The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) on Friday hinted about its plan to appeal against the court judgement nullifying its powers to fine broadcast stations for breaching its broadcasting codes.
It suggested that the judgement delivered by the Federal High Court in Abuja on Wednesday conflicted with a previous court decision. The agency did not give details.
“The commission will appeal against the judgement when found to be in conflict with the previous judgement of the court, which empowers the commission to regulate broadcasting in Nigeria,” the Director-General of the agency, Balarabe Ilelah, said in a statement on Friday.
Suggesting that his agency had yet to be served a copy of the judgement to be certain about its next line of action, Mr Ilelah said “global best practice and the ethics of the legal profession,” prevented parties to a suit from commenting freely “on a judgement it has not seen and read”.
He also did not say if NBC would comply with the verdict for the time being.
The Federal High Court in Abuja handed down the order of perpetual injunction in a judgement on Wednesday, cancelling NBC’s powers to impose a fine on broadcast stations.
The judge, James Omotosho, in a judgement, also set aside the N500,000 fines imposed, on 1 March 2019, on each of the 45 broadcast stations.
Mr Omotosho held that NBC, not being a court of law, had no power to impose sanctions as punishment on broadcast stations.
He further held that the NBC Code, which gives the commission the power to impose a sanction, conflicts with Section 6 of the Constitution, that vested judicial authority in the court of law.
Mr Omotosho said the court would not sit idle and watch a body imposing fine arbitrarily without recourse to the law.
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He said 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 a criminal investigation that would lead to criminal trial and imposition of sanctions.
The judgement results from a suit filed in 2021 by the Media Rights Agenda, a not-for-profit organisation concerned with promoting press freedom and access to information.
The suit is one in a series of court actions the NBC has faced in the last few years to check the agency’s perceived arbitrariness and suppression of reports critical of the government.
Media Rights Agenda said in its suit that NBC fines violated the right to a fair hearing under Section 36 of the Nigerian constitution and Articles 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.
It, therefore, sought a declaration that the sanctions procedure applied by NBC in imposing N500,000 fines on each of the 45 broadcast stations on March 1, 2019, violated the rules of natural justice.
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