THE Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) have instituted a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) over the use of the NBC Act and broadcasting code to threaten, revoke and shut down 53 broadcast stations in the country for failing to renew their licences. Joined in the suit as defendant is the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
The NBC had last week revoked the licences of the 53 broadcast stations and threatened to shut down their operations within 24 hours over alleged N2.6 billion debts. The regulatory body of broadcast stations in a statement last week asked the stations “to pay all outstanding licence fees on or before August 23, 2022 or shut down by 12:00 a.m on August 24.”
In the suit number FHC/L/CS/1582/2022 filed on Tuesday at the Federal High Court, Lagos, the NGE and the SERAP asked the court to determine whether section 10(a) of the third schedule to the National Broadcasting Act used by NBC to threaten, revoke the licenses of 53 broadcast stations and shut them down is not inconsistent and incompatible with freedom of expression and access to information as contained in the 1999 constitution as amended.
In a statement by the general secretary of the NGE, Iyobosa Uwugiaren and the deputy director, SERAP, Kolawole Oluwadare, the two groups asked the court for a declaration that section 10(a) of the third schedule to the National Broadcasting Act used by the NBC to threaten to revoke the licences of 53 broadcast stations and to shut down the broadcast stations is unconstitutional and unlawful, as it violates the freedom of expression.”
The NGE and SERAP are also seeking an order of interim injunction restraining them, their agents or privies from revoking the licences of 53 broadcast stations in the country and shutting their down operations, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed contemporaneously in this suit. In the suit, the two groups argued that, “the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties on freedom of expression indicate that this right can be exercised through any medium.”
NGE and SERAP also averred, “Effectively, these provisions recognise that every individual has the right to an equal opportunity to receive, seek and impart information through any communication medium without discrimination.
“The use of NBC Act and the NBC code in this case would inadmissibly open the door to arbitrariness and would fundamentally restrict the freedom of expression that is an integral part of the public order protected the Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties to which Nigeria is a state party.”
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The suit was filed on behalf of NGE and SERAP by their lawyer Kolawole Oluwadare. According to the groups, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, licensing processes shall seek to promote diversity in broadcasting and that any registration system for the media shall not impose substantive restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.
The lawsuit averred further that the right to freedom of expression is based on the right to establish or use a media outlet to exercise freedom of expression and on society’s right to have access to a free, independent, and pluralistic media that allows for the most and most diverse information. NGE and SERAP, therefore, asked the court for a declaration that the arbitrary and unilateral action by NBC to threaten and or revoke the licenses of the 53 broadcast stations and to shut down their operations because of the alleged failure to pay their license fees is unnecessary and disproportionate sanction, and therefore contrary to the public interest and the guiding principles of freedom of expression.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.