Court bars NBC from fining broadcast stations

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A Federal High Court, Abuja has given an order of perpetual injunction restraining National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) from imposing fines on broadcast stations.

The Incorporated Trustees of Media Rights Agenda (MRA) had, in an originating motion marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1386/2021, sued the regulator as sole respondent in the suit.

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Ruling yesterday, the court also set aside the N500,000 imposed on March 1, 2019 on each of the 45 broadcast stations.

Justice James Omotosho held that NBC, not being a court of law, had no power to impose sanctions as punishment on broadcast stations.

He maintained that the NBC Code, which gives the commission powers to impose sanction, is in conflict with Section 6 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) that vested judicial power in the court of law.

The judge said the fines for various offences under the code were contrary to law, thus declaring them as unconstitutional, null and void.

He said the court would not sit idly and watch a body imposing fines arbitrarily without recourse to the law.

Justice Omotosho explained that NBC did not comply with the law when it sat as a complainant and judge on its own matter.

He agreed that NBC, not being Nigerian police, had no power to conduct criminal investigation that would lead to criminal trial and imposition of sanctions.

“This will go against the doctrine of separation of powers,” the judge observed.

Omotosho held that what the doctrine sought to achieve was to prevent tyranny by concentrating too much powers in one organ.

“The action of the respondent qualifies as excessiveness, as it had ascribed to itself the judicial and executive powers,” he stated.

NBC had, on March 1, 2019, imposed N500, 000 each on 45 broadcast stations for alleged violation of its code.

In the motion dated November 9, 2021 by its lawyer, Noah Ajare, the group sought a declaration that the procedure applied by the regulator in imposing the fines was a violation of rules of natural justice.

The lawyer also said that the fines were in violation of the right to fair hearing under Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Articles 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap AQ) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

Reacting, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), yesterday, applauded the verdict.

In a statement by its National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, the group said the judgment was a validation of its position over the years, in which it had severally warned NBC to stop “usurping constitutional powers of the court by playing the illegal role of a regulator, prosecutor and judge in its disagreements with private television and broadcast stations.”

Besides, HURIWA said the “decision is remarkable in such a way that pluralism of opinions and exercise of freedoms of expression and information are enhanced and duty of the media as enunciated in Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is further re-emphasised.”

Also, the group has expressed happiness that there is no pending bill against protesters in the National Assembly.

It noted: “A bill against jungle justice in 2021 by Emeka Chinedu was misrepresented by a desperate defeated political opponent in 2021, who happened to be a special adviser to the Speaker.

“He used his office to allegedly misinform the media, which later retracted and apologised for such misrepresentation after the bill had been withdrawn by Chinedu due to the level of controversy it generated.”

HURIWA stressed that  “a letter from the National Assembly mentioned that worthy of note is that Chinedu has not sponsored any bill since this year, and such a bill does not exist anywhere in the National Assembly.”