Court Sets April 29 for Judgment in MRA’s Suit Against NBC Over Details of Broadcasting Stations Reportedly Sanctioned

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Mr. Tale Alabi, MRA’s Counsel

A Federal High Court in Abuja presided over by Justice Nkeonye Evelyn Maha has fixed April 29, 2024 for judgment in a Freedom of Information (FOI) suit filed by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) against the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) over the Commission’s failure to grant the organization’s requests for the details of the 302 broadcasting stations it said it sanctioned in four months after campaigns for the 2023 general elections began in September 2022.

The legal proceeding was initiated following the public disclosure by the then NBC Director General, Malam Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, during a media briefing in Abuja on February 9, 2023. He stated during the media briefing that, out of the 740 currently operational stations in Nigeria, the Commission had imposed sanctions on 302 stations between September 28, 2022, and January 31, 2023, citing various offenses. In response to this announcement, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Commission on February 20, 2023, requesting for details of the sanctioned stations.

In the suit filed on behalf of MRA on March 20, 2023 by Mr. Tale Alabi on behalf of MRA against the NBC and the Attorney-General of the Federation, MRA is seeking the court’s declaration that the NBC’s failure to furnish the information requested in a letter dated February 20, 2023, constitutes a breach of its right to access information, constituting a blatant violation of the FOI Act. Additionally, MRA is urging the court to order the Commission to pay ₦1 million as exemplary and aggravated damages for unlawfully withholding the information.

Furthermore, MRA is seeking an order compelling the NBC to provide the information specified in its letter dated February 17, 2023, including:

  1. A comprehensive list of the 302 stations sanctioned by the NBC between September 28, 2022, and January 31, 2023, specifying names and locations.
  2. For each of the 302 stations on the list, details regarding the individual or entity lodging complaints against the station leading to the NBC’s sanction. This includes the complainant’s name, the complaint date, and the particulars of the allegations made against each station.
  3. Copies of all correspondence from the NBC to the stations against which complaints were made, notifying them of the allegations.
  4. Copies of all correspondence from the stations against which complaints were made, responding to the allegations.
  5. A list of all broadcast stations against which the NBC received complaints of any type, in accordance with the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, between September 28, 2022, and January 31, 2023, including stations that were investigated and absolved of any wrongdoing.
  6. Details of the sanctions imposed by the NBC on each of the 302 stations sanctioned between September 28, 2022, and January 31, 2023.
  7. A list of all stations upon which the NBC imposed fines, specifying the amount of the fine imposed on each station, as outlined in Paragraphs 6 above.

Mr. Alabi asserted that the NBC’s refusal to provide the requested information to MRA, as detailed in the letter dated February 20, 2023, constitutes a breach of MRA’s right to access information, as guaranteed by Section 1(1), 4 (a & b) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011. Additionally, he argued that the NBC’s failure or reluctance to furnish MRA with a written notice explicitly stating the denial of access, including reasons for the denial and the relevant section of the Freedom of Information Act upon which the NBC relies, represents a clear violation of Section 4 (b), 7 (1), (2) & 3 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.

Justice Nkeonye Evelyn Maha deferred judgment until April 29, 2024 following the representation of MRA by Mr. Alabi, the NBC by Olanrewaju Osinnaike, Esq, and the Attorney General of the Federation by Aliyu Abdulkadir, Esq, who all adopted their respective written addresses during the hearing of MRA’s substantive Motion on Notice on February 12, 2024.