Barely ten hours after the Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the last general elections, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, condemned the five million naira fine, (N5m ), slammed against a Lagos-based radio station, Nigeria Info 99.3Fm, for what it termed ‘unprofessional conduct and violation of NBC code’, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, Friday described the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, action as illegal.
In his statement obtained by Vanguard, the outspoken lawyer said: “The chairman of the NBC board disclosed that the amendment of the code authorising the payment of the fine of N5 million was not approved by the board. That means that the amendment of the code has not come into force.
“Assuming that the code was properly amended the board cannot charge a suspect with criminal offences, prosecute, convict and impose a fine on him.
“The investigation being conducted into Dr. Obadiah’s interview by the State Security Service has not been concluded. So why was NBC in a hurry to violate the fundamental right of the broadcasting station to fair hearing?
“Section 33 (4) of the constitution provides that anyone charged with a criminal offence shall be tried before a competent court or tribunal. Only a competent court of law is empowered to try, convict and impose a fine on a criminal suspect after a trial has been conducted before a competent court.
“In Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited in Suit FHC/UY/CS/1623/2016 – National Oil Spill Detection & Response Agency (NOSDRA) vs. Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited the federal high court per honourable Justice Ojukwu held that the imposition of fines by regulatory agencies was unlawful. The judgment of the learned trial judge was upheld by the court of appeal in the case of Nosdra v Exxon Mobil (2018) JELR 41137 (CA).
“In view of the fact that the imposition of the N5 million fine was anchored on a purported amendment of the code and since the NBC lacks the legal competence to impose a fine on any broadcasting station without a finding of guilt by a properly constituted criminal court the NBC should suo mutu quash the illegal fine.”
Recall that Atiku had critised the action of NBC, saying that: “In a particular reference to the penalty handed down to the operators of 99.3 FM Nigeria Info, we disagree wholeheartedly with the argument of the NBC that the interview that the station had with Dr. Obadiah Mailafia constitutes any infringement or if at all it exposes the station to trading in hate speech.
“Whether or not what Dr. Mailafia said on the radio station was a false claim, it is outside the objectives of a responsible regulatory framework to sanction a radio station for a comment an individual made, more so that the personality in question, Dr. Obadiah, had been quizzed and released by law enforcement agents. If for any reason the authorities are not satisfied with his explanations, they are at liberty to prosecute him in court, but not to make a scapegoat of the media platform that provides opportunities for citizens to ventilate their views.”
However, the NBC Chairman, Alhaji Ikra Aliyu Bilbis, Thursday told reporters in Abuja that the new code was an illegality perpetrated by Alhaji Lai Mohammed, and acting Director-General of the Commission, Professor Armstrong Idachaba.
He therefore, disowns the code, noting that previous information ministers never interfered with the review of the code
He said NBC Act empowered the commission to regulate industry practice standards, not the Information Minister.