ABUJA, Nigeria — Justice James Omotosho of the Federal High Court in Abuja issued a ruling on Wednesday, May 10, 2023, granting a perpetual injunction restraining the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, from imposing fines on broadcast stations in Nigeria.
This landmark decision also nullifies the N500,000 fines imposed on 45 broadcast stations by the NBC on March 1, 2019.
Justice Omotosho described the NBC’s actions as “ultra vires,” or beyond its legal power and authority. He stated that the NBC, not being a court of law, had no power to impose sanctions as punishment on broadcast stations.
“The court will not sit idle and watch a body imposing fine arbitrarily without recourse to the law,” Omotosho declared during the judgment.
Furthermore, the judge determined that the NBC Code, which gives the commission the power to impose sanctions, conflicts with Section 6 of the Nigerian Constitution, which vests judicial power in the courts of law. Justice Omotosho also found that the NBC did not comply with the law when it acted as a complainant, court, and judge in its own matter.
The judge concurred that the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, a subsidiary legislation empowering administrative bodies like the NBC to enforce its provisions, cannot confer judicial powers on the commission to impose criminal sanctions or penalties such as fines. Additionally, he agreed that the commission, not being Nigerian police, had no power to conduct a criminal investigation leading to a criminal trial and imposition of sanctions.
In response to an originating summon, a group called Incorporated sued the NBC as the sole respondent in the suit.
The group’s lawyer, Noah Ajare, argued that the fines imposed by the NBC violated the rules of natural justice and the right to a fair hearing as stated in 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.
As a result, Justice Omotosho set aside the N500,000 fines imposed by the NBC on each of the 45 broadcast stations on March 1, 2019.
He granted “an order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondent, its servants, agents, privies, representatives or anyone acting for or on its behalf, from imposing fines on any of the broadcast stations or any other broadcast station in Nigeria for any alleged offence committed under the Nigerian Broadcasting Code.”
The ruling concluded that the fines imposed by the NBC as punishment for various offenses under its code were contrary to the law and declared them unconstitutional, null, and void.