A Federal High Court in Abuja has granted Media Rights Agenda (MRA) leave to sue the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) in two separate cases over the Commission’s failure to grant the organization’s requests for information on the scope of independence reportedly granted it by President Muhammadu Buhari and details of the 302 broadcasting stations it said it sanctioned in four months after campaigns for the 2023 elections began in September 2022.
Justice Nkeonye Evelyn Maha granted MRA leave to apply to the court to compel the NBC to make available to it the information it requested after hearing arguments from the organization’s lawyers in two separate exparte motions in which it complained that the Commission had failed to respond to two separate applications for information – the first dated February 17, 2023, and signed by Ms. Maimuna Momoh, a Programme Officer at MRA; and a second letter dated February 20, 2023, and signed by Mr. Monday Arunsi, MRA’s Legal Officer.
In the first suit filed on its behalf on March 20, 2023, by its lawyer, Mr. Tale Alabi, against the NBC and the Attorney-General of the Federation, MRA sought an order granting it leave to apply for a review pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 and for the court to direct the NBC to make available to the organization the information it requested by its letter, dated February 17, 2023, namely:
- A list of the 302 stations sanctioned by NBC between September 28, 2022, and January 31, 2023, detailing the names and locations of the stations; and for each of the 302 stations on the list, the name of the individual or entity which made the complaint against the station leading to the NBC sanction, the date of the complaint and details of the complaint or allegation made against each station;
- Copies of all correspondence by NBC to the stations against which the complaints were made, informing them of the complaints or allegations made against them; and copies of all correspondence from all the stations against which complaints were made in response to the allegations against them;
- A list of all the broadcast stations against which NBC received complaints of any type, pursuant to the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, between September 28, 2022, and January 31, 2023, which the Commission investigated and absolved of any wrongdoing; and
- Details of the sanctions imposed by NBC on each of the 302 stations sanctioned by the Commission between September 28, 2022, and January 31, 2023; and a list of all the stations upon which NBC imposed fines, including the amount of the fine imposed on each of the stations.
The second suit arose 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 licenses.
In the suit, filed on March 20, 2023, by Mr. Bula Zakayo Kelle against the NBC and the Attorney-General of the Federation, MRA sought leave of the court to apply for judicial review pursuant to the FOI Act, among other things, for an order compelling the NBC to make available to MRA the information it requested in its letter dated February 20, 2023, namely:
- Whether the power of the Minister of Information under Section 6 of the NBC Act to give the Commission directives with regard to the exercise by the commission of its functions has been abolished and if so, whether there are plans to amend Section 6 of the Act accordingly;
- Whether the NBC now has the final authority for the issuance of broadcast licenses as against the extant practice under Section 2(b) of the NBC Act which requires the Commission to merely recommend applications through the Minister of Information to the President for the grant of radio and television licenses; if the NBC is now vested with final authority to issue radio and television licenses; and whether there are plans to amend Section 2(b) of the NBC Act accordingly;
- What other issues regarding the Commission’s independence have been affected by the President’s approval and what other provisions of the NBC Act are being considered for amendment accordingly; and
- A copy of the communication from the President through which the approval of the independence of the NBC was conveyed to the Commission.
After listening to the arguments of MRA’s lawyers in the two cases, which were heard separately on May 4, 2023, Justice Maha granted MRA leave to apply for the reliefs sought by the organization and directed the lawyers to file their motions on notice within seven days.
The judge adjourned further hearing in both suits to June 21, 2023.