AIT Resumes Operations as Court Intervenes

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  • Summons AGF, NBC
  • Saraki, Peterside, NLC, CUPP condemn closure

Alex Enumah, Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Udora Orizu in Abuja and Emma Okonji in Lagos

Africa Independent Television (AIT), Raypower and Faaji FM, all owned by Daar Communications, yesterday night resumed operation, following a restraining order issued against the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) by a Federal High Court in Abuja.

The NBC had on Thursday announced the suspension of the licence of Daar Communications, until further notice.

Director-General of NBC, Modibbo Kawu, who made the announcement, said the action was as a result of Daar Communications’ alleged continued breach of broadcasting code.

But the broadcast firm filed an exparte application before the court, seeking an order, setting aside the action of the electronic broadcast regulator.

Justice Inyang Ekwo after hearing the application, yesterday, ordered parties in the suit to maintain status quo ante bellum as at May 30, 2019, pending the hearing and determination of Daar Communications Plc’s suit challenging the closure of its broadcast stations.

The Judge also ordered the NBC, the Attorney General of the Federation and Ministry of Information and Culture to appear before him on June 13, over the shutdown and suspension of the broadcast licence of Daar Communications Plc.

Justice Ekwo, in his ruling on the exparte application filed and argued by Benson Igbanoi of Chief Mike Ozekhome’s chamber, granted the alternative prayer of the applicant, while he held that prayers one and two cannot be granted without first hearing from other parties.

“I have noted the eight grounds upon which the exparte application was hinged upon, application of this nature must be considered judicially and judiciously, that, I have done.

“I hereby order that parties shall maintain status quo ante bellum as at May 30, 2019 pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed in this case,” Justice Inyang stated, even as he ordered the defendants to appear before him on June 13, 2019 to show cause why they should not be stopped from interfering with the operations of Daar Communication Plc.

The plaintiff, represented by its founder, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, in the exparte motion prayed the court to order the maintenance of status quo ante bellum as at May 30, this year, pending the hearing and determination of its suit challenging the closure of the broadcast stations.

The company also prayed the court to restrain the defendants from blocking and/or interfering with the air waves of Daar Communication Plc in any way and manner howsoever, in its broadcast and airing of news, views, documentaries, or any other legitimate broadcast material that is usually associated with television, radio or social media broadcast pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed along with the exparte application.

The plaintiff prayed the court to restrain the defendants from invading or closing down the premises of Daar Communication, its operations or broadcast services, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed along with this application.

Alternatively, the plaintiff prayed for an order for maintenance of status quo ante bellum, as at May 30, 2019, pending the hearing and final determination of the Motion on Notice filed along with the exparte application.

Ozekhome Demands Immediate Reopening of AIT

Giving further clarification on the judgement obtained by AIT, Counsel to Daar Communication, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, stated: “The ‘status quo ante bellum as at 30th May,2019’ simply refers to the unencumbered and unhindered period when AIT/Ray Power were fully operational and freely broadcasting on air to the whole world, before the illegal, unconstitutional highhanded and unconscionable shut down carried out yesterday (Thursday) by the NBC, even whilst the court proceedings were already pending before the court to the clear knowledge of the said NBC, the Attorney General of the Federation and the Ministry of Information, all of whom were sued as defendants.”

According to Ozekhome, “This statement is to therefore humbly advise and urge the NBC and its parent proprietor, the federal government, to obey the order of the court and immediately, within 24 hours, open and make freely operational and broadcasting, the AIT/Ray Power stations.

“As a necessary corollary, they should also immediately withdraw their security agents, including the Police and DSS Operatives, which they had happily deployed yesterday (Thursday) to shut down the operations of AIT/Ray Power.”

He emphasised that an independent press, aside being specifically enshrined in sections 22 and 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, “constitute the very bedrock of a constitutional democracy such as we operate. It allows for varied and disagreeable voices in a pluralistic, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-linguistic society such as ours.”

PDP: Closure is an Act of Repression, Threat to Democracy

Reacting to the closure, the PDP Governors forum, last night, condemned the NBC’s action against DAAR Communications Limited, describing it as an act of repression against the media and a threat to the growth of democracy.

The governors stated this in a communiqué read by the Chairman of the Forum and Governor òf Bayelsa State, Seriake Dickson, after its meeting in Abuja yesterday.

The governors enjoined the federal government and its agencies to ensure application of due process to deal with allegations if any, rather than the recourse to authoritarianism.

The governors added: “When you shut down news outlets, when you harass and intimidate journalists, then you are threatening the growth of democracy. We condemn it and call on the federal government to do what is right.”

Saraki Calls on NBC to Obey Court Order

President of the Eighth Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, has called on the NBC to immediately obey the order granted by the Federal High Court in Abuja, which called for the maintenance of status quo as of May 30, 2019, pending the determination of a motion on notice filed by DAAR Communications Plc, owners of Raypower Radio and African Independent Television (AIT).

Saraki, in a statement signed by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu, stated that all such actions that could cast aspersions on Nigeria’s commitment to the freedom of the press must be avoided.

“Regulators though necessary, must know that all such actions that give the impression of the endangering of the freedom of the press or freedom of speech cast our nation in a bad light. Such issues need to be handled in a better manner.

“Moving forward, the NBC needs to comply with the court order. Additionally, we must understand that this is not only about AIT, this is about Nigeria and one of its stations that is not only viewed within the country, but outside the country as well. The NBC should look at a better way to resolve the issue, even after adhering to the ruling of the court. We must be seen to be a nation that adheres strictly to the rule of law,” Saraki stated.

Re-Open AIT/RayPower Now, NLC Tell NBC

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has called on the NBC to immediately restore the broadcast licences of the DAAR Communications.

In a statement yesterday by the NLC President, Ayuba Waba, the labour movement urged the federal government to caution all its agencies and commissions against taking any action(s) that contravenes democratic standards.

He said that NLC views the suspension of these licenses as premeditated attacks on the media ultimately aimed at circumscribing our collective freedom.

NLC advised NBC to approach the judiciary rather than take unilateral actions that eventually affects the rights of the citizens to information and knowledge.

“We are disturbed by the sudden suspension of the broadcast licences of the DAAR Communications broadcast services, African Independent Television (AIT) and Raypower radio.

“We are particularly worried that the suspension was issued as a result of alleged inability of the owners of these broadcast services to pay up licence renewal fees and continued broadcast of views and reports considered to be detrimental to certain interests.

“For us, in a democratic environment these allegations should not ultimately attract such noxious sanctions that circumscribe both the broadcast rights of the services and the fundamental rights of the public to access news and information.

“More worrisome is the negative impact of this action on job creation and sustenance in the face of growing insecurity directly traced to existing high unemployment in the country.

NLC said that part of the positive attributes of democracy is the fact that there are legal options constitutionally established to resolve grievances, adding that’d judiciary should have been approached if anyone, including government or its agencies feel aggrieved by the actions of corporate or individual citizens.

Atedo Peterside Condemns NBC

Also, businessman and the founder of Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc, Atedo Peterside described the closure of AIT as a threat to free speech. He said in a tweet: “Closure of AIT signifies dark days ahead. Our right to free speech is next; regulators now competing to consciously destroy business and jobs on flimsy grounds.”

CUPP Condemns Shutdown of AIT, Ray Power FM

In the same vein, the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) yesterday condemned the suspension of the licenses and shutting down of AIT and RayPower FM by the NBC, describing it as despotic authoritarian, barbaric and a complete reversal of the democratic gains the country had made in the last two decades.

The opposition parties expressed its view in a statement issued on Friday by its spokesperson, Ikenga Ugochinyere.

According to the statement, “Nigeria is now officially a dictatorship where every independent and dissenting voice must be shut down as we are now fully back to the 1984 dark days of Decree Two, with full blown intimidation and suppression of press freedom.

“The commando style with which the letter conveying the suspension of the license was delivered leaves much to be desired. A long convoy of NBC staff accompanied by stern looking Police and DSS personnel drove into the premises of the Daar Communications claiming it was just to deliver the letter for the indefinite suspension of the license while their gait portrayed those of warriors walking across and inspecting a conquered territory.”

Ugochinyere called on President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the immediate revocation of the suspension and also promptly sack the DG of NBC.

“The Nigerian opposition coalition shall also consider immediately opening talks with the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, BON, the Nigerian Union of Journalists NUJ, and indeed all other stakeholders in the media and broadcast industry on a marshal plan to checkmate further suppression of press freedom and descent into the abyss of news blackout into which the Presidency is driving the country.

“It is Daar Communications AIT and Ray Power today; it could be any other media which refuses to be intimidated tomorrow,” he added

SERAP Wants Buhari to Prevail on NBC

Similarly, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) also urged President Buhari to “prevail on the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to immediately end the suspension of the African Independent Television (AIT) and RayPower FM, and to strengthen the independence of the NBC, if the country’s constitutional and international legal commitments to freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information are not to be undermined.”

SERAP in a statement by its deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare said: “These grounds are so subjective that if allowed to stand would seriously undermine freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information in the country.

“The mere fact that forms of expression on AIT/Raypower are considered by NBC to be insulting is not sufficient to justify the indefinite suspension. These grounds do not meet the requirements of legality, reasonableness, due process, necessity and proportionality.”

Paradigm Initiative Condemns NBC’s Violation of Press Freedom

Also, Paradigm Initiative, an advocacy group, condemned the action of the NBC, describing it as undemocratic and capable of stifling free expression and the freedom of the press.

Joining other Nigerians in reaction to the suspension, Paradigm Initiative in a statement signed by its CEO, Mr. Gbenga Sesan, said the NBC failed to recognise and understand that the press has the freedom to report expressions by citizens, just the same way citizens have the freedom to express opinions, however controversial.

According to the statement, “If a broadcasting channel raises an opinion expressed by a third party, reports on it and receives comments on same, such a broadcasting channel is well within its rights and duties. It is, therefore, unethical and clearly biased of the National Broadcasting Commission to suspend the license of AIT/RayPower on this ground.

“The NBC states that it is disturbed with ‘the manner in which social media issues became part of the mainstream media unedited on AIT/RayPower…’ but the Commission should know that opinions of third parties cannot and should not be edited in reportage. The Commission’s concern is therefore antithetical to free speech.”