assistant on electronic media to Governor Emmanuel, said no one should blame the governor for what happened to Mr. Awak.
“Planet FM is a private radio station, no government has the right to interfere it its running,” Mr. Akpan said.
This is not the first time Planet FM would be involved in controversy bordering on censorship.
In 2014, the station discontinued a live interview with the then senator representing Akwa Ibom North West, Aloysius Etok, who at the time had deep political disagreement with the Governor Godswill Akpabio.