Court Dismisses NBC’s Motion to Set Aside Judgment Prohibiting it from Imposing Fines on Broadcasting Stations

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Mr. Noah Ajare, MRA’s Counsel

A Federal High Court in Abuja has dismissed a motion by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) seeking to set aside its judgment delivered on May 10, 2023 in which the court granted a request by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Commission from further imposing fines on broadcasting stations in Nigeria.

In his ruling delivered on November 23, 2023, Justice James Omotosho described as futile and an afterthought the NBC’s effort to overturn the judgment based on the claims that it was never served with the originating summons in the suit and that the MRA’s action was an abuse of the court’s process.

The verdict is the second significant defeat handed to the NBC in the suit instituted by MRA through its lawyer, Mr. Noah Ajare, in which the media defense organization challenged the powers of the NBC to impose fines broadcasters in Nigeria for allegedly breaching the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

MRA filed the suit in the wake of a March 1, 2019 announcement by its then Director General, Mallam Ishaq Kawu, that the Commission had imposed a fine of N500,000 each on 45 broadcast stations for alleged contraventions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

In his judgment delivered on May 10, 2023, Justice Omotosho ruled that fines are sanctions imposed on persons found guilty of criminal offences and that under the law in Nigeria, only Courts of law are empowered to impose sanctions for criminal offences. While invalidating the fines of N500,000 each imposed on the stations, the judge noted that the NBC “is neither a Court nor a judicial tribunal to make pronouncements on the guilt of broadcast stations notwithstanding what the NBC Code says” and held that the Commission’s action violated the Constitution.

However, the NBC filed a motion through its lawyer, Mr. Babatunde Ogala (SAN), on May 24, 2023, asking the court to set aside the judgment on the ground that the court lacked jurisdiction to deliver the judgement and that it arrived at the decision in ignorance of relevant facts.

Contrary to the finding of the judge in his judgment that the NBC “was served with the Originating Summons on 24th February, 2022 and served with several hearing notices but failed to file any process”, the Commission claimed in its motion that it was never served with the originating summons in the suit, which led to the judgment. It also alleged that MRA “has two un-appealed, subsisting and binding decisions of the Federal High Court on the same issues and parties” and that rather than appeal those decisions, the organization brought a fresh suit, setting the Court on a collision course with decisions of the other Federal High Court in the same complex.

In response to the NBC’s motion, MRA filed a counter-affidavit on July 19, 2023 in which it deposed that contrary to NBC’s claim of having no knowledge of the suit, the originating processes filed by MRA, as well as several hearing notices, were served on NBC before the court delivered its judgment.

MRA also averred that the subject matter of the two suits referred by the Commission, namely suits number FHC/ABJ/CS/1436/2020 and FHC/ABJ/CS/1386/2021, was completely different from the current suit.

It argued that the NBC could not legitimately complain about the judgment of the court on the grounds it is relying on when it failed, refused, and neglected to appear before the court to present its case despite being given ample time to defend itself and challenge MRA’s suit.

MRA therefore urged the court to dismiss NBC’s application, describing it as an attempt by the NBC to have another chance to defend itself after failing to do so initially.

Ruling on the motion, Justice Omotosho noted that available evidence showed that the Commission was served with the court’s processes but failed to appear before the court, adding that the NBC also failed to present facts that the suit filed by MRA was an abuse of the court’s process.

According to the judge, a party challenging the jurisdiction of the court ought to do so timeously as the facts claimed by the NBC ought to have been brought before the court but it failed to avail itself of the opportunity.

Justice Omotosho ruled that the NBC’s motion was a futile attempt to get the court to set aside its judgment and that the Commission should bear the consequences of its own indolence.

In the final analysis, he said, the NBC’s motion is an afterthought and belated.

The judge accordingly refused to set aside the judgment and dismissed the motion.