The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed (right), and the Acting Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba (left), at the unveiling of the reviewed Nigeria Broadcasting Code in Lagos on Tuesday

Lai Mohammed (right), and the Acting DG of the NBC, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba (left) sued

By Abankula

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has fulfilled its threat to sue the National Broadcasting Commission over the imposition of N9million fines on Channels TV, Arise TV and AIT.

And SERAP is not doing it alone.

It has 261 concerned Nigerians, civil society and media groups collaborating as plaintiffs in the case that will test the power of NBC to fine erring TV and radio stations, without the court.

In the suit, the 262 litigants added Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed and Professor Armstrong Idachaba, the acting DG of NBC as defendants.

The litigants are asking the court to declare as arbitrary, illegal, and unconstitutional the N3m fine each imposed on Channels, AIT and Arise TV for their coverage of the #EndSARS protests.

They are also asking the court to stop the NBC from collecting the money.

The co-plaintiffs in the suit are 255 concerned Nigerians; Premium Times Services Limited; Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development; HEDA Resource Centre; International Centre for Investigative Reporting; African Centre for Media and Information Literacy; and Media Rights Agenda.

The acting Director-General of the NBC, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, who is joined in the suit as Defendant, had last week announced fines of N9 million on Channels, AIT, and Arise TV for purported “unprofessional coverage” of the #EndSARS protests across the country.

But in the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1436/2020 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Abuja, the Plaintiffs are seeking: “an order setting aside the arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional fines of N9 million and any other penal sanction unilaterally imposed by the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed on Channels, AIT and Arise TV, and on any other radio/television stations simply for carrying out their professional and constitutional duties.”

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The Plaintiffs argue that: “Section (2)(n) of the NBC Act and the Broadcasting Code are oppressive, and clearly inconsistent with the Nigerian Constitution and the country’s international obligations.

“If the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed are allowed to continue to use these oppressive provisions against independent media in the guise of performing their statutory duties, the end result will be authoritarianism and denial of freedom and liberty.”

According to the Plaintiffs: “The NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed have consistently used broadcasting codes to suppress the watchdog roles of independent media, and to violate Nigerians’ human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, to disseminate and receive information, and hold their government and public officials to account.”

“The action by the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed is arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional, as it is contrary to section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Nigeria has ratified. Their action is apparently aimed to clampdown on media freedom and Nigerians’ human rights.”

The Plaintiffs are also seeking “an order setting aside the fine of N5 million and any other penal sanction unilaterally imposed by the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed on Nigeria Info 99.3 FM Lagos, simply for carrying out its professional and constitutional duties.”

The suit was filed on behalf of the Plaintiffs by their lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare, Adelanke Aremo and Opeyemi Owolabi.

The suit says: “A fine is a criminal sanction and only the court is empowered by the Constitution to impose it. Fine imposed by regulatory agencies like the NBC without recourse to the courts is illegal, unconstitutional and offends the sacred principles of natural justice and fairness.”

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“It is the duty of the government to allow the legal and judicial powers of the state to function properly. Imposing any fine whatsoever without due process of law is arbitrary, as it contravenes the principles of nemo judex in causa sua which literally means one cannot be a judge in his own cause and audi alteram partem which literally means no one should be condemned unheard.”

“The NBC, being a regulatory body, is not empowered by law to act as the prosecutor and the judge; all at the same time. We humbly urge the court to set aside the unlawful and unconstitutional fines imposed on independent media houses, and to uphold the sanctity of the Nigerian Constitution, Nigerians’ human rights, media freedom, and the rule of law.”

“The Constitution is the grundnorm and the fundamental law of the land. All other laws including the NBC Act and any associated codes take their hierarchy from the provisions of the Constitution.”

The Plaintiffs are also seeking the following reliefs:

*A DECLARATION that section 2[n] of the NBC Act and Broadcasting Code used by the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed to impose fines, sanctions and any other penalties on television, radio and on-line broadcast stations and media houses are draconian, inconsistent, and incompatible with the right to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom guaranteed under sections 22 and 39 of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 [as amended], Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

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*A DECLARATION that the action of the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed in relying on section 2[n] of the NBC Act and Broadcasting Code to unilaterally impose punishments such as fines and other sanctions on television, radio and on-line broadcast stations and media houses without recourse to the court violates sections 6[1] & [6][b] and 36[1] of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999;

*A DECLARATION that section 2[n] of the NBC Act and the Broadcasting Code, being inconsistent and incompatible with sections 22, 36[1], and 39 of the Constitution of Nigeria, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, are null and void to the extent of their inconsistency and incompatibility;

*A DECLARATION that the fine of N3m each imposed on Channels, AIT, and Arise TV by the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed for their coverage of the #ENDSARS protests violates the right to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom guaranteed under sections 22 and 39 of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and therefore null and void.