Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of the Federal High Court Abuja has nullified the power of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to impose fines on broadcast stations for alleged breaches of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.
Delivering judgement in a suit instituted by the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) against the NBC, following the Commission’s imposition of fines of 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, Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia held that the NBC, being not a court of law, acted above its powers by imposing such fines.
The Judge declared null and void the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code authorizing the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to impose fines on broadcast stations for alleged breaches of the Code as it ruled that administrative and regulatory bodies could not exercise judicial powers.
The judge commended MRA for challenging the NBC’s action and issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Commission or anyone acting on its behalf from further imposing any fine on any media platform or broadcast station in Nigeria for any alleged offence committed under the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.
An Abuja-based lawyer, Uche Amulu, had filed the suit on behalf of MRA asking the court to hold, among other things, the NBC’s action of imposing a fine on each of the media platforms and the station for broadcasting a documentary about the state of banditry and security in Zamfara State is unlawful and unconstitutional and has a chilling effect on the freedom of media to impart information and ideas.
MRA contended that it would deter the platforms and station from reporting the true state of affairs regarding the security situation in Nigeria, and therefore constitutes a violation of the rights of MRA, its members, and other citizens of Nigeria to freedom of expression, particularly their rights to receive ideas and information without interference, as guaranteed by the Constitution and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
MRA also sought a declaration that the procedure adopted by the NBC in imposing the fines was 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.