In the face-off between Oyo government and Fresh FM, much needed commonsense is missing
Governor Abiola Ajimobi’s administration has not been short of controversies but the latest one seems to be the most ridiculous. It wants to pull down a radio station. I took time to get all the sides of the story before coming to the conclusion you would see at the end of this piece.
I got a statement from the Oyo state government in which it is trying to justify his decision to destroy the Ayefele’s Music House which is the home of Fresh FM. While it cited building plans, it implicated itself by mentioning other institutions it asked for their building plans but is yet to serve demolition notices prompting the team at Fresh FM to tell IBPulse that the government’s move is politically motivated – a very dangerous move for democracy in Oyo state which is the same platform that brought the state governor to power.
I’ve heard tapes of the governor confessing he was lobbied to destroy the building, we’ve also been informed that the government was unhappy about stuffs that were said on the station. With these and several other issues overshadowing government’s official response, the Ajimobi administration has successfully (and unfortunately) painted itself as a villain in this battle it cannot win since free press is a global cause that can escalate quickly.
In a statement, Oyo state government said the demolition notice to Music House, Fresh Fm 105.9, Ibadan was not based on sentiments or witch-hunting. Instead, it said contravention notices were served to different organizations in the state since June 14, 2017 including all radio stations in the state.
State Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Toye Arulogun said that the state government demanded for the building’s approved plan. According to him, the building approval that was submitted was actually meant for an office complex and not a radio station, thereby contravening the Oyo State Physical Planning and Development Control laws, sections 30, 31 and 32 of the Oyo State Physical Planning and Urban Development Law of 2012.
He added that a physical inspection was carried out on the 25th of June 2018 to ascertain the extent of the deviation from the approval where it was discovered that apart from the change in use of the building, spatial standards in terms of setback, airspace and parking spaces were found to be grossly inadequate.
The Commissioner said that a letter was sent to Music house on 29th of June, 2018 to submit a fresh building plan application that will reflect the existing structures on site, noting that the radio house deliberately ignored the letter as there was no response from their end till date.
He said that the deviant posture of the radio station prompted the Bureau to serve a three day Demolition Notice on the 13th August 2018 which expired on the 15th August 2018.
Arulogun said that the government had also received petitions subsequent upon three fatal accidents that occurred around Music house in the last nine months, as the petitioners urged the government to look at the physical structure of the organization in relation to the dual carriage way which lends itself easily to accidents.
He emphasised that the government will do the needful and follow due process in accordance with the laws of the land but will not dignify or elevate the tantrums of Music House, Fresh FM.
Fresh FM’s side of the story
Ayefele, in a statement said necessary building permits were obtained from the government for the construction of the building. He urged the state Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Toye Arulogun, to stop misleading the public over the reasons for the proposed demolition.
He said: “Arulogun said the Music House complex contravenes planning laws and was responsible for three fatal accidents that occurred on the road in the last nine months.
“We want to make it clear that Music House followed due process in the construction of the building and got relevant approvals from state departments and agencies associated with lands and buildings. Saying that Music House complex is responsible for three accidents is just an attempt by the commissioner to run away from his shadow.”
Ayefele noted Arulogun’s history of attempting to influence a change in the station’s programmes. According to Ayefele, the commissioner asked for some of the station’s analysts to be replaced.
“We want the general public to know that Music House has not in any way contravened any building law as the commissioner has mischievously said,” Ayefele stated.
Court asks for pause
The station obtained a court injunction restraining the government from carrying out the demolition.
The motion on notice read, “An order of interlocutory injunction restraining the defendants/respondents whether by themselves, their servants, agents, privies or any person acting pursuant to the instruction of the defendants/respondents from demolishing or attempting to demolish the property of the claimants/applicants lying, being and situate at Plot 11A and 11B along link Ring Road, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Ibadan, Oyo State, or in any manner proceeding to enforce the notice of demolition dated August 13, 2018 with reference No. TF20181308/002, issued by the defendants/respondents pending the determination of the substantive suit already filed.”
Also on Thursday, staff members and other sympathisers gathered in front of the radio station with placards in anticipation that agents of the government would come with bulldozers to bring down the building.
Important questions for Oyo state government\
In addition to questions raised about the government’s decision to approve the project even though it is claiming that it is too close to the road, Oyo state government has been collecting tenement charges on the building for 5 years so it cannot say that it was not aware that they were operating a radio station in the building since the state governor himself has visited the radio station and had sent his officials to severally, including Arulogun who is being labelled as the one advising the governor to pull down the radio station.
I spoke to a number of Fresh FM officials and they definitely sure that the government’s move was political.
“We 100 percent believe that it was motivated by politics,” one of their on-air personalities told IBPulse.
They referred me to the governor’s visit to the station in 2016.
“He said it openly that some people told him to demolish the music house because Ayefele used to use music to abuse that he is not a friend to their government. He said he was happy he didn’t listen to them,” a Fresh FM OAP said.
When I asked for what changed between then when the governor was glad he did not destroy the building to the present day, the OAP noted that while nothing has changed on their side, the governor might have decided to listen to the advice given to him few years ago to demolish the building.
IBPulse gathered that even though Ayefele has made efforts to reach out to the governor to achieve truce, there are no plans to relocate and the company is willing to take the legal course to ensure justice.
“Our chairman has not mention anything like plan B. We have a strong case to defend and we are sure of getting the right Judgement from the court,” an OAP said.
The genesis of the problem
Sources at Fresh FM said the major reason why the government is going after Fresh FM was a comment made by an analyst on Political circuit program anchored by Isaac Brown some Saturdays ago. The topic of discussion was the controversy surrounding the abattoir dilemma with butchers. The government reportedly demanded for a retraction which the radio station offered thrice.
“We did the retraction 3 times, the analyst himself did and we also gave opportunities on 3 occasions for a right of reply on a live program to discuss the matter as they requested.”
The representatives from government only showed up once and didn’t give reasons why they didn’t show up again.
To clear its name, government needs to understand what democracy really means
While it is commendable that Oyo state government is particular about the kinds of structures people are working in, going full force on Fresh FM few weeks after it demanded for the retraction of an analyst’s comment brings up so many red flags and the only way to clear its name is to present the demolition notices served other institutions that it mentioned were also notified.
The state government’s statement mentioned University of Ibadan, Kola Daisi University, University College Hospital, banks and radio stations in the state.
Fresh FM’s sympathizers asked for the demolition notices the state government sent to the places mentioned.
While government is claiming it has recently demolished several banks ATM extension and some local government structures in the state, none of them is as valuable is an N800 million edifice that has provided jobs for many, especially when it could be seen as an attack on free press.
Several months ago, Oyo state governor was on the entourage of the president that visited President Barack Obama at the White House. They shook hands. I saw the picture of that moment and when I began to think about the latest move by the state government, I began to ask myself whether the governor was aware that there were media houses including Fox News that Obama hated so much but couldn’t pull down their offices because it would an attack on free press?
The more I move closer to Nigerian politicians, the more I realise that they are not really after promoting democratic virtues – the goal is the power of the office which is indirectly hurting our democracy as we know it.
While pulling down Music House will hurt Ayefele’s investments, it will not guarantee the end of Fresh FM because I’ve seen radio stations operating out of small shops in Ghana, Gambia and several other African countries. The technology has become well compartmentalized.
Free press is one of the hallmarks of any democracy. And one lesson I’ve learnt over the years is the public will always side with the media against a government that seeks to destroy, coerce or control it. So, let’s stop this show of shame before it escalates much further to prevent avoidable embarrassments to Oyo state.
In conclusion, I stand with Fresh FM until the government can prove it is pulling down several other buildings worth hundreds of millions of naira. Then we will all agree this is not a one-sided sickening vendetta.