By Udora Orizu
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 24 concerned Nigerians have dragged the federal government and National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja over the arbitrary use of the NBC Act and broadcasting code to harass, sanction and fine independent television and radio stations, and thereby restricting Nigerians’ freedom of expression and access to information.
SERAP is asking the ECOWAS Court to declare illegal and contrary to Nigeria’s international human rights obligations the provisions of the NBC Act and broadcasting code frequently applied by the federal government and NBC to impose sanctions on independent television and radio stations in the country.
The suit is coming in the wake of the bridge [breach] letter by the NBC asking Channels TV to explain why it interviewed the spokesman of a proscribed organisation; the ban on Jay FM 101.9 Jos for playing songs such as Falz’s ‘This is Nigeria’, and the N9 million fines imposed on Arise TV, Channels TV and AIT [N3m each] over their coverage of the #EndSARS protests.
In the suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/19/21 and filed last week, the plaintiffs are seeking a declaration that the provisions of the NBC Act 1992 and the Nigeria Broadcasting Code by the defendant and its agent to impose sanctions and penalties on independent television and radio stations is inconsistent and incompatible with the right to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom guaranteed under Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
They are also seeking an order setting aside the sum of N5 million or any other form of penal sanction unilaterally imposed by the defendant and its agent on Channels TV or any such other television and radio stations.
The suit filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by their lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part: “The low level of political tolerance for views perceived to be critical of government or offensive means that the press continues to be subject of scare tactics, harassment and intimidation. Censorship restricts the flow of information from the federal government and its agents about issues of public interest, preventing people from accessing critical information.
”The federal government and NBC should be stopped from using the broadcasting code or any other regulations and/or law to erode the sacred rights to freedom of expression, information and media freedom, which is the bedrock of the rule of law and sustainable democracy.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.