Respite as Court Bars NBC from Imposing Fines on Broadcast Stations

Respite as Court Bars NBC from Imposing Fines on Broadcast Stations

•Nullifies 2019 N.5m fines on 45 stations

Alex Enumah in Abuja

Respite may have come the way of broadcast stations in the country, following the ruling of a Federal High Court in Abuja, which held as unlawful and unconstitutional the act of imposing fines on broadcast stations by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).

Justice James Omotosho in a landmark judgment delivered yesterday, having held as unconstitutional the action of the Commission, subsequently issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the NBC from imposing fines, henceforth, on broadcast stations in the country.

Besides, the court also set aside the N500,000 fines imposed, on March 1, 2019, on each of the 45 broadcast stations.

According to the judge, the NBC, not being a court of law, had no power to impose sanctions as punishment on broadcast stations.

It was the position of the court that the NBC Code, which gives the commission the power to impose sanction, was in conflict with Section 6 of the Constitution that vested judicial power in the court of law.

Justice Omotosho emphasiaed that the court would not sit idle and watch a body imposing fine arbitrarily without recourse to the law.

According to the court, the commission did not comply with the law when it sat as a complainant and at the same time, the court and the judge on its own matter.

The judge agreed that the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, being a subsidiary legislation that empowers an administrative body such as the NBC to enforce its provisions cannot confer judicial powers on the commission to impose criminal sanctions or penalties such as fines.

He also agreed that the commission, not being Nigerian police, had no power to conduct criminal investigation that would lead to criminal trial and imposition of sanctions.

“This will go against the doctrine of separation of powers,” he said.

“The action of the respondent qualifies as excessiveness,” as it had ascribed to itself the judicial and executive powers.

The NBC had on March 1, 2019, imposed the sum of N500, 000 each on 45 broadcast stations in the country over alleged violation of its code.

However, the Incorporated Trustees of Media Rights Agenda had, in an originating motions marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1386/2021, sued the NBC as sole respondent in the suit.

In the motion dated November 9, 2021, by its lawyer, Noah Ajare, the group sought a declaration that the sanctions procedure applied by the NBC in imposing N500,00Q fines on each of the 45 broadcast stations on March 1, 2019 was a violation of the rules of natural justice.

The lawyer also said the fines were in violation of the right to fair hearing under Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Articles 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap AQ) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

The group argued that this was so because the code, which created the alleged offences of which the broadcast stations were accused was written and adopted by the NBC, “and also gives powers to the said commission to receive complaints of alleged breaches, investigate and adjudicate the complaints, impose sanctions, including fines, and ultimately collect the fines, which the commission uses for its own purposes.”

They, therefore, sought an order setting aside the N500,000 fines purportedly imposed by the NBC on each of the 45 broadcast stations on Friday, March 1, 2019.

They also sought, “an order of perpetual Injunction restraining the respondent, its servants, agents, privies, representatives or anyone acting for or on its behalf, from imposing fines on any of the broadcast stations or any other broadcast station in Nigeria for any alleged offence committed under the Nigerian Broadcasting Code.”

Delivering the judgment, Justice Omotosho, described the NBC’s act as being ultra vires.

He held that the fines imposed by the NBC as punishment for commission of various offences under its code were contrary to the law and hereby declared as unconstitutional, null and void.

The judge also made an order of perpetual injunction restraining the commission from further imposing fines on broadcast stations in the country.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has commended the Federal High Court Abuja, over its order of perpetual injunctions restraining the NBC from imposing fines on broadcast stations in the country.

In a statement signed by its President, Mustapha Isah and the General Secretary, Dr. Iyobosa Uwugiaren, yesterday, the Guild saluted the courage of the MRA – for testing the draconian NBC Act, saying the judgement has vindicated the position of the editors that the NBC could not appropriate the constitutional responsibility of the judiciary arm of government.

“Justice Omotosho’s ruling on Wednesday vindicated our consistent position over the years that the NBC cannot be the accuser, the investigator and the judge on matters relating to alleged breach of the Broadcast Code.

“Our position has always been that an independent body or institution should be the one to examine any perceived infraction by the broadcast stations, which should be given the opportunity to defend themselves.

“The court is right in its ruling – by saying that it would not sit idle and watch a body imposing fine arbitrarily without recourse to the law,” the Guild stated.

The umbrella of all the editors in Nigeria reiterated its earlier resolution to engage the incoming government and other stakeholders over the NBC Act and the Broadcast Code of Conduct – with the aim to amend and reform them to conform to the global best practices.

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