The provisions empowering the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to impose fines on broadcast stations over alleged breach of its broadcasting code, were on Wednesday voided by a Federal High Court in Abuja.
In a judgment delivered on Wednesday, Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, the presiding judge, held that the NBC could not exercise administrative, legislative and judicial powers at the same time.
Media Rights Agenda (MRA), a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), had sued NBC for the imposition of N5 million fines on Trust Television, MultiChoice Nigeria Limited, TelCom Satellite Limited, and StarTimes Limited for airing a documentary on banditry in Zamfara State in 2020.
Uche Amulu, MRA’s lawyer, in the suit filed on its behalf, had asked the court to void the fine and nullify the powers of the NBC to impose sanctions.
The NGO submitted that such sanctions would deter television stations from reporting the true state of affairs regarding the security situation in Nigeria.
The organisation further argued that the sanctions violated the Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression and rights to receive ideas and information without interference.
Citing section 36 of the Constitution and Article 7 of the African charter, MRA maintained that the NBC which is the drafter of the broadcasting code could not receive complaints, investigate and adjudicate on the issues, impose penalties and collect fines at the same time.
The NGO contended that the NBC, not being a court of law and not having been constituted in a manner as to secure its independence and impartiality, had no power or competence to impose fines on broadcast stations as punishment or penalties.
The group also claimed that NBC, not being the Nigeria police or a law enforcement agency, had no power to conduct a criminal investigation or carry out an investigation that could lead to criminal charges against the affected media platforms and stations.
MRA prayed the court to issue an order of perpetual injunction “restraining the NBC, its servants, agents, privies, representatives or anyone acting for or on its behalf, from further imposing any fine on any of the media platforms or stations, or any other broadcast station in Nigeria for any alleged offence committed under the Nigeria Broadcasting Code”.
In her judgment, Ofili-Ajumogobia agreed with all MRA’s arguments and granted all the declarations and injunctions sought by the organisation.
She however refused to grant the organisation’s claim for cost.
With the ruling, regulatory agencies such as the National Communications Commission (NCC), the Federal Competition and Consumer Protective Council (FCPC), the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) and others would also not be able to impose fines on alleged defaulters.
NCC had in 2016, fined MTN $3.9 billion for not deactivating unregistered SIM cards before the deadline.
The Commission in 2021 also proposed a fine of N200,000 for telecommunications companies that fail to verify and validate biometric, National Identity Number (NIN) and other personal information of subscribers.
FCCPC last year, also fined British American Tobacco Nigeria Limited (BATN) and other affiliated companies $110 million for “infractions” of several laws.