A Federal High Court in Abuja, Nigeria, recently declared the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code that authorise the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to impose fines on broadcast stations null and void. The court ruled that regulatory and administrative bodies cannot exercise judicial powers.
Media Rights Agenda (MRA) had instituted a suit against the NBC following the Commission’s imposition of fines on a television station and three pay TV platforms in 2022 for broadcasting documentaries on banditry in Nigeria, allegedly undermining Nigeria’s national security. Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia held that NBC acted beyond its powers by imposing such fines, as it is not a court of law.
MRA’s legal challenge to NBC’s action was commended by the judge, who also issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Commission or anyone acting on its behalf from imposing any fine on any media platform or broadcast station in Nigeria for any alleged offence committed under the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.
The fines imposed by NBC on August 3, 2022, on Multichoice Nigeria Limited, owners of DSTV; TelCom Satellite Limited (TSTV); Trust-TV Network Limited; and NTA Startimes Limited for broadcasting a documentary about the state of banditry and security in Zamfara State were set aside by Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia, who said the regulator’s action was wrong and unjustifiable in a democratic society.
Human rights lawyer Uche Amulu filed the suit on behalf of MRA, asking the court to declare that NBC’s action of imposing a fine on each of the media platforms and the station for broadcasting a documentary about the state of banditry and security in Zamfara State is unlawful and unconstitutional.
MRA contended that it would deter the platforms and station from reporting the true state of affairs regarding the security situation in Nigeria and, therefore, constitutes a violation of the rights of MRA, its members, and other citizens of Nigeria to freedom of expression, particularly their rights to receive ideas and information without interference, as guaranteed by the Constitution and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
In her judgment, Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia agreed with MRA’s arguments and granted all the organisation’s prayers.