The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is not allowed to punish Nigerian broadcast stations, according to an Abuja Federal High Court.

Court Bars NBC From Fining Broadcasting Stations

In a decision on Wednesday, May 10, Presiding Judge James Omotosho stated that the NBC lacked the legal authority to issue sanctions.

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Omotosho issued an indefinite order prohibiting the NBC from imposing fines, henceforth, on broadcast stations in the Nigeria.

Additionally, he cancelled the 500,000 Naira fines that were issued on each of the 45 broadcast stations on March 1, 2019.

According to Justice Omotosho, the NBC lacked the authority to punish broadcast stations because it was not a court of law.

He further asserted that Section 6 of the Constitution, which gave courts of law the exclusive right to exercise judicial authority, conflicts with the NBC Code, which grants the commission the authority to issue sanctions.

Arbitrary Fine

He declared that the court would not do nothing while a body arbitrarily imposed a fine without following the law.

He said that the commission broke the law by appearing before the judge and the court simultaneously as a complainant in its own case.

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The judge concurred that the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, which is a subsidiary law that authorises an administrative body like the NBC to implement its requirements, cannot grant the commission judicial authority to impose criminal sanctions or penalties like fines.

He also concurred that because the commission was not the Nigerian police, it lacked the authority to launch a criminal inquiry that would result in a criminal prosecution and the application of punishment.

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

Omotosho held that what the doctrine sought to achieve was to prevent tyranny by concentrating too much powers in one organ.

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

The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the NBC had, on March 1, 2019, imposed the sum of 500, 000 Naira each on 45 broadcast stations in the country over alleged violation of its code.

The Incorporated Trustees of Media Rights Agenda, however, had named NBC as the only respondent in the lawsuit in an originating motion marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1386/2021.

The organisation requested a declaration that the NBC’s penalties system, which resulted in the imposition of 500,000 Naira fines on each of the 45 broadcast stations on March 1, 2019, violated the principles of natural justice in a motion filed by its attorney on November 9, 2021.

Prohibited From Issuing Fines

The Judge also said that 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 the case because the NBC wrote and adopted the code that was alleged to have resulted in the offences against which the broadcast stations were charged.

“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.”

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

He declared the fines levied by the NBC as punishment for a variety of offences under its code to be illegal and hence unconstitutional, null, and void.

The commission is prohibited from punishing broadcast stations in the nation with fines in the future by a perpetual injunction issued by the judge.

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