A lawsuit has been filed against President Muhammadu Buhari as well as the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) for sanctioning and threatening to withdraw the licences of broadcast stations across the nation and force them to cease operations over their lawful reporting of the 2023 general elections through the NBC Act and broadcasting code. Legal counsel for the agency, Kolawole Oluwadare, Valentina Adegoke and Adelanke Aremo, filed the suit, which affirmed that when it comes to exercising one’s right to free speech and the dissemination of information in a democratic society, the media plays an essential part as a conveyance or tool.
However, It was reported this past week that NBC sanctioned 25 broadcast channels and gave final warnings to 16 others because of alleged violations of the rules of the Nigeria Broadcasting Law during the Presidential and National Assembly polls on February 25, 2023. SERAP believed that NBC’s threats to shut down and censure other broadcast outlets were disproportionate and unnecessary, as they would violate Nigerians’ constitutionally protected freedom of speech, information accessibility, and press freedom.
NBC penalizes stations for covering the 2023 general election.
In the lawsuit filed at the Federal High Court in Lagos with the case number FHC/L/CS/469/2023, they are requesting the court to establish the validity of the broadcasting code that was utilized by NBC to penalize several stations and threatening to close down others which are contradictory and inconsistent with of expression freedom, information dissemination, and media freedom. Mr. Lai Mohammed, who is the Minister of Information and Culture, was also brought into the suit as a defendant.
Furthermore, they are requesting that the court rule that NBC’s sanction be considered an unlawful and unconstitutional act since it infringes the right to free speech. Until the hearing and resolution of the petition on notice filed concurrently in this matter, they ask the court to issue a decree of an interim injunction preventing President Buhari, NBC, and Mr. Mohammed from intimidating and penalizing broadcast stations throughout the nation for actually carrying out their constitutional responsibilities.
Sanction on broadcasting stations is against freedom of expression.
According to SERAP, the Nigerian government is pursuing and penalizing broadcast stations in order to make a victim out of them rather than swiftly trying to investigate accusations made of election-related violence and other infringements of the Electoral Act and also the Nigerian Constitution and laying hold of suspected offenders. In doing so, the government attempts to divert attention away from itself. Those who are tasked with the implementation of NBC legislation and rules do not have unrestricted discretion to limit freedom of speech and press liberty as a result of the authority that they have been granted.
It is contradictory and conflicting with human rights obligations to utilize ambiguous and imprecise words like “unpatriotic individuals” and “subversive, hateful, and inciting utterances, particularly post-election” as reasons to penalize and threaten broadcast outlets. Therefore, they are requesting, among other things, that the court declare that the application of the NBC broadcasting code to penalize some broadcast outlets and threaten to suspend their operation because they broadcasted the general elections constitutes a breach of their rights.
Buhari should order NBC and others to cease their threats.
Lastly, the organization is asking for a court order requiring President Buhari to instruct NBC as well as Mr. Mohammed to cease their threats and sanctions against media houses and to abide by the requirements of Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution and also Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act. However, there has yet to be any decision made regarding when the hearing of the suit will take place.