The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Wednesday, barred the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) from imposing fines on erring broadcast stations in the country.
The court, in a judgement that was delivered by Justice James Omotosho, held that the Commission, not being a court of law, lacked power to impose sanctions on any broadcast station.
It held that the NBC Code, which imbued the Commission with the power to impose sanction, was in conflict with Section 6(6) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which vested such judicial powers on the court of law.
Justice Omotosho said the court would not sit idle and watch a non-jurisic body, arbitrarily impose fine without recourse to the due process of the law.
He noted that the NBC failed to comply with the law, when it sat as a complainant and at the same time, the court and a judge in its own matter.
He held that the NBC Code, being a subsidiary legislation that empowered an administrative body such as the Commission to enforce its provisions, could not confer judicial powers on the Commission to impose criminal sanctions or penalties, such as fines.
More so, the court held that the NBC, not being a security agency like the Nigeria Police Force, was bereft of the power to conduct criminal investigation that would lead to criminal trial and imposition of sanctions.
Justice Omotosho held that allowing the NBC to continue to impose sanctions on alleged erring broadcast stations, would amount to a deliberate breach of the doctrine of separation of powers.
He held that the essence of the doctrine was to prevent tyranny that could arise from the concentration of too much powers on one organ of the government.
“The action of the Respondent qualifies as excessiveness as it had ascribed to itself the judicial and executive powers,” the court added.
Consequently, apart from declaring the imposition of monetary sanctions by the NBC, as illegal, the court, voided the N500,000 fine the Commission imposed on 45 broadcast stations on March 1, 2019.
The judgment followed a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1386/2021, which was brought before the court by a group under the aegis of the Incorporated Trustees of Media Rights Agenda.
The plaintiff had approached the court to challenge the powers of the NBC to impose fine on broadcast stations in the country.
It argued that the unilateral action the NBC took against the 45 media outfits in 2019, was not only against the rules of natural justice but also in violation of rights of the broadcast station to fair hearing as enshrined 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, therefore, sought 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 court held that there was merit in the case and accordingly issued an order of perpetual injunction against the NBC as it was prayed to do by the Plaintiff.