Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), 261 Nigerians, civil society and media groups have filed a lawsuit against the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed.
They asked the court to declare arbitrary, illegal, and unconstitutional the N9 million fines imposed on AIT, Arise TV and Channels TV (N3million each) for their coverage of the #ENDSARS protests.
Acting Director-General, Armstrong Idachaba, is joined in the suit as defendant.
Last week, he announced the sanction against the media organizations, citing “unprofessional coverage” and use of photos and videos obtained from social media.
Idachaba claimed that the stations contributed to the escalation of the violence across Nigeria.
In the suit FHC/ABJ/CS/1436/2020 filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja, the plaintiffs are seeking an order setting aside the fines and any other penal sanction unilaterally imposed by the NBC and Mohammed on the stations and on any other radio/television stations.
They are arguing that Section (2)(n) of the NBC Act and the Broadcasting Code are oppressive, and clearly inconsistent with the Nigerian Constitution and the country’s international obligations.
“If the NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed are allowed to continue to use these oppressive provisions against independent media in the guise of performing their statutory duties, the end result will be authoritarianism and denial of freedom and liberty” it read.
“The NBC and Mr Lai Mohammed have consistently used broadcasting codes to suppress the watchdog roles of independent media, and to violate Nigerians’ human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, to disseminate and receive information, and hold their government and public officials to account.”
SERAP said the action by the NBC and Mohammed was against the Nigerian Constitution, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The plaintiffs are also seeking an order setting aside the fine of N5million imposed by the NBC and Mohammed on Nigeria Info 99.3 FM Lagos, for carrying out its professional duties.
The radio station was fined after an interview where a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Obadiah Mailafia, said he he got information that a Northern Governor sponsors Boko Haram.
The suit against NBC was filed Kolawole Oluwadare, Adelanke Aremo and Opeyemi Owolabi.
It said a fine is a criminal sanction and only the court is empowered by the Constitution to impose it.
The suit insisted that the NBC fine was without recourse to the courts is illegal, unconstitutional and offends the sacred principles of natural justice and fairness.
They plaintiffs insisted that it is the duty of the government to allow the legal and judicial powers of the state to function properly.