The Lagos Federal High Court on Monday arrested President Muhammadu Buhari and National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to revoke the licenses of 53 broadcasting stations in the country and close them for failing to renew their licenses.
The judge, Akintayo Aluko, issued the injunction order prohibiting the authorities from carrying out his threat of reversal in a ruling on an ex parte motion.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Responsibility Project (SERP) and the Nigerian Publishers Guild (NGE) had filed the ex parte motion alongside the main lawsuit challenging NBC’s planned action against the broadcast stations.
SERAP shared the highlights of the court ruling in a statement from its official, Kolawole Oluwadare, on Monday.
He said that the judge, after issuing the precautionary order, postponed until September 8, the hearing of the interlocutory Amparo appeal.
This would give the defendants, NBC and Mr. Buhari, an opportunity to present their defense in the lawsuit and give reasons why the restraining order should be lifted.
On August 19, NBC revoked the licenses of 53 broadcast stations due to their failure to pay their license renewal fees worth a cumulative N2.66 billion. The commission ordered those unable to pay to close at 12 a.m. on August 20.
Affected stations included Silverbird TV, AIT, Raypower FM, and Rhythm FM.
The commission cited section 10(a) of Schedule 3 of the National Broadcasting Commission Act CAP N11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 to support its decision against the stations.
The provision says: “10. The Commission may revoke a license in the following cases, namely (a) when the prescribed fee has not been paid by the due date…”
But after intervention by the Nigerian chapter of the International Press Institute, NBC suspended the revocation of the operating licenses of 52 broadcast stations.
The extension was granted after IPI Nigeria engaged with the Ministry of Information and Culture, NBC, and the Nigerian Broadcasting Organization (BON) to explore an amicable resolution of the dispute.
By the extension, NBC ordered all stations “to pay all outstanding license fees on or before August 23, 2022, or before 12 a.m. on August 24.”
But SERAP and NGE sued NBC and Mr. Buhari on August 23, asking the court for “a statement that section 10(a) of the Third Schedule of the NBC Act used by NBC to threaten to revoke the licenses of 53 transmission stations and closing the stations is unconstitutional and illegal since it violates freedom of expression.”
In the lawsuit, SERAP and NGE asked the court for “an injunction order preventing Buhari and NBC, their agents, from revoking the licenses of 53 broadcast stations in the country and closing their operations, pending the hearing and determination of the motion for a notice filed concurrently in this lawsuit.”
In lawsuit number FHC/L/CS/1582/2022, SERAP and NGE urged the court to determine “whether section 10(a) of the Third Schedule of the NBC Act used by NBC to threaten to revoke the licenses of 53 stations of transmission and closing them is not incompatible with freedom of expression and access to information”.
The plaintiffs urged the court to declare that “section 10(a) of the National Broadcasting Act used by NBC to unilaterally revoke broadcast station licenses and close stations is a violation of the constitutionally and internationally guaranteed right to a fair hearing.” fair. ”
They argued that the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties on freedom of expression “indicate that this right may be exercised through any means”.
They added, “Indeed, these provisions recognize that everyone has the right to equal opportunities to receive, seek, and disseminate information through any means of communication without discrimination.
“The use of the NBC Act and Code, in this case, would inadmissibly open the door to arbitrariness and fundamentally restrict the freedom of expression that is an integral part of public order protected by the Nigerian Constitution and the human rights treaties it supports. Nigeria is a member. state party”.
“The media play a fundamental role as a vehicle or instrument for the exercise of freedom of expression and information -in its individual and collective aspects- in a democratic society.”
“Indeed, the media have the task of distributing all kinds of information and opinion on matters of general interest.”
“The public has the right to receive and evaluate this information and opinion independently. Therefore, the existence of free, independent, vigorous, plural and diverse media is essential for the proper functioning of a democratic society”.
“Revoking the licenses of 53 broadcasting stations and shutting down their operations because they have not renewed their licenses would seriously undermine the rights of millions of Nigerians to express their thoughts and their right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas from everyone. types, in whatever medium they choose.”
The plaintiffs noted that they recognized NBC’s mandates to regulate broadcasting. However, they maintained that “the exercise of such mandates, including the renewals or revocation of licenses, must comply with the thresholds and guidelines established by the right to freedom of expression.”
“The free circulation of ideas and news is only possible in the context of a plurality of information sources and media. The lack of plurality in information sources is a serious obstacle to the functioning of democracy”.
“The NBC Act and the Broadcasting Code cannot and should not be used in a manner that is inconsistent with and incompatible with a plurality of voices, diversity of voices, non-discrimination, and the just demands of a democratic society, as well as the public interest. ”