A federal High Court in Abuja has voided the authority of the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission from placing a ban or imposing fines on broadcast stations on account of violating its regulations. Media Rights Agenda had initiated a lawsuit against the NBC after the regulatory body imposed N5 million each on a television station and three
A federal High Court in Abuja has voided the authority of the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission from placing a ban or imposing fines on broadcast stations on account of violating its regulations.
Media Rights Agenda had initiated a lawsuit against the NBC after the regulatory body imposed N5 million each on a television station and three Pay-TV platforms in 2022 for allegedly undermining Nigeria’s national security by broadcasting documentaries on banditry in Nigeria.
In the suit filed on behalf of MRA by freedom of expression lawyer Mr. Alimi Adamu, Ms. Obioma Okonkwo, Mr. Monday Arunsi, and Ms Opeyemi Yakubu, naming the NBC and the Attorney-General of the Federation as respondents, the CSO insisted that the NBC should not be the judge and jury in its own matter, stating that such power would deter platforms and stations from reporting the true state of affairs regarding the country’s security situation.
A statement by the Media Rights Agenda(MRA), signed by its communication officer, Mr Idowu Adewale on Wednesday disclosed that the MRA went to court to challenge the fines contending that NBC wielding such powers would limit Nigerians’ right to free expression, particularly their right to receive ideas and information without interference, as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Judge Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia found in her ruling that the NBC, not being a court of law, had exceeded its authority in imposing these fines. She also commended MRA for challenging the NBC’s action in court and issued an order of perpetual injunction prohibiting the Commission and anyone acting on its behalf from fine any media platform or broadcast station in Nigeria for any future violations of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.
The statement partly reads “MRA also sought a declaration that the procedure adopted by the NBC in imposing the fines is a flagrant violation of the rules of natural justice and the right to fair hearing under Section 36 of the Constitution and Article 7 of the African Charter as the Commission is the drafter of the Code, which provides for the alleged offences for which the media platforms and the station were punished, and which empowers the NBC to receive complaints, investigate and adjudicate on the complaints, impose fines and collect fines.
“MRA contended that the NBC, not being a court of law and not having been constituted in a manner as to secure its independence and impartiality, has no power or competence to impose fines on broadcast stations as punishment or penalties for the commission of an offence as the competence to establish that an offence has been committed and to impose criminal sanctions or penalties belongs to the courts.
“Besides, it claimed, the NBC, not being the Nigerian Police or a law enforcement agency, has no power to conduct a criminal investigation or an investigation that could lead to criminal charges against the affected media platforms and stations or the imposition of criminal penalties and accordingly, that the investigation purportedly conducted by the Commission, leading to the fines imposed on the media platforms and station for alleged offences under the Nigeria Broadcasting Code is ultra vires, null and void.
“MRA also urged the Court to declare that the Nigeria Broadcasting Code issued by the NBC, being a subsidiary legislation that empowers it as a regulatory and administrative body to enforce the provisions of the Code, cannot confer judicial powers or jurisdiction in criminal matters on the Commission to impose criminal sanctions or penalties such as fines, particularly as the Code was made by the NBC itself.
It urged the Court to declare the fines unconstitutional, ultra vires, null and void, set them aside and issue an order of perpetual injunction restraining the NBC, its servants, agents, privies, representatives or anyone acting for or on its behalf, from further imposing any fine on any of the media platforms or station, or any other broadcast station in Nigeria for any alleged offence committed under the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.
“In her judgment, Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia agreed with all MRA’s arguments and granted all the declarations and injunction sought by the organization. She however refused to grant the organization’s claim for N700,000 as costs it incurred in litigating the action; another claim for N2 million as general damages for NBC’s infringement on its rights as well as a request for N1 million as punitive damages for the Commission’s “outrageous conduct in abusing its powers and arbitrarily imposing fines on broadcasting stations”.