A Federal High Court in Abuja presided over by Justice Nkeonye Evelyn Maha has adjourned hearing to December 8, 2023 in a 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 information on the scope of independence reportedly granted to it by former President Muhammadu Buhari.
The suit stemmed from a claim by NBC Director General, Malam Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, at a media briefing he held in Abuja on February 9, 2023, during which he announced that the President had approved the independence of the Commission from any political interference in the exercise of its regulatory functions, particularly with respect to the issuance and withdrawal of broadcasting licences.
Sequel to this announcement by the NBC Director General, MRA, on February 20, 2023, sent a Freedom of Information request in line with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 to the Commission. In the request, MRA sought further information and clarifications on the following crucial matters:
- Whether the authority of the Minister of Information, as stipulated in Section 6 of the NBC Act, to issue directives to the Commission regarding its functions, had been abolished, and if so, whether there were plans to amend Section 6 of the Act accordingly.
- Whether the NBC now holds the final authority for the issuance of broadcast licenses, as opposed to the existing practice outlined in Section 2(b) of the NBC Act, which mandates the Commission to recommend applications through the Minister of Information to the President for the grant of radio and television licenses. MRA inquired whether the NBC has been vested with the ultimate authority to issue these licenses and if there were any plans to amend Section 2(b) of the NBC Act in response to this change.
- Information about other aspects of the Commission’s independence affected by the President’s approval and details about any other provisions within the NBC Act being considered for amendment.
- MRA also requested a copy of the communication from the President conveying the approval of the NBC’s independence to the Commission.
The letter was delivered to the NBC on February 23, 2023. The NBC however failed, refused and/or neglected to respond to, acknowledge or grant access to the information and clarifications MRA requested.
Consequently, on March 20, 2023, MRA initiated legal proceedings for Judicial Review through its lawyer, Mr. Bula Zakayo Kelle, based in Abuja. The organisation filed an action against both the NBC and the Attorney-General of the Federation, contending that the NBC’s failure and/or refusal to provide access to the information requested by MRA in the letter dated February 20, 2023, constitutes a violation of its rights to access information, as established and guaranteed by Section 1(1) and 4(a & b) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
Mr. Bula, on behalf of MRA, further argued that the failure and/or refusal by the NBC to give MRA a written notice that access to all or part of the information requested would not be granted and stating reasons for the denial and the section of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, upon which the NBC rely to deny MRA access to the information requested by it in its letter dated February 20, 2023, amounts to a flagrant violation of Sections 4 (b), 7(1), (2) & 3 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
As part of MRA’s legal action, Mr. Bula asked the Court to direct the NBC to pay MRA the sum of ₦1,000,000.00 (One Million Naira) in exemplary and aggravated damages for the flagrant and unlawful violation of MRA’s right to access information, as established and guaranteed by Section 1(1) & 4 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
Furthermore, he requested the Court to instruct the Attorney-General of the Federation to initiate criminal proceedings against the NBC for the offense of wrongfully denying access to information under Section 7(5) of the Freedom of Information Act.
When the matter came up October 25, 2023, Hon. Justice Nkeonye Evelyn Maha adjourned the suit to November 29, 2023 for hearing.