A Federal High Court in Abuja has barred the National Broadcasting Commission from imposing fines on Nigerian broadcasters.
The court held that NBC is not a court of law and as such, has no power to impose sanctions as punishment on broadcast stations.
In a ruling on Wednesday, the presiding judge, Justice James Omotosho, gave an order of perpetual injunction restraining NBC from fining broadcast stations in Nigeria, stating that the commission lacked the judicial powers to impose penalties.
Omotosho also voided the N500,000 fines imposed by NBC on each of the 45 broadcast stations, back in March 2019, stating that the fines were contrary to the law and thus unconstitutional. He then declared them null and void.
He added that the NBC Code which gives the commission the power to impose sanctions upon broadcast stations conflicts with Section 6 of the constitution which has vested the judicial power in the court of law.
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 is not the Nigerian police, and therefore, has no power to conduct criminal investigations that would lead to criminal trial and imposition of sanctions.
“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 power in one organ.
“The action of the respondent qualifies as excessiveness,” he added.
Following the N500,000 fines the NBC imposed against 45 broadcast stations in Nigeria in 2019, the Incorporated Trustees of Media Rights Agenda sued the commission in court in November 2021, seeking a declaration that the sanctions were a violation of the rules of natural justice.
The lawyer representing the Incorporated Trustees of Media Rights Agenda, Noah Ajare, stated that the sanctions violated the right to a 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 so because the code, which created the alleged offences of which the broadcast stations were accused was written and adopted by NBC, “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.”
They, therefore, sought an order setting aside the N500,000 fines purportedly imposed by NBC on each of the 45 broadcast stations on Friday, March 1, 2019.
They also sought an injunction preventing NBC from being able to impose sanctions on any other broadcast stations in Nigeria for offences under the Nigerian Broadcasting Code.