The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the Nigerian broadcast sector regulator, on June 6, 2019, suspended indefinitely the broadcast licence of Daar Communications Plc, operators of Africa Independent Television (AIT), RayPower FM and Faaji FM, for allegedly failing to abide by the Nigerian Broadcasting Code.
The NBC accused Daar Communications Plc of ‘unprofessional’ conducts, use of “divisive and inciting contents from the social media,” inability to pay its fees, and broadcasting what the NBC considered “patently partisan and one-sided and deliberately inciting and heating the polity.”
Daar Communications Plc is Nigeria’s first licensed private broadcast outfit as well as the widest private broadcast network.
Announcing the suspension of the media group at a press briefing in Abuja, the Federal capital Territory, Dr. Is’haq Modibo Kawu, the NBC Director General, said: “Today the 6th of June, 2019, AIT/Rapower embarked on use of inflammatory, divisive, inciting broadcasts and media propaganda against the government and, the NBC for performing its statutory functions of regulating the broadcast industry in Nigeria.”
“Consequently, after several meetings with management of Daar Communications Plc and many letters of warning. The NBC, today 6th June, 2019 took a decision to suspend the licence of Daar Communications Plc for failure to abide by the Commission’s directives, the provisions of the NBC Act Cap N11”.
High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Daar Communications Plc, had, earlier same day, led a protest against an NBC’s threat to sanction the group for infraction of the NBC Code and requested it to explain why it should not be sanctioned for broadcasting ‘inciting’ and ‘unfair’ contents. High Chief Dokpesi denied the station violated any code of broadcasting as alleged by the NBC and claimed it was a plot by Government to gag the media and suppress free speech.
Dr. Modibo Kawu said the Commission drew its powers to suspend the Daar Communications Plc from the provisions of Section 10 of the Third Schedule of the NBC Act Cap N11 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
The section, according to Dr. Kawu gives NBC the right to suspend a broadcast licence:
- “where in the opinion of the Commission the station has been used in a manner detrimental to national interest.
- “where there is willful or repeated failure to operate substantially as set forth in the licence
- “where there is willful or repeated violation or willful or repeated failure to observe any provision of this Act or any rule or regulation of the Commission authorised by this Act or by a treaty ratified by the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
- “where there is violation of or failure to observe any cease and desist order issued by the Commission;
- “where a provision of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code has been seriously breached.”
The NBC DG said the Commission wrote three separate letters to the broadcast group and held several meeting with its management but observed that “… instead of making amends, the management of Daar Communications Plc resorted to the use of media propaganda against the regulator. Even the letters from the NBC were posted on social media platforms.”
Dr Kawu further alledged: “… the Commission’s monitoring reports on AIT/Raypower indicate the use of divisive comments accredited to the segment of ‘Kakaaki’, tagged, ‘Kakaaki Social’, where inciting comments like, ‘Nigeria is cursed, we declare independent state of Niger Delta’, ‘Nigeria irritates me’, ‘this country is gradually Islamizing’ and other similar slogans are used without editorial control in breach of the broadcast Code. We were therefore constrained to issue Daar Communication letters of warning dated May 27th, 2019.”
The Commission, Mr. Kawu said, also observed from monitoring reports that AIT broadcast a documentary on the Presidential Election Tribunal, a pending election petition matter on May 22 and 23, 2019 without regard to the provisions of the Broadcast Code.
Dr. Modibo Kawu said the suspension of the licence of Daar Communications Plc is “until further notice”.
Daar Communications Plc, represented by High Chief Dokpesi, filed a exparte motion before Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja praying the court to restrain the NBC from blocking and/or interfering with the air waves of Daar Communication Plc in any way and manner howsoever, in its broadcast and airing of news, views, documentaries, or any other legitimate broadcast material that is usually associated with television, radio or social media broadcast, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed along with the exparte application.
High Chief Dokpesi also prayed the court to restrain the NBC from invading or closing down the premises of Daar Communications, its operations or broadcast services, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed along with the application.
On the alternatively, High Chief Dokpesi prayed for an order for maintenance of status quo ante bellum, as at May 30, 2019, pending the hearing and final determination of the motion on notice filed along with the exparte application.
Delivering ruling, Justice Ekwo ordered parties in the suit to maintain status quo ante bellum as at May 30, 2019, pending the hearing and determination of Daar Communications Plc’s suit challenging the closure of its broadcast stations.
He also ordered the NBC and other defendants in the suit to appear before the court on June 13, 2019 to show cause why they should not be stopped from interfering with the operations of Daar Communications Plc.
However, before June 13, President of the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Nduka Obaigbena, convened a meeting with all critical stakeholders in the sector including the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), and successfully proffered amicable solution to the issues in the interest of the country.
The stakeholders agreed that the NBC will lift the suspension of the broadcast licence of DAAR Communications Plc, while DAAR Communications will withdraw its suit against the NBC.
At the resumed hearing on June 13, Justice Ekwo approved the out-of-court settlement of the dispute following an oral application made by Maliki Sylvanus who held brief for Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), counsel to Daar Communications Plc. Counsel to the NBC did not object to the out-of-court settlement.