The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has filed a motion at a Federal High Court in Abuja asking the court to set aside its May 10, 2023 judgment in which it, among other things, issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Commission from further imposing fines on radio and televisions stations.
In the motion filed on its behalf by Mr. Babatunde Ogala (SAN), the Commission is asking the court to set aside the judgment, claiming that the court lacked jurisdiction to render the verdict and that it arrived at the decision in ignorance of relevant facts.
The judgment arose from a suit instituted by Abuja-based lawyer, Mr. Noah Ajare, on behalf of Media Rights Agenda (MRA), challenging the powers of NBC to fine broadcasters, following a March 1, 2019 announcement by the then Director General of the Commission, Mallam Ishaq Kawu, that the Commission had imposed a fine of N500,000 each on 45 broadcast stations for alleged contraventions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.
In his judgment delivered on May 10, 2023, Justice James Omotosho ruled that fines are sanctions imposed on a person who has been found guilty of a criminal offense and that the law in Nigeria, only Courts of law are empowered to impose sanctions for criminal offenses. In setting aside the fines of N500,000 each imposed on the stations, he held that the NBC “is neither a Court nor a judicial tribunal to make pronouncements on the guilt of broadcast stations notwithstanding what the NBC Code says,” adding that the Commission’s action violated the Constitution.
But contrary to the finding of the judge in his judgment that the NBC “was served with the Originating Summons on 24th February 2022 and served with several hearing notices but failed to file any process”, the Commission is alleging that the originating summons in the suit, which led to the judgment, was not served on it.
It is also claiming that MRA “has two un-appealed, subsisting and binding decisions of the Federal High Court on the same issues and parties” and that rather than appeal those decisions, it brought a fresh suit, setting the Court on a collision course with decisions of the other Federal High Court in the same complex.
The NBC cited in support of its claim a suit filed by MRA in 2021 against the NBC in which the organization challenged the constitutionality and legality of the Commission’s action on May 27, 2020, in imposing fines of N250,000 on Breeze FM radio, based in Lafia, Nazarawa State; N500,000 on Adaba FM radio in Akure, Ondo State; and N250,000 on Albarka FM radio in Ilorin, Kwara State. Justice Obiora Atuegwu Egwuatu delivered judgment on March 2, 2023, dismissing the suit.
It also cited another suit brought against NBC by seven organizations, namely the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), MRA, HEDA Resource Centre, the International Centre for Investigating Reporting (ICIR), the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), and Premium Times. In that suit, the seven organizations challenged NBC’s imposition of fines of N3 million each on Channels Television, Arise Television, and Africa Independent Television (AIT) over their coverage of the ENDSARs protests as well as another imposition of a fine of N5 million on Nigeria Info 99.3 by the NBC without giving the stations an opportunity to respond any allegation against them. Justice Nkeonye Maha delivered judgment in the suit on April 26, 2022, dismissing the suit.
NBC is claiming that these suits and their outcome were not brought to the attention of the court and that if the court had been aware of them, it would have reached a different decision in its May 10, 2023 judgment.
Justice Omotosho has fixed the hearing of the motion for October 5, 2023.