53 broadcast stations shut down: Editors, SERAP drag Buhari, NBC to court

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The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) have instituted a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) over the arbitrary use of the NBC Act and broadcasting code to threaten, revoke and shut down 53 broadcast stations in the country for failing to renew their licenses. 

Joined in the suit as Defendant is the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed. 

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The NBC had last week revoked the licenses of the 53 broadcast stations and threatened to shut down their operations within 24 hours over alleged N2.6 billion debts. 

The regulatory body of broadcast stations in a statement last week asked the stations “to pay all outstanding license fees on or before August 23, 2022 or shut down by 12am on August 24.” 

In the suit number FHC/L/ CS/1582/2022 filed on Tuesday at the Federal High Court, Lagos, NGE and SERAP asked the court to determine whether section 10(a) of the Third Schedule to the National Broadcasting Act used by NBC to threaten, revoke the licenses of 53 broadcast stations and shut them down is not inconsistent and incompatible with freedom of expression and access to information as contained in the 1999 constitution as amended. 

In a statement by the General Secretary of the NGE, Iyobosa Uwugiaren and the Deputy Director, SERAP, Kolawole Oluwadare, the two groups asked the court for a declaration that section 10(a) of the Third Schedule to the National Broadcasting Act used by the NBC to threaten to revoke the licenses of 53 broadcast stations and to shut down the broadcast stations is unconstitutional and unlawful, as it violates the freedom of expression.” 

The NGE and SERAP are also seeking an order of interim injunction restraining them, their agents or privies from revoking the licenses of 53 broadcast stations in the country and shutting their down operations, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed contemporaneously in this suit. 

In the suit, the two groups argued that, “the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties on freedom of expression indicate that this right can be exercised through any medium.” 

NGE and SERAP also averred, “Effectively, these provisions recognize that every individual has the right to an equal opportunity to receive, seek and impart information through any communication medium without discrimination.” 

‘’The use of NBC Act and the NBC Code in this case would inadmissibly open the door to arbitrariness and would fundamentally restrict the freedom of expression that is an integral part of the public order protected the Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties to which Nigeria is a state party.’’ 

The suit filed on behalf of NGE and SERAP by their lawyer Kolawole Oluwadare, read in part: “The media plays an essential role as a vehicle or instrument for the exercise of freedom of expression and information – in its individual and collective aspects – in a democratic society.”