Media Rights Agenda (MRA) on November 9, 2020, filed a lawsuit at the Federal High Court in Ibadan, Oyo State, challenging the powers of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to impose fines on broadcasting stations since it is not a judicial body. The organization is asking the court to set aside the fines of N3 million each imposed by the NBC on three television stations on October 23 as unlawfully imposed and therefore null and void.
In the suit filed on behalf of the organization by Ibadan-based lawyer, Mr. Boluwatife Sanya, MRA is asking the court to declare the fines imposed by the NBC on ARISE Television, Channels Television and the Africa Independent Television (AIT) over their coverage of the #ENDSARS protests null and void; set aside the fines as unlawfully imposed; and issue a perpetual injunction restraining the Commission from imposing sanctions or fines or other unlawful or unconstitutional restrictions on television and radio stations in Nigeria.
The suit, brought under the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009; Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended; and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, as preserved by the Ratification and Enforcement Act (Cap A9), Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, is founded in part on MRA’s contention that the imposition of sanctions and fines of N3 million each on the three stations contravenes section 15.2.2 and other provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code relating to sanctions and fines as well as the doctrine of fair hearing as provided for in the Constitution.
Specifically, MRA is seeking the following reliefs:
- A declaration that the NBC’s arbitrary act of sanctioning and imposing fines of N3 million each on ARISE TV, Channels TV, and AIT purportedly in line with Sections 5.6.3 and 5.6.9 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code creates a chilling or stifling effect on freedom of expression and is likely to interfere with the right of MRA’s members to freedom of expression, particularly their right to receive ideas and information without interference as guaranteed by section 39 of the Constitution and Article 9 of the African Charter;
- A declaration that the fine of N3 million each imposed on the stations constitutes an interference with the rights of MRA’s members to freedom of expression, particularly their right to receive ideas and information without interference guaranteed by section 39 of the Constitution and Article 9 of the African Charter;
- A declaration that the NBC, not being a judicial body, lacks the power to impose fines on any broadcaster, including fines imposed on the three stations, and that the imposition of such fines is null and void;
- A consequential order setting aside the fines of N3 million each imposed on the three stations as the fines were unlawfully imposed; and
- A perpetual injunction restraining the NBC, its officers, agents and/or representatives from imposing sanctions or fines or excessive, disproportionate, unlawful and unconstitutional restrictions on television or radio stations which will interfere with the rights of MRA’s members to freedom of expression, particularly their right to receive ideas and information without interference.
The suit is supported by an 18-paragraph affidavit deposed to on behalf of MRA by Ms Mercy Abudu, in which she recounted the circumstances surrounding the imposition of the fines on the three stations and concerns of censorship of the television stations expressed by members of MRA and their fears that the action would infringe on their rights to receive information and ideas from the stations.
In his written address in support of MRA’s suit, Mr. Sanya accused the NBC of acting as the accuser and the judge at the same time in its own case in contravention of the well-established human rights principle, which is also guaranteed in the Nigerian Constitution, that “you cannot be a judge in your own cause.”
Besides, he said, the Court of Appeal had made clear in NOSDRA v Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited (2018) LPELR-44210 (CA) that “the imposition of fines by NOSDRA was contrary to its powers on the basis that penalties or fines are imposed as punishment for an offence or violation of the law and the power as well as competence to establish that an offence has been committed belongs to the courts and not a regulatory agency.”