A Federal High Court in Lagos has restrained President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) from revoking the licences of 53 broadcasters in the country and shutting down the stations for allegedly failing to renew their licences
Justice Akintayo Aluko (Court 8) today granted an interim injunction after SERAP (Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) filed an ex post facto application.
SERAP and NGE had last week filed a suit against Buhari and the NBC, asking the court to “declare that Section 10(a) of the Third Schedule to the NBC Act, which the NBC has used to threaten to revoke the licences of 53 stations and close them down, is unconstitutional and unlawful as it violates the right to freedom of expression”.
In the suit, SERAP and NGE had asked the court for “an injunction restraining Buhari and the NBC and their agents from revoking the licences of 53 stations in the country and shutting down their operations pending the hearing and determination of the notice application filed simultaneously in this suit.”
The case is adjourned to 8 September 2022 to hear the application for interim injunction. The suit followed NBC’s decision to revoke the licences of the 53 stations and suspend their operations within 24 hours over alleged debts of N2.6 billion.
In the suit, numbered FHC/L/CS/1582/2022, SERAP and NGE ask the court to determine “whether section 10(a) of the Third Schedule to the NBC Act, which NBC used to threaten to revoke the licences of 53 broadcasting stations and close them down, is not inconsistent with freedom of expression and access to information.”
SERAP and NGE also seek “a declaration that Section 10(a) of the National Broadcasting Act, which was used by NBC to unilaterally revoke the licences of the stations and close them down, is a violation of the constitutionally and internationally guaranteed right to a fair hearing.”
The suit states, among other things: “The provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and human rights treaties on the right to freedom of expression show that this right can be exercised through any medium.”
“These provisions recognise that every person has the right to equal opportunity to receive, seek and disseminate information through any medium of communication without discrimination.”
“The application of the ABC Act and the Code in this case would improperly open the door to arbitrariness and fundamentally restrict the right to freedom of expression which is an integral part of public policy protected by the Nigerian Constitution and the human rights treaties to which Nigeria is a 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 have the task of disseminating all kinds of information and opinions on matters of general interest.”
“The public has a right to receive and evaluate this information and opinion independently. Therefore, the existence of a free, independent, vibrant, 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 procedures should aim to promote diversity in broadcasting. A media registration system should not substantially restrict the right to freedom of expression.'”
“The revocation of the licences of 53 broadcasters and the closure of their operations for not renewing their licences would seriously affect the right of millions of Nigerians to freedom of expression and their right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds in any medium.”
Backstory: NBC last week revoked the licences of African Independent Television (AIT), Silverbird Television (STV) and 51 other stations.
Why the licences were revoked: Addressing the press in Abuja, the commission’s Director-General, Malam Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, said the affected stations had been in debt since 2015.
He said the stations owed about N2.6 billion.
According to him, the commission in May published the names of the stations that were yet to renew their licences and gave them two weeks to do so or have their licences revoked.