Judge Dismisses MRA’s Suit Seeking Details of Sanctioned Broadcast Stations from NBC

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Mr. Tale Alabi, MRA’s Counsel

A Federal High Court in Abuja presided over by Justice Nkeonye Evelyn Maha has dismissed for lack of merit a suit by Media Rights Agenda (MRA’s) challenging the failure by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to provide it with the details of the 302 broadcasting stations it reportedly sanctioned in four months after campaigns for the 2023 general elections began in September 2022. MRA had asked the court to declare that the NBC’s failure to disclose the information constitutes a breach of its right to access information and a blatant violation of the Freedom of Information (FOI ) Act.

The legal action was triggered by the NBC Director General, Malam Balarabe Shehu Ilelah’s disclosure during a media briefing in Abuja on February 9, 2023, that the Commission sanctioned 302 out of Nigeria’s 740 operational stations between September 28, 2022, and January 31, 2023. Responding to this, MRA submitted a request to the Commission on February 20, 2023, in line with the FOI Act, 2011.

In the lawsuit initiated on March 20, 2023, by Mr. Tale Alabi on behalf of MRA against the NBC and the Attorney-General of the Federation, MRA alleged that the NBC’s refusal to provide information requested in a February 20, 2023, letter violated its right to access information under the FOI Act.

MRA also urged the court to order the NBC to pay ₦1 million as exemplary and aggravated damages for unlawfully withholding information. Additionally, MRA sought judicial intervention to compel the NBC to disclose a comprehensive set of information detailed in its February 17, 2023, correspondence. This includes a range of specific information regarding the sanctioned stations, complaints, communication exchanges, and imposed sanctions during a defined period.

Mr. Alabi, representing MRA’s interests, further argued that the NBC’s actions, or lack thereof, violated the provisions of the FOI Act, 2011. He pointed out that the NBC’s failure to provide a written notice of denial, reasons for the denial, and relevant sections of the FOI Act that it relied on, as mandated by law represented a clear breach of the Act.

When the case came up for judgment on May 8, 2024, Justice Maha dismissed MRA’s application for Judicial Review for lack of merit because, according to the judge, the letter sent to the NBC lacked proper acknowledgment from any NBC staff member. Justice Maha noted that the absence of proper acknowledgment, including the name or designation of the receiving officer undermined the validity of the delivery claim. The court concluded that a stamped acknowledgment alone does not suffice as proof of receipt. Consequently, she dismissed the application and each party was ordered to bear its own costs