The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), along with 261 groups and individuals, has sued the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, over the N9 million fine slammed on three television stations in the country.
The plaintiffs also seek an order setting aside the N5 million fine and any other sanction imposed by the NBC on Nigeria Info 99.3 FM, Lagos, for carrying out its professional and constitutional duties.
In the suit filed on Friday at the Federal High Court, Abuja, the plaintiffs are asking the court to declare the fines imposed on Channels, AIT and Arise TV over their coverage of the #EndSARS protests illegal, and to stop the NBC from collecting the money.
The co-plaintiffs in the suit are 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, Media Rights Agenda and other 255 Nigerians.
The acting Director-General of the NBC, Prof Armstrong Idachaba, who is joined in the suit as a defendant, had last week slammed fines of N3 million each on Channels, AIT, and Arise for ‘unprofessional’ coverage of the protests across the country.
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1436/2020, the plaintiffs seek: “An order setting aside the arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional fines of N9 million and any other penal sanction unilaterally imposed by the NBC and Mohammed on Channels, AIT and Arise, and on any other radio/television station simply for carrying out their professional and constitutional duties.”
According to the plaintiffs, Section (2)(n) of the NBC Act and the Broadcasting Code are oppressive, and clearly inconsistent with the constitution and 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 result will be authoritarianism and denial of freedom and liberty,” they stated.
The suit filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by their lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare, Adelanke Aremo and Opeyemi Owolabi, read in part: “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 and offends the sacred principles of natural justice and fairness.
“It is the duty of 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 (one cannot be a judge in his own cause) and audi alteram partem (no one should be condemned unheard).