A Federal High Court in Lagos has stopped President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) from revoking the licenses of 53 broadcast stations in the country, and shutting down the stations for allegedly failing to renew their licenses.
Honourable Justice Akintayo Aluko (Court 8) today granted an order of interim injunction following the hearing of an argument on motion exparte by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE).
SERAP and NGE had last week filed a lawsuit against Buhari and NBC, asking the court for “a declaration that section 10(a) of the Third Schedule to the NBC Act used by NBC to threaten to revoke the licenses of 53 broadcast stations and to shut down the stations is unconstitutional and unlawful, as it violates freedom of expression.”
In the suit, SERAP and NGE had asked the court for “an order of interim injunction restraining Buhari and NBC, their agents from revoking the licenses 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.”
The suit is adjourned to 8th September, 2022 for the hearing of the Motion on Notice for interlocutory injunction. The suit followed the decision by the NBC to revoke the licenses of the 53 broadcast stations and shut down their operations within 24 hours over alleged N2.6 billion debt.
In the suit number FHC/L/CS/1582/2022, SERAP and NGE are asking the court to determine “whether section 10(a) of the Third Schedule to the NBC Act used by NBC to threaten revoke the licenses of 53 broadcast stations and shut them down is not in inconsistent with freedom of expression and access to information.”
SERAP and NGE are also seeking “a declaration that section 10(a) of the National Broadcasting Act used by NBC to unilaterally revoke the licenses of the broadcast stations and shutdown the stations is a violation of the constitutionally and internationally guaranteed right to fair hearing.”
The suit reads : “The provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties on freedom of expression indicate that this right can be exercised through any medium.”
“Effectively, these provisions recognize 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 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.”
The media plays an essential 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 has the task of distributing all varieties of information and opinion on matters of general interest.”
“The public has a right to receive and assess this information and opinion independently. Therefore, the existence of a free, independent, vigorous, pluralistic, and diverse media is essential for the proper functioning of a democratic society.”
“According to 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. Any registration system for the media shall not impose substantive restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.’”
“Revoking the licenses of 53 broadcast stations and shutting down their operations because they have not renewed their licenses would both seriously undermine the rights of millions of Nigerians to express their thoughts, and their right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, in any medium they choose.”
NBC, last week, revoked licences of the African Independent Television (AIT), Silverbird Television (STV), and 51 other broadcast stations.
Addressing the press in Abuja, Director General of the Commission, Malam Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, said the affected stations had been owing since 2015. He said the stations were owing about N2.6 billion debt.
According to him, in May, the commission published the names of stations who were yet to renew their licences and granted them two weeks to do so or get their licenses revoked.
He said three months after the publication, some stations were yet to pay their outstanding debt in contravention of Act CAP N11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, particularly Section 10(a) of the third schedule of the Act.